Jean-Paul Villere: Groceries don’t make themselves

Among the plethora of regional “only in New Orleans” who dats, where yats, and duck fats, what makes one feel more like a local than the timeless event of gathering foodstuffs we commonly call “makin’ groceries”?  I put the origin to my French-immersed 11-year-old, and she walked away perplexed, but more like, “duh.”  In French “to buy” translates as acheter (ash-atay), but we are talking academic-France French here, right?  So you don’t simply buy your food, you of course “do the market” or faire la marche’.  Ergo “to do” and parallel that in “to make” and, voila, one makes one’s groceries.  One tween eye roll later, I knew I was on to something. Understandably most of the rest of the world have no idea what we’re talking about.  Beyond that, most of the rest of the world also have legal restrictions on what one may purchase while making said groceries.  For example, say you find yourself at Whole Foods in Philadelphia, and you’re feeling peckish for some beer: stop right there, fish out of water!  This isn’t Arabella Station!  Beer must be bought elsewhere.  Same in Texas, but only sometimes and in some counties.  I recall a midmorning Sunday visit to a Fiesta in Austin some years ago, when the checker set my Shiner aside noting the clock had to strike noon before I might procure my weekly allotment.  Seriously.  They call them blue laws.  I call them hoops. As a child I would often accompany my grandfather on his walk to the grocery.  We could’ve driven, but it was only a couple of blocks so we loped along the broken sidewalks beneath the shady oaks, something Lakeview has in short supply these days.  And some times we’d hit Meme’s on Canal Blvd but most of the time it was the Canal Villere on Robert E. Lee.  It was here he knew many of the checkers and they him, that whole neighborhood thing.  The event seemed quite ordinary at the time, if a little mundane.  Playing supermarket bingo or scratchoffs or whatever promo might be going on.  Who cares?  For the birds, I thought, but how I miss it — and him —  now. Frankly, we don’t know how good we have it here.  One-stop shopping, no matter what’s on the list or the time of day.  Recently I made my way to the Rouses on Tchoupitoulas midmorning on a weekday to find what I always do: a well-stocked and well-staffed local establishment where I may, unimpeded, make my groceries.  Curiously Steely Dan’s “Peg” played in the aisles.  As the song spun on, one of the stockers finished the second verse aloud with a definitive, “You know I’ll love you better,” and it just caught me.  Exactly.  The sentiment coupled with how it was expressed in the setting all came together.  When we prepare the food we love to eat, loving the journey of visiting the market makes it complete — and better. Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and Du Mois Gallery on Freret Street and a married father of four girls.

Jean-Paul Villere: Countless matinees

One of the earliest memories I have of my father remains a wrestling match with a Christmas tree, trying to persuade it to stand just so.  Come to think of it, that was actually an annual event.  Flying nettles, sweaty brows, and errant gruntled pseudo-curses on par with A Christmas Story Darren McGavin battles with the home boiler.  Years go by, decades really, a couple of kids get raised, a couple of marriages pass on, and in 2010 the world of medicine gave my pop a terminal diagnosis, only he proved them wrong.  He’ll tell you he should be dead, but today he turns 73. Other memories of my dad include Cub Scout soap box derbies (man, I hated those), weekends netting crabs down in Pleasure Island, Texas, (that was the best), and countless matinees (even better).  Winning a soap box derby took equal parts rudimentary physics and inflated machismo, neither of which we had on our side.  However, hanging out on a pier in the Gulf of Mexico for hours on end fit neatly into any weekend.  No matter what city we were in and no matter the rating, we’d sit through almost any cinematic wonder – or disaster.  Either way 90 minutes later we would know. Once when my dad lived in Lafayette we found some sleepy theater in some off part of town and we caught the early afternoon feature of Predator, an intense sci-fi Hollywood romp at the time.  Other faded flick memories include, when I was 12, a bewildering screening of Raising Arizona at the UA Phelan 6 in Beaumont, Texas. We didn’t know quite what to make of it, but we knew we liked it.  Not to mention the oodles of sequels.  Robocop 2.  Crocodile Dundee 2.  Oh, the neverending schlock! Today when I bring my kids to the movies it’s usually only for them, but sometimes it’s for me.  I’ll sit through Smurfs or Despicable Me or whatever animated fare there is.  But I will also drag my girls to Star Trek, even as recently as this summer.  Why?  Because that’s what you do.  Star Trek was meant to be seen on the big screen.  My dad did it for me, and I’m doing it for them.  To a degree I know they indulge me, but I believe also there remains a joy in the event.  Meh, I guess time will tell.  “My dad used to make us watch Star Trek…”

