Yeah, that kind of sums it up for New Orleans.
Before the year 2000, I had never been to New Orleans. Since then, I have traveled there almost twice a year—sometimes more often. This last week I took an afternoon walk through the alleyways and cobblestone streets that cris-cross the historic part of downtown known as the French Quarter.
On this trip, I was particularly interested in some of the intriguing doorways you find off the beaten path. In a place like New Orleans, your mind can play tricks on you. One can imagine all sorts of things when peering into a darkened entry.
Is this some ghostly portal? What devilish creatures haunted this place a hundred years ago?
Or did it house that relief from months at sea, that so many worn out sailors craved?
On one of my previous trips, I was drawn to one of the most famous sites in New Orleans - Pirate's Alley.
Graphite drawing by Ralph Duncan
Famous or infamous, detailed, factual information about the history of Pirate's Alley is elusive. And yet, it is one of the most photographed and painted landmarks of the city. One can find some version of a painting or photograph in nearly every shop in the French Quarter.
I had heard about it and sought it out, walked it many times before I decided to pencil my version. And I went back several times after. It is one of those places that you can get a different feel each time you stand on the cobblestone street; a street that is just 600 feet long and 16 feet wide. In the daytime warmth of the south, there is a feeling of welcome and contentment. But in the evening, as darkness begins to fall and the fog from the Mississippi rolls in, you might start looking over your shoulder, fearful of---well, pirates.
It seems that the pirate Jean Lafitte (although he would have referred to himself as a privateer) is the main character in the story of how this alleyway got its name. Lafitte, his brother Pierre, and their men came to New Orleans about 1803, the year of the Louisiana Purchase. Accounts say that people would whisper behind his back---PIRATE! Lafitte and his band controlled the black market commerce and the sale of illegal goods openly in Pirate's Alley. Throughout history, it seems that the line between outlaw and hero has many times been blurred. This time was no exception. It has been said that Pirate's Alley was the meeting place between Lafitte and Andrew Jackson when they allied together to defeat the British at the Battle of New Orleans in 1814.
Some say the street is as famous as the residence of the renowned author William Faulkner. In fact, his former living quarters is now the home of Faulkner House Books. But, truth be known, Faulkner only lived in Pirate's Alley in 1925 for about six months. But that is New Orleans and Pirate's Alley; famous for food, fun, and great legends, and an excellent subject for artists. Here is my version. Enjoy—and watch out for pirates!