New Orleans is the northernmost Caribbean city. Everybody knows this but they don’t think about it. As the major port at the northernmost point in the arc of the Gulf of Mexico, New Orleans culture shares much more in common with the islands than it does with the rest of America. Our architecture reflects that. After the Haitian Revolution, the population of New Orleans doubled as, mostly wealthy, Haitians relocated from their half of the island of Hispaniola to the nearest place that spoke French. Bonjour, la Nouvelle Orleans.
So who is José Martí, anyway?
José Martií was a Cuban patriot. He is memorialized by a statue in the middle of the neutral ground that runs down the middle of North Jefferson Davis Parkway, which is a main street in the Mid-City neighborhood of New Orleans. Jeff Davis Parkways isn’t a particularly commercial street, though there are a collection of mostly neighborhood bars and offices along its length. The street’s neutral ground is full of statuary, though, and it has a paved bike path that runs down the neutral ground, and the neutral ground is very shady, so, if you want to see a slice of New Orleans streetscape, you could do a lot worse than walk down the middle of Jefferson Davis Parkway. My Vietnamese tailor has a shop on North Jeff Davis.
Most of the statues on Jeff Davis Parkway celebrate veterans and heroes of the Confederate cause, as one might expect from the street’s name. Then, there is José Martí. Don’t ask me why his statue is where it is. Most South and Central American heroes have statues on South Basin Street, but for Cuba, José Martí gets a rather prominent commemoration on Jeff Davis Parkway. Welcome to New Orleans.
It’s an inspiring ensemble of concrete and bronze. Until I did the research for this article, I didn’t know who José Martí was, but I always pause in front to his statue and offer up a prayer for his soul. There are usually flowers around the statue’s base, so it isn’t like a neglected monument. People in New Orleans still honor the memory of José Martí and remember his accomplished. Your humble narrator and those people who honor José Martí just travel in different circles, which is something that happens more often than not when a person lives in New Orleans.
New Orleans is a small city of about 380,000 citizens. Before Hurricane Katrina and the federal levee failure that flooded our city, there were about 100,00 more people living here. If you think the effects of Katrina are erased, they aren’t effaced in the neighborhoods tourists don’t visit. The effects of Katrina are still a sore wound on the body politic. Talk to someone from New Orleans who was here at the time and you’ll hear all about it.
I would transcribe what the plaque at the statue’s base says, but it’s in Spanish and I don’t speak Spanish. I can do a lot of things, but translating Spanish isn’t one of them. Frau Schmitt speaks a little Spanish but I don’t want to bother her.
There are always flowers, either fresh or fabric at the statue. I never see anyone placing the flowers there but this is a real, living and active, memorial to José Martí. Who was José Martí? I could tell you, but I would just be paraphrasing this rather lengthy Wikipedia entry. You can click on that yourself to find out more.
Now, let’s move onto a quote from a review we received about La Belle Esplanade yesterday. It comes from Liza (not her real name). To whit:
“As to the property itself, waking up in our room… and wending my way through the house, with its jazzy walls and decor, made me feel like black-and-white Dorothy Gale waking up in the Technicolor land of Oz.”
That’s a nice summation of how we feel walking around New Orleans every day. Thanks, Liza!
New Orleans is a city like no other. You’ll see with your own eyes when you get here.
À votre santé,
La Belle Esplanade
…where every morning is a curated breakfast salon.
July 8, 2016: 93 degrees, partly cloudy, always happy.