Thursday, July 28, 2011

Perfume and Oranges

During the Reconstruction years following the Civil War, in a building dating from 1832 two New Orleans sisters opened a notions shop at 613 Royale Street in the French Quarter. The structure included three stories, an attic, and a generous inner courtyard. Members of a proud and aristocratic Creole family, Emma and Bertha Camors outfitted many of the city’s finest women with formal gowns, lace and perfumes imported from Paris. Today, the former notions shop is a restaurant set in a large wisteria covered courtyard named Court of Two Sisters.

The poem below, “The Court of the Two Sisters” is from Phillip Lopate’s recent book of poetry, At the End of the Day (2010) and brings together the majority of his poems, most written during his youth. Lopate describes it this way: “Though I am known today mostly as an essayist, occasionally as a fiction writer, for about fifteen years I wrote poetry…When I look back at those years during which poetry formed such an important part of my identity, I am tempted to rub my eyes, as though recalling a time when I ran off and joined the circus.” He is also the author of numerous essay collections, including: Notes on Sontag (2009), Portrait of My Body (1996), Against Joie de Vivre (1989), and Bachelorhood (1981). Getting Personal (2003) includes both the writer’s prose and poetry.


The slow green fans turning in the courtyard

Of the classy restaurant in New Orleans;

The green napkins and the Negro waiters

Advancing in their bright green uniforms, superiorly

Filling the large water goblets dusty in the sun.

The hot rolls with curled butter shells like snails

And the enormous breakfasts served at all hours

Of Eggs with lemon sauce, asparagus, ham and toast points;

Cold creamed shrimp soup, oranges.

I read two newspapers at once, starting with sports;

Crowding the tablecloth with unwanted sections.

And when I was too stuffed to go on

I ordered a chickory coffee, dark and bitter

And a Charlotte Russe bursting with whipped cream.


  1. Does paint a picture of dining there. Visitors to NOLA should eat there once to experience the atmosphere--not to mention the good food. Wonderful sense of old New Orleans--especially the courtyard. Once used my own description of that courtyard as the setting in a bad early play. Setting great; play not so.

  2. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful post... this book is dear and near to my heart...

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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America