Home for the holidays
This Alabama--New York transplant documents her love affair with New OrleansEverything about the holiday season connects with home: cooking, entertaining friends and family, putting out the special silverware, china and decorations that are packed safely away each year in wait for their annual cameo appearance. It is the time that we notice the small things that have been put off for months -- a slightly dripping faucet, one small bulb in the chandelier that has been out since April, a dresser top that has morphed into a small bric-a-brac shop.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
Now, just before holiday showtime, is the perfect opportunity to settle on the sofa with Debra Shriver's "Stealing Magnolias: Tales From a New Orleans Courtyard" (Glitterati Incorporated, $60). It is a large, opulently decorated book about finding the perfect house in the French Quarter and filling it with beauty and life again.
Shriver pays attention to the minutest household and entertaining details, whether architectural in nature during the renovation of her beloved Dumaine Street town house or setting the table for an impromptu feast now that she is settled. Hers is the story of falling in love with a house and then keeping the relationship strong through constant attention and care. It is also about falling in love with New Orleans.
Debra Shriver and her husband, Jerry, are from New York. She is the chief communications officer for Hearst Corp., and he is the food and travel writer for USA Today. They have traveled the world for many years and decided that of all the places that might suit them for a second home, New Orleans was the top choice. Debra Shriver is what she calls a "twelfth generation Southerner" with roots in Alabama, and she is particularly drawn to our cosmopolitan Southern atmosphere. She writes, "The old city is at once exotic and familiar, cool and hot, scrappy and elegant, friendly and even dangerous."
The Shrivers looked for property for a long time, and then three weeks before Katrina hit in 2005, they found the house of their dreams: an elegantly constructed beauty of a town house on Dumaine Street in need of color and brightening. Deep soul-searching followed the storm because they had not actually completed the purchase, and the city's future looked shaky at that point. But love is irrational, and they were in love with the city and the house, so they forged ahead.
In the text that weaves through the decorative and lush pages of the lavishly designed book, the author keeps the reader right at her side as she and her husband deal with the trials and delights of renovation and decoration, the joys of making friends in New Orleans, and the thrill of discovering both the readily apparent and also more hidden treasures in our city. Now firmly part of the community, Debra Shriver serves on the boards of NOCCA and NOMA.
The book, which includes atmospheric photographs by local artists Josephine Sacabo, Richard Sexton and others, bubbles with Shriver's enthusiasms. There are chapters that include recipes for culinary delights such as pots de chocolat and champagne cocktails with kumquats, with photographs that make your mouth water. Another chapter features fine fabrics and monograms, and stationery by the talented local, Alexa Pulitzer.
The author invites the reader to join her in a walking tour of the Quarter and to ponder the enduring influence of French culture on New Orleans. She investigates the power of voodoo and revels in the sounds of the city, from church bells and riverboats to the ubiquitous opportunities to enjoy local music. Throughout, Shriver shares anecdotes and insights into local customs and celebrations such as Twelfth Night, Mardi Gras, and second-line parades, and she is drawn to the spiritual, mystical side of New Orleans, wandering through old cemeteries and following jazz funerals.
Shriver's book may inspire you at the very least to try a new shrimp recipe using Ponchatoula strawberries or experiment with a surprisingly authentic tasting microwave praline (she promises!) or to spend an afternoon exploring the French Quarter and walking along the river -- but it will most certainly make you see the style and ambiance of New Orleans with a fresh sense of wonder and appreciation.