Where We Went This Year! (22,000 miles of driving!)

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Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Day

Various artists of all persuasions with their inimitable style and panache sang holiday favorites all the way along our drive to New Orleans. Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, Mel Tormé…Alvin and the Chipmunks. We had ‘em all. And somewhere around mid-afternoon, as I sucked on a red Tootsie pop and Angie crunched a candy cane, we remembered what day it was and ironically wished each other a Merry Christmas in much the same manner as one asks for lettuce on your tuna sandwich.

It was a banality that we’d expected, but underneath it – loaded up in our red Subaru sleigh with handy supplies for each girl and boy, and with our blue-nosed Rudolph in the back seat – there was a genuine holiday cheer. Our family was together – which is the most anyone can wish for Christmas. But it was also only the beginning of a pretty magical holiday.

Pulling into the gate of the Five Continents Bed & Breakfast, in the Tremé section, just North of the French Quarter, any fears that we might have chosen unwisely fell away. An old, two-story stately manor, with a driveway in the back to the garage and another guest cottage, Five Continents is exactly the kind of oakwood-banistered, pine needle-garlanded, red-ribbon-wreathed, Plantation-style home you’d hope for in a New Orleans Christmas. Apparently once the Southern home of Sam Giancana, the mafia boss, it was built in the nineteenth century by an English gentleman and his French wife, who apparently sought to reconcile the cultural divide with accommodations for both. The English drawing room is separated from the ladies’ parlor with sliding doors that open up for a full viewing of the entire downstairs space when entertaining.

Jess, a former Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army, took his honorable discharge and went to Switzerland where he enrolled in a program for five-star hoteliers. Bringing his savoir-faire home with him, he opened up this B&B six years ago, and managed it first with a partner, but mostly on his own – through Hurricane Katrina, through the ensuing flooding, and through Hurricane Rita. And he has great stories to tell of bailing the home out of all three. But while not unscathed, the house recovered, and he’s been doing good business since, including a fair amount of repeat business.

AND TO THAT END, I WILL SHAMELESSLY PROMOTE HIS BUSINESS FOR THE FOLLOWING REASON: as a referral from us, you – the reader – will get a 10% discount by just mentioning our name. And if we get three guests or groups to visit, Angie and I get a free weekend’s stay... :)

But first, let me tout the Five Continents’ virtues a bit longer, just to encourage you to make use of his hospitality, should you have cause to find yourself in New Orleans.

And when I say hospitality, I mean it. We arrived in the early evening of Christmas Day, a day on which, party city or not, it’s not easy to find an open restaurant. But after unloading our car, Jess not only gave us a map with all the best-recommended restaurants within walking distance, he told us he’d make arrangements for us at Tujague’s, New Orleans’ second-oldest restaurant and a Decatur-street institution, right in the heart of the French Quarter. All we had to do was ask for “Steve” and tell him “Jess from Five Continents sent us.”

So, taking advantage of our bikes in a city which is perfect for cycling, we rode through a couple remarkably quiet French Quarter streets (like Wall Street on a Sunday morning) and found Tujague’s easily enough. Locked up the bikes, went inside, stepped around the waiting line, found “Steve,” and sure enough, “Jess sent us” was all we needed to say to get us seated immediately in the upstairs, colonial-style dining room where we were subsequently treated to a five-course, traditional Christmas dinner. Our dining companions at the table around us were a mix of fellow travelers and family regulars who seemed to enjoy the continuity of a traditional Tujague’s Christmas dinner as much as we enjoyed the novelty of it.

Afterwards, a night-mist dampened the asphalt and haloed the streetlights as we went for an easy ride past shuttered homes and festooned facades. And then we had our perfect moment in Jackson Square, where we happened upon a group of about twenty adults & kids, all huddled around what we learned was a “glass harmonica” – a collection of glasses filled to different levels and lit from below by tiny white lights, glowing in the misty Southern night and played by a jolly white-bearded fellow who, had he a belly and red suit, would have fit the “Papa Noel” image to a T.

And silently, reverently, stood all the revelers around him as he played a celestial “Silent Night” in the moonlight shadow of St. Louis Cathedral. It was the perfect cap to our journey, and we knew we had arrived.

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