Jean-Paul Villere: Requiem for a Dream Boat

On a sleepy stretch at Loyola and Third in the heart of Central City amid a myriad of churches (some with an active congregation, some not so much), there sits a veritable historic housing preservationist’s dream, a 19th Century relic in what would otherwise appear to might have been a corner grocery or barroom.  But not so fast, judges of book by covers!  Look closer at the empirical data and ask some of the older area locals, and this hiding-in-plain-sight wood frame structure was by all accounts (or those willing to provide accounts) once upon a time a place unequivocally identified as the neighborhood brothel, dba The Dream Boat Inn. But you won’t find these notations on any Jane’s Walk, the PRC or even a stitch of info into what was likely a widely known secret and operated like any other business, with business cards, inventory, policies and procedures et al.  Just ask one of the building’s newest owners Jackson Flanagan.  Jackson and her business partner Jeff Kerby are Kerby & Company and in recently taking over the space for storage and makeshift shop Jackson says the story began to tell itself. After we had the building under contract, we had our plumber, Glen, over to check out the place.  He pointed to the ceiling where you can see the outline of where the walls used to be and grinned as he said, “What do you think that’s all about?” Jeff looked at Glen and replied, “Well, I think we both know what a bunch of small rooms in the back of a bar room means.”

Jean-Paul Villere: Sole rebels

I brought my kids to the park yesterday.  As the temps are getting cooler and it’s a little overcast and drizzly this week, their boundless energy seems more so, and invariably the question arises: “Daddy, can I take my shoes off?”  Okay, they’re 2 and 4, and yes, they should be asking “may I,” but no matter how hard you try, such corrective linguistic preferences breeze in and out of tiny ears, especially when all they want is to get toes to ground.  I almost always answer “yes.” As a kid I absolutely hated being barefoot, so clearly my girls get it from their mother.  And there’s no city ordinance (I know of) a la “no shoes, no shirt, no service” restricting how children should play.  Honestly, I think they are more even kinetic sans footwear, which for me with my once-upon-a-time tender feet remains baffling. The conundrum of permitting children to go shoeless in such a setting – yours or those you may be looking after – becomes the wildfire decision of the peer group. This one weigh-in affects the collective feet also playing, and soon the footed floodgates ceremoniously open to comparable parental queries: Might they also kick off their kicks?  And, depending on the audience, you either instantly become the hero or the villain, teetering on the worldview of your likewise caregiver crowd.  And voila, a 50/50 split most of the time, as unscientifically measured it seems the average New Orleanian parent-type person thankfully possess a laissez faire rearing notion too: let them go sole-less. But not everyone.  First-time parents and the OCDs among us walk the line and wince in your general direction when the yes card is played.  And in my experience it often expedites a speedy exit from the grounds, for what other lavish gifts might you next bestow upon the shoeless, playing children that the parenting peers may also deny?  Drawing with chalk?  Noshing on crackers?  The good life in the eyes of the under-5 set has clear and steadfast quotients for success those arriving in comfort, nourishment, and seeming freedom.  Let’s also factor in the affirmatively-met query that equals win in the world of the wee.  Truly any time anyone at any age asks for anything and they get a “yes,” how much better is that thing?  And when you’re a kid, magnify by a zillion.  No one likes “no.”

Jean-Paul Villere: The case for the ‘third place’

As I wrestled over what I might pen this week I read over the transcript from yesterday’s CPC meeting regarding the rezoning request of 4877 Laurel so that it might become realized as a coffeehouse.  And when I read the ridiculous decision crafted by the commission, my inner green apron got ruffled.  That the CPC voted against a rezoning by 6 to 1 and with very little if any support from attendees on the matter, frankly baffles me.  But then we are talking about a government entity in the City of New Orleans; maybe I shouldn’t be surprised?  Le sigh. Criminy crabcakes, people!  We’re talking about a distinctive, most recently (and notably) city-owned blight of a non-residence seeking to produce tax revenue and jobs all in the very familiar setting of a café.  Not as a strip club.  Nor as a massage parlor.  Or even any other unsavory scene.  But a business.  That serves coffee.  The world’s most popular beverage, I think. While I understand an approval would formally require a change of zoning from the present and rather sterile RM-2 to the swagger of the sultry B-1A, and most in the know are staunchly against spot zoning, the facts in this specific case fall plainly and clearly that an exception should be made.  And that really if the CPC votes against such a change, thereby deferring it to the higher power of the City Council, what use are they?  This matter clearly held the majority of the neighborhood in favor beyond the matter that this building was never once a residence anyhow.  Doesn’t the City Council have bigger issues to contend with than to right the errs of the CPC?  Is there really a valid reason not to change the zoning apart from “The Master plan says so”?  Ever stop to think the Master Plan isn’t always right?  Or as a title attorney I heard speak recently recount an exchange with a judge wherein the judge cited knowing a law was being broken but that the law in question law simply was not fair.  So, apart from the law, is it fair that the CPC voted down the rezoning?  You tell me.  But before you do, know this:

