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Making Merry in the Marigny: FMIA Tour of Homes, New Orleans

Visitors to New Orleans who think the city is defined by the French Quarter and the Garden District are in for a delightful surprise when they wander past Esplanade and across Elysian Fields into the fabulous Faubourg Marigny. Popularly known as the location of Frenchman Street, a smorgasbord of musical venues, the Faubourg Marigny is also home to numerous artists, painters, sculptors, writers, and designers. Quietly bohemian and brimming with class, Faubourg Marigny is the up and coming place to be in The Big Easy.

I know because I have just returned from my third visit to the Faubourg Marigny. This visit included helping proprietors of River House B&B Csaba Lukacs and David Lummis (author of the novel The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans) host the 39th Annual Tour of Homes sponsored by the Faubourg Marigny Improvement Association.

The 2011 FMIA Tour of Homes was held on Sunday, May 15 from noon until four pm. This year, with the generous support of The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans (River House Press) and Positive Vibrations Foundation, a non-profit foundation offering summer cultural grants to teen musicians, and under the direction of Lukacs and Debra Oppenheim, the annual tour became a moveable feast featuring music, food, fellowship, and exquisite venues.

During this "Artists in Residence" tour, painters, sculptors, writers, educators, chefs, and designers in the Marigny opened their homes and gardens to an enthusiastic public for a self-guided walking tour. From noon until four pm, nine historic homes-- in addition to artist James Michalopoulis' stunning sculpture garden-- were open and tour-goers could purchase tickets for the self-guided walking tour and register to win the door prize and receive three nights at River House, a luxury guest house in the Faubourg Marigny, the magnificent home of author David Lummis (The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans) and his book’s fictional narrator, B. Sammy Singleton. (See a video of David Lummis drawing the winning ticket for three nights at River House)

Kelly Cahill, whose charming house across the street from River House was on the tour, also graciously volunteered to help River House serve refreshments in the lush River House garden to the several hundred guests. Registration for the event, along with music and other activities, was held at 10 am in lovely Washington Square. (photo by Kristin Fouquet of Kelly and Beth Mastio, two of the many volunteers, at the refreshment table at River House)

At River House, an luxury B&B consisting of two elegant short-term rental units, a five piece jazz band named Zazou City played under the arbor in the River House garden from 12- 4 pm . Zazou City, headed up by Bart Ramsey on accordion and vocals, delighted the group with jazz favorites from Gypsy Swing (Django Rinehart) to American Swing, in addition to a number of original compositions. The musical offering was "lagniappe" at its best. (Photo of Zazou City)

At the end of the garden breezeway near the lily pond, attendees were served fresh espresso, a yummy new red wine called Big Easy by Fess Parker Winery that was making its debut in Nola, scrumptious sweets from The Cake Cafe, and fruit, cheese and finger sandwiches from Feelings Cafe. Everywhere there were gorgeous bouquets of fresh flowers provided by Dunn & Sonnier Antiques and Flowers, and the sweet aroma of rosemary bushes wafted through the garden mingling with the rich smell of dark coffee. (photo of Kristin Fouquet, author and photographer, and Bart Ramsey of Zazou City holding a bottle of Big Easy wine from Sonoma Valley)

Along the breeze way, in the second floor living room, and on the balcony that spanned the front of River House, writers and artists signed their books which could be purchased on site from Otis Fennel of Faubourg Marigny Art and Books. Included in the book signing group were novelist David Lummis of The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans; co-owners of Cafe' Degas, Jerry Edgar and Jacques Soulas, signing their new cookbook authored by Troy Gilbert who also was signing copies of his Dinner with Tennessee Williams; artist George Rodrigue of "the blue dog" fame; Jim Gabour award winning filmmaker and producer; and author Michael Allen Zell, among others. Attendees were encouraged to tour the garden and the first two floors of the River House B&B, which included the spacious living and dining room on the second floor and the full length balcony overlooking tree-lined Marigny Street.

By 4 pm the crowd was beginning to wane, the band had played its last haunting note, and the day was declared an overwhelming success by the sponsors and volunteers alike. This year’s event attracted more than 400 people and helped to bring much attention to this unique New Orleans neighborhood, both as an historic treasure and as a wonderful place to live, work, and create. (photo of my sister Peggy and Kelly's daughter Mercy relaxing by the lily pond after the tour)

For those still on their feet after the long and exciting day, the Krewe du Vieux sponsored a complimentary neighborhood after-event party at the Den of Muses (home of the Krewe du Vieux) complete with music, beer, and food that went on until 10 pm. At the Den of Muses visitors were able to view the Krewe du Vieux Mardi Gras floats up close and personal. This was only the second time the Den of Muses has been open to the public since the fire in August 2009.

The 2011 Artists in Residence FMIA Tour of Homes was dedicated to the memory of long-time Marigny resident Lloyd Sensat who was one of the designated co-chairs for this year's event but who passed away in February 2011. 
In New Orleans the party never ends, but alas, those of us who live elsewhere must eventually return home.  For more about our adventures in The Big Easy, check back with Swampland. 
----Penne J. Laubenthal
Related Links

Meet David Lummis of The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans

The Coffee Shop Chronicles of New Orleans : Part One by David Lummis

New Orleans Journal: Episode Three: Culture, Cusine, and The Coffee Shop Chronicles

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