Along with the rest of the world, I’ve been staying home, canceling trips, and reading books. I debated publishing this blog during the pandemic and now the protests, but perhaps this provides a short respite from the sad situation we are in. I hope my enormous backlog of amazing libraries still floats peacefully in the cyber cloud. While stuck at home, I have time to dust off my digital photos and share those special book repositories and places with you.
My last successful, pre-corona-explosion trip was to New Orleans, aka NOLA, in early February 2020. The library visits were a fun mix of public, private, and the unusual. Since there were so many, this blog only covers the first half.
The aggressive attack by Covid-19 on one of my favorite cities in the world is heartbreaking. My grandmother was born in Louisiana back in 1890, so it’s in my DNA. NOLA, known as the Big Easy since its more laid back than the Big Apple, got hit especially hard.
This year’s coincidental timing couldn’t have been any worse. The city’s annual Mardi Gras nonstop party, based on Ash Wednesday and Lent, began the season in early February this year. The carnival tradition first began in 1699, and tourists are greeted with spirited open arms.
First off, we hit a bar for a welcome to Louisiana drink. But this wasn’t just any bar. Bar Marilou, in the Warehouse District and a short walk from the French Quarter, has a library in the bar! This library wasn’t just for show since it was once part of the City Hall Annex.
Because of the coronavirus and like most of the city, The Marilou is currently closed. But when this pandemic leaves town, stop by for a unique cocktail in the company of great books. And it’s got a secret entrance from the hotel next door, Maison de la Luz, aka the House of Light.
NOLA’s Milton H. Latter Memorial Library branch is an easy-to-visit sparkling gem. Daily, tourists pass by on the St. Charles streetcar in the Garden District, also known as Uptown. From a distance, you’d be surprised that this mansion is a library. This enchanting 13,000 square-foot neo-Italianate behemoth was built in 1907 as a family residence.
The wealthy Isaac family spent serious money on imported mirrors, chandeliers, and fresco ceilings from Europe. Stately mansions, such as this one, used to line St. Charles Avenue, but many fell to the wrecking ball or were subdivided. Lucky for us, this mansion became a public library in 1948. Many of the original stylish rooms and frescoes on the ground floor are still intact.
The Latter family purchased and donated this library in the memory of Milton, their only son. During World War II, the young soldier died in action in Okinawa. His father explained the decision by stressing that only through education can future wars be prevented. And if you need something to read, the old carriage house sells used books a few days a week.
Next up is the 1960-style futuristic library’s main branch in NOLA’s Central Business District. Once designated as the city’s bomb shelter, the basement, has been used for several TV shows and movies.
This library hosts rotating exhibits and holds the city’s archives and genealogy data.
I spent lots of time in their special exhibition on “Women in New Orleans from 1819 to 1927.” So fascinating, and here’s the link (for as long as it lasts): http://nutrias.org/~nopl/exhibits/fe/femaleenterprise.htm
Despite the current library closure in NOLA to fight the spread of the virus, they offer “contactless materials pick up and drop off.” This workaround gives their members a safe way to have access during this extended closure.
We left before the crowds arrived for the big day on February 25th this year. The mega parades and floats on “Fat Tuesday” are so massive they can’t fit into the narrow streets of the French Quarter anymore. Crowds are so thick that getting around is a challenge.
NOLA has survived many disasters over the centuries, including wars, floods, hurricanes, yellow fever epidemics, and more. May you return better and stronger than before! My next blog will include old homes with libraries in the French Quarter and an introduction to the Sazerac!
Karen Stensgaard is a novelist, loves to travel and visit libraries. With the coronavirus painfully clipping her wings, she is sharing stories and photos from recent library visits. Stay safe, everybody!
P.S. For those who stuck around to the end, here’s a photo from the Krewe Bohéme L’Heure Verte that took place on February 7th. This small-scale Carnival parade didn’t have a king or queen but celebrated with the green absinthe fairy.