At home in the Marigny

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“The loud frog is back,” tweeted my young cousin Elizabeth last night from the kitchen of our Marigny home, as she pursued her Loyola senior term papers with delirium. I sat thinking the same thing in the adjoining room, undecided if I welcomed or shunned the long throaty tone.

I spent many dark nights at our pond in summers past, a rare chance to wear my wellies, flashlight in hand, searching without success for the source of the sound, just a bit grating after five hours of

“Groooooaaaaaaaaaattttttttt!”

As I turned up the volume on Matlock, Elizabeth ran by me with her headphones.

“Eat a live frog first thing in the morning and nothing worse will happen to you the rest of the day,” wrote Mark Twain, who was probably right. And perhaps someone would eat the thing, but fried, if I could find it, because surely it is the biggest frog to ever domicile in downtown New Orleans.

Kiss a Frog Good Morning (detail) 1994, acrylic on canvas

The Faubourg Marigny, I tell visitors, although not technically downtown, basically is downtown, within walking distance anyway, although we are a neighborhood, without the high rises of the Central Business District. We are adjacent to the French Quarter, within the original footprint of the city of New Orleans, on the highest ground, as the earth slopes upwards towards the levees or downwards towards the center of the teacup, depending on one’s perspective.

As I understand it, the water ran freely through our Creole townhouse for years, breaching the once five-foot levees and racing towards Lake Pontchartrain, carrying animals and debris, and stranding residents on upper floors for days, maybe weeks. When Nicholas Foche built the house in 1835, he planned for this, leaving the street level a dirt-floored bar, which it remained for one hundred years.

A king-size bed sheet painted by Bill Hemmerling descends from the ceiling of our Marigny foyer; pictured, George Rodrigue
  • A king-size bed sheet painted by Bill Hemmerling descends from the ceiling of our Marigny foyer; pictured, George Rodrigue

The neighborhood attracts writers, musicians, chefs, artists, and creative folks of all kinds. We have hundreds of dogs, street-wise cats, courtyards, fishponds, oak trees, a pot-bellied pig, and at least one frog. We re-tool our motorcycles and bicycles, carefully preserve old bricks in our sidewalks, treat our oak trees with reverence, buy our produce from Mr. Possum, and watch the tops of the ships pass on the Mississippi River.

We also walk into the French Quarter, where we peruse and purchase. I finally ventured past the window and through the door of Fleur de Paris last month and acquired my first hat ever, a seven-inch rimmed royal blue straw number with peacock feathers. To my surprise, the best part was strolling back to the Marigny along Royal Street and then Chartres, navigating past other strollers with my hatbox.

“You bought a hat!” said one couple, as another took my picture. A passing carriage driver pointed me out like a French Quarter tourist attraction, as bareheaded passengers holding hand grenades stared.

At last, I thought to myself, I’ve channeled Grandma Helen, a New Orleans lady from Gretna, who wore a hat and gloves as she shopped on Canal Street in the 1950s.

My grandmother Helen McClanahan and my mother Mignon Wolfe at a rig christening in Harvey, 1958
  • My grandmother Helen McClanahan and my mother Mignon Wolfe at a rig christening in Harvey, 1958

This Sunday, May 15th, the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association hosts its annual Home Tour, featuring artists in residence, live music, and an art market. It’s a terrific chance to explore this unique neighborhood, well-known for its coffee shops, restaurants, and music scene, through the eyes of its colorful residents, including an inside look at courtyards and homes, such as the old Schoen Funeral Home, recently converted into a residence by James Michalopoulos and Reese Johanson.

Artist James Michalopoulos and his wife, dance choreographer Reese Johanson, contribute paintings, sculpture and dance to New Orleans from their new residence, the converted Schoen Funeral Home
  • Artist James Michalopoulos and his wife, dance choreographer Reese Johanson, contribute paintings, sculpture and dance to New Orleans from their new residence, the converted Schoen Funeral Home

This year’s Home Tour is special, as we remember Lloyd Sensat who, as described by Marigny resident Bill Hyland “could be seen almost daily walking in the streets of the Marigny leading a tour talking about the city he loved. He was an unmistakable sight; a jaunty walker with a full head of curly white hair (with a pitch helmet in the summer), dressed in white linen slacks and shirt and vintage suspenders.”

George Rodrigue and his son Jacques Rodrigue (who lives in a shotgun house behind ours) hope to see you during the Marigny Home Tour. You’ll find them taking a respite from our frog, enjoying instead New Orleans Gypsy Jazz by Zazou City in the courtyard of River House at 625 Marigny Street from 12-4, where George joins other Marigny authors and signs several of his early, out-of-print books, including The Cajuns of George Rodrigue (Oxmoor House, 1976) and Blue Dog (Viking Penguin, 1994). Book info here.

River House, 625 Marigny Street
  • River House, 625 Marigny Street

I too hope to see you at River House, but if I miss you, chances are that I’m practicing for my future role as ‘Eccentric Old Lady From the Marigny,’ in which case you’ll find me on the tour, an enormous blue hat on my head, or at the very least, a hatbox in my hand.

Wendy Rodrigue (a.k.a. Dolores Pepper)

For details and ticket info regarding the Marigny Home Tour, “Artists in Residence,” visit www.faubourgmarigny.org

For related posts see “For New Orleans” and “Looking Back,” both from “Musings of an Artist’s Wife”

Also this week, “Marie Courrege Rodrigue,” featuring the accidental (and biting) wit of an artist’s mother-

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