When people think of New Orleans; they immediately begin to traverse the narrow streets of the French Quarter with its lace iron galleries, shuttered windows, and secret gardens known as courtyards. Courtyard comes from the French word “coeur” and means heart. It is the heart of the household. When viewing the old buildings from the street, you are actually looking at the back of the homes. The front of the house opens onto the centerpiece, the courtyard. They are a peaceful oasis to steady oneself from the revelry of the streets. Quaint. Small. The ground is a neat arrangement of old brick, about which are scattered benches, chairs, tables, and the occasional bottle from the previous night of wine and conversation. Date Palms, Crepe Myrtles, Magnolias, and banana trees create cooling comfort from the intensity of summer heat. Add to that a fan, linen or seersucker, and a Pimm’s Cup and you have all you need to survive the garish sun, hell bent on boring a hole through your skull.
New Orleans from its outset was a filthy city; sticky with mud and half submerged in the swamp, buzzing with flies and swarming with mosquitoes. The streets ran rivers of mud in the tropical down pours and animals roved unattended, adding their stench to the already heady smells of the city. People retreated to their courtyards, planting sweet smelling things to combat the odoriferous air. This is the real lure of the courtyards. They are botanical cocktails crafted by geniuses. A hint of citrus and splash of gardenia. A drop of magnolia and a generous pour of Jasmine. Jasmine, such a heavy scent of pure intoxication. What person has not felt drunk off its smell, overcome by the oppressive August air, they loosen a tie or slip from a shirt. Bare skin showing and Gin on the tongue; turning everyone into a poet, writing sonnets for a city they have come to love. Dear, sweet New Orleans, aging harlot and yet still possessing something of a girlish charm. She is mischievous, flirtatious, and seductive. I am willing to bet that if you visit, you will fall in love with her, lost somewhere in one of her secret gardens. You may return to other lovers but you will carry her in your heart always.
Crescent City Historic Tours