Haunting jazz riffs, incomparable cuisine and a provocative past serve up a heady brew that is uniquely New Orleans
As technology continues to advance and grow more complex and impersonal, there are still destinations where we can escape, places to connect to our own sense of celebrity, and to dream of a glamorous and glorious past. Follow the scent of Cajun spice and the bluesy wavelengths of sound to the Gulf-side stronghold of New Orleans where a classic past harmonizes perfectly with the beat of the contemporary traveler.It has been nearly fourteen years since Hurricane Katrina saturated this city that lives eight feet below sea level, devastating lives and landscape. However there is a spirit in New Orleans, the birthplace of jazz – music with soul, with wings, that cannot be caged even by nature’s random cadence. Jazz great Dave Brubeck once said, “Jazz is the first sign of the return to freedom.”
A trip to New Orleans will transport the visitor back in time 100 years to the birth of jazz, when it seemed the streets existed only in black and white. In reality, one of the most notorious Red Light Districts in New Orleans, called “Storyville,” was the brainchild of city councilman Sidney Story who was looking for a way to regulate the proliferation of prostitution that plagued New Orleans at the time. Storyville, which ultimately became the last “vice district” in New Orleans, told its infamous tale from 1897 to 1917, when it was replaced by a more sober and respectable neighborhood.
Flash forward to June 29, 2019, and the opening of the Marquee Resort in New Orleans, a stone’s throw away from the border of Storyville. There, the spirit of Storyville and the jazzy narrative that followed it is expressed through the resort’s mascot and patron saint, Story Val, made real in a 3D iron sculpture created by Lisa Fedon, which is suspended on the far wall of the iconic lobby.
Through multimedia use of voice, video, iconography and marketing materials, Story Val is present throughout the immersive Marquee Resort experience, as much an historian as he is a thematic reminder of the resort’s classic motif.A Time & Place Apart
The Marquee, which is situated in the historic theater district, offers mainly time share opportunities in its one-, two- and three-bedroom suites. The 17-story building is designed to reflect the area, and celebrate the memory of vaudeville, speakeasies, theater and the early days of cinema.
Through the Bluegreen Vacation Club, “owners” purchase points that can be used in any of over 40 destinations, each unique. However, there is something more escapist about the Marquee Resort because not only does it draw the traveler toward exotic places, but also to an extraordinary time.
The classic, cinematic décor begins in the lobby where a large screen loops video of the Bluegreen properties and silent film scenes, the new and the old coming together in a city most capable of sustaining that historical divide. The white marble floor leads guests through plush velvet curtains toward the elevators.
Look up and be greeted by a flowing scroll of a mosaic of words, lines from great works of literature, especially Shakespeare. At the end of the hallway, in the frame of an ornate mirror, digital signatures of the “featured cast” – the names of the guests – loop five at a time for a fraction of one’s fifteen minutes of fame.
Upon entering the elevator, guests are met on the three facing walls by the panoramic image of an audience gazing and applauding. This obligatory ego boost places guests in the center of Bluegreen Vacations’ message – to exceed expectations, to surprise and delight every customer. With each successive floor, the colors of the décor deepen with chromatic drama, symbolic of the literary journey, the “allusion to the Yellow Brick Road,” according to Timothy Schwering, vice president of planning and design at Bluegreen Vacations.
Stepping out of the elevator, the traveler is met on both ends of the short hallway which leads to the rooms by two large framed portraits. The striking poses are of two different women peeking alluring out from behind red velvet curtains. As you approach the pictures, you realize these are not just lifeless paintings, but rather augmented reality portraits that come to life once you come into their personal space. Once again, the gaze, the spirit of Storyville, the clandestine moment, the silent seduction which underlies the entire motif.Crescent City Quest
Besides the Marquee Resort, New Orleans finds a balance between the old and the new. The nearby French Quarter, especially on a Saturday night, is alive with a pulsing decadence. Within arm’s reach, tourists crane their necks up to the balconies where, during Mardi Gras, beads are the currency of flash and flesh, groups of pleasure seekers saunter to an unsteady gait, and jazz riffs-turned-hip hop beatbox fill the streets like the aroma of spilled beer and powdery sweet beignets.
Bars and casual eateries entice the palates of pedestrians, as seductresses coax customers to enter neon-buzzed establishments. This is Storyville 2.0, tamed and diluted to the point of tourist charm.
In daylight, quaint shops provide vignettes for every taste, from voodoo shops where strategic pins bring more healing than revenge, to old book sellers with aisles narrow enough to comfort any bookworm and art galleries translating emotions in a mixed-media soup of inspiration.
For those whose tastes run more to the macabre, The Museum of Death will not disappoint. From the private letters of serial killers to their victims to death masks to photos and newspaper clippings from the most infamous news – images we once chose not to see – conspicuous horrors force themselves into our cautious gaze. This venue is certainly not for everyone.
Arguably the greatest escape New Orleans has to offer comes from its cuisine. Gumbo, jambalaya, crawfish, rice and beans, bananas foster, and of course, po-boys round out the traditional fare of the Crescent City. Nestled between Central City and the Seventh Ward lay some of the finest restaurants New Orleans has to offer. Emeril’s New Orleans, Arnaud’s, Brennan’s and Willie Mae’s Scotch House, just to name a few, will cause many a waist band to be let out. However, no one seems to be complaining.
Still, for all its glitz and glamour, New Orleans has seen its share of heartache. In the 13 years since Hurricane Katrina, humanitarian efforts from organizations such as Habitat for Humanity have recruited any and all to bring residents back to all the flood stricken areas. The worst hit was the Lower 9th Ward. Currently, homes are being painted and landscaped so that new homeowners and new hopes can return to the region.
Despite continuous threats from Mother Nature and her burden of climate change, the residents of New Orleans persevere. As flood waters subside, one can hear the reliable mosaic of joy in the melodies of jazz coming from corner bars, spilling out into the damp grid of New Orleans streets.