Coffeehouses – a part from serving variations of that wonderful caffeinated elixir – absolutely define the sober foundation of sharing in a public forum civilized thought, spanning generations over centuries and across continents even.  But hey, let’s vote against one, shall we?  I’m inclined to wonder:

(a) If a single member of the CPC has ever worked for minimum wage in a neighborhood setting?  And

(b) If they have, pray tell was it in a café? I’m going to go with hearty “never” and therefore followed up with a stern “not even close.”  If they had they would know this about a coffeehouse: in three words, it breeds community.  And no, that’s not a reference to the revered regional brand. When I did wear a green apron all those years ago, among the other catchphrases and lingo that by way of osmosis invade the cerebellum and spew forth from the ol’ pie hole I give you: the third place.  Starbucks’ firm resolve remains that the café setting provides a place different from home (first place) and different from work (second place) and therefore that missing go-to spot (third place).  And they’re not wrong.  Only, all cafés do this; Starbucks just put it into words, then make its dutiful baristas codify it in mantra.  Can I get a “One of us”?  Before I wore a green apron I wore a maroon one (at the now long gone CC’s on S Carrollton next to Camellia Grill), but more importantly before that I didn’t wear an apron at all.  For almost four years at uniform-less PJ’s I floated between Maple St and Tulane, and for those years and all the others, the café spaces were always spaces reflective of their neighborhood environs, the positives they bring being unquestionable.  Again, cafés breed community.  In if New Orleans is about nothing else, it is easily this.

Jean-Paul Villere: Breaking Bids — Navigating the Orleans Parish Tax Sale

Whether you realize it or not, now – right now – and through Thursday evening at 8 PM, the almost annual Orleans Parish Tax Sale is taking place via  It’s a big deal for many reasons, but also it can be rather fascinating if you’re a fan of Crescent City dwellings as well as archaic governmental proceedings.  Here’s why: you bid down. It’s the same dollar amount to all bidders, but you bid down percentage of ownership.  Therefore conceivably one willing to purchase 1% of any given property’s tax year(s) becomes the de facto winning bidder and cannot be outbid, however they are settling for the smallest possible amount of ownership.  Very New Orleans, right? Very Louisiana is more accurate.  It’s a state guideline.  Some say it’s to protect the delinquent to the second or third tier of excisement, because you see, even after you purchase, the titled party possesses and retains the opportunity to redeem for years to come.  In short, these tax sales do not behoove the impatient or the faint of heart. Personally, I don’t see a big difference between 99% and 1% in this matter; you either take the whole enchilada or you don’t.  Attorneys that have a taste for these matters will encourage bidders to stick to 100%, and if some one outbids you to 99%, then keep on shopping.  One such attorney is Ryan Scafidel of Audubon Title in MidCity. “Our method is downright tax debtor friendly since the tax sale debtor can sometimes keep up to 99% of the ownership,” he stated by email.  “I am not saying it’s the best method, and I know that some legal eagles have had discussions about amending the State Constitution.”

Jean-Paul Villere: Annunciation ain’t just a street in New Orleans

With the annual replenishment of the Crescent City’s back to school population each August (read: freshmen, grad / med / law students, and transfers), my ears perk up over the newer voices one encounters and how they finesse our local vocab.  My audio focal point will forever be the new crop of WTUL deejays who unmistakably take the crown for what I can only describe as interpretive “annunciation.”  Between the butchering of street names, there are always the local musicians’ monikers that invariably twist tongues.  I mean, is Torkanowsky really that hard to correctly pronounce?  Le sigh.  Let’s go over a few basics on the rue tip:

Milan: Forget the Italian city you thought you knew as mee-lahn, in New Orleans it’s my-lann. Conti / Tonti: While many favor a -tie it’s preferred as a -tee, as in con-tee / tawn-tee. Clio: The storied street that crosses St. Charles is not klee-oh, it’s kly-oh — or if you’re really in the know then cee-elle-ten (C-L-10).