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November 28, 2000

Christmas in the French Quarter

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by Debbie Lindsey

You could pitch a beer bottle through the French Quarter in New Orleans and not hit a single tourist. The cafe I worked in was so empty that no waiters were scheduled -- we just "soup lined" in everyday around noon for a free meal and would flip a coin if a tip, I mean, a customer, walked in. It was great. I had the Quarter to myself and that was Christmas gift enough for me.

That was eleven years ago and my first Christmas season in New Orleans. Since then the powers that be have seen fit to successfully market the hell into Christmas. No longer do we restaurant reprobates long for tourist tips. They come at us with Mardi Gras beads a swinging. Mimes paint themselves red and green, Santa moonlights shining shoes and Yuletide greetings by Budweiser drape across Bourbon Street. Restaurants offer Reveillon dinners; hotels lure families away from families to enjoy Christmas Cajun Style and the ringing up of sales replaces the ringing of bells.

I know that my love of tranquility is not shared by all -- those were lean Decembers back then and paying January rent was an issue. But, I welcome the sound of Bing Crosby's voice crooning something about a white Christmas we will not see and feeling like the Quarter is still a real neighborhood. And, cynicism aside, the Quarter is still at its best at Christmas.

In spite of the Chamber of Commerce's heroic attempts at marketing our hedonism to travel agents, December tourism remains somewhat more civilized and sparser. Much has changed since I moved here and commercial growth has overwhelmed this once quaint and curious cubbyhole called the Vieux Carre. Yet if you take a moment and look pass the pickpocket fleecing the inebriated Santa, you will see balconies shimmer with strands of twinkle lights. The sidewalks are spruced up with folks cloaked in velvets and satins dashing to and from Holiday parties carrying gifts and aluminum foil covered platters of goodies. And if you listen closely you can hear Christmas tunes seeping out of closed windows as those inside sing along off key. Even those of us without space or money for a Christmas tree can walk through any hotel lobby and curl up in a chair, enjoy the piney fragrance, and pretend we are kids again dreaming of what awaits us under the tree. You might wish to avoid noticing the drunk attempting to relieve himself in the branches of the Douglas Fir. Yes, there is still magic and romance, peace and calm to be found during the holiday season in the French Quarter.

But, you must want to see it, and when you do, be sure to treasure it, for it may truly disappear one day as Mardi Gras becomes year round and corporate condos replace real neighbors. But until then, if you wake up very, very early on Christmas day, you can walk the streets in peaceful quiet. And if you find me sipping coffee at my favorite hotel restaurant and looking out at Royal Street and its near emptiness, do not think I am alone. I am seeing all my Christmases' past.


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