Peculiar Street Scenes - Vendors - Customs
Of a morning the French Quarter is alive with the cries of the vendors, "Belle Calas! Tout chauds! tout chauds! "Belle Fromage," "Belle Chaurice," Indicating, first, a species of coffee cake called calas, which are "hot! hot!" and again "Cream cheese," and still again, a species of sausage very much liked by th© children and called by the old Creole negresses, "Chauriee." Of an evening the old women pass with their baskets of "Comfitures Coco," and "Pralines," "Pistaches," "Pacanes," etc. Jackson and Washington Squares, whert the children gather for an airing, are great resorts for these old vendors. A most welcome cry in the heat of summer is to hear "Belle des Figues! Belle dea Figues!" (Beautiful figs! Beautiful figs!")
Everything sold by these old negresses is either "Belle" or "Bon," ("Beautiful" or "Good.") and to their credit, be it said, one can always rely upon their veracity.
The fruit and vegetable vendors are for the most part Italian emigrant men and women. Negresses, bearing vegetables in large, shallow baskets poised upon their heads, also go by, calling their wares "fresh and fine;" many housekeepers purchase their supplies from these itinerant vendors, the prices being exceedingly small, and usually scaled with the "Picayune" as a unit. A "Picayune" is equivalent to five cents, and is a corruption of the Spanish term "Picayon," applied to a coin in use in colonial days.
The milk carts are strictly indigenous. They are formed of a tall, green box, set between high wheels, and are driven almost invariably by Gascons. The two large, bright, brass-bound metal cans that ornament the front of the wagon compel the driver to stand up much of the time when driving, in order to see clearly the road before him. The milkman carries a bell, which he ring before the gates of patrons.
Every retail grocer or street vendor or bakerman or cake-woman who sells in the old French Quarter is expected to give "Lagniappe." "Lagniappe" is a Spanish word, and in this connection means a certain bonus in kind, that is given with every purchase. But the children always expect "lagniappe candy" or "cake" or "fruit." Some years ago an effort was made by certain progressive shopkeepers to abolish "lagniappe." There was a hue and cry and the old custom remained. It is a sweet and gracious one that the people like, and dealers who seek to ignore it soon find to their cost that their sales are less. "Quartie" is another helpful custom for the poor, by means of which a nickel or five cents is divided, and a purchase made half of one kind and half of another; for instance, half sugar and half coffee, etc. Negroes, especially, like "quartie." Some of them buy half bread (and they get a half loaf) and half coffee, and then ask for "lagniappe" sugar. So what is there lacking for the morning meal? "Quartie" and "lagniappe" help many an humble home, for the grocer is expected to give as "lagniappe," whatever is asked for, whether flour, salt, black pepper, spice, etc. In the neighborhood of the French Market, and down in the Faubourg Marigny, shopkeepers still adhere to the customs of the French merchants of a hundred years ago, and arrange their wares along the banquette to attract the attention of the passers-by.
"Bon Marche" Madame, Bon Marche!" they cry, just as in the olden days, and thrust their goods into your face, especially in the French Market vicinity, while the dark Italian emigrants, apt imitators, spread out their little hoard of bananas, potatoes and cabbages upon rough sacks on the banquette, all along the rues Hospital and Ursulines, and sing out in broken English, "Freshes banana, Madame! Cheapee! Madame, five centee, Madame!" You meet a curiou. a tii peddler with a little wagon on wheels. He is one of the last of the famous old "Marchand Rabais," for which the quarter was noted in the days gone by.
Each "marchand" had his own list of regular customers, and what you could not get in the way of small fancy trimmings in the big stores up-town, you were sure to find in his "little, store on wheels." But the "Marchand Rabais," as a distinct business, is passing out of the life of the Faubourg, and the faces of the few you meet are very sad and pathetic.
"Tin-a-feexy, Madame, tin-a-feexy!" and you turn to see a curious old man carrying a lighted furnace and a soldering iron. He is the "tin-a-feexy" man, and you catch an idea of his occupation, as some housekeeper rushes breathlessly to the door with a broken pot or tin vessel to be mended. The old man sets down his furnace, arranges his little workshop and begins to ply his trade. And here is the "shaving cake man," with a huge tin box strapped over his bent shoulders. He carries in his hand a small steel triangle, which he constantly strikes with a steel bar. All the "Carre" then knows that the shaving cake man is near, and the children beg for a "Picayune" to purchase the queer little rolls of cakes that he sells and which are very much like shavings.
The "bottle man" passes, buying up all the old wine bottles, or exchanging bits of trimming for them, etc. A peculiar little whistle breaks on the stillness; and a man stops his little "push cart" at the corner. He is the "ring man," the delight of every child in the quarter; in another instant from almost every house in the square, little tots are rushing breathlessly toward the quaint little "push store," bottle in hand, to exchange for some gaudy brass trinket, toy or flag, and then the "ring man" goes on his way to the next corner and childhood.In that square is made happy.
Another unique character is the "clothes pole man." Of an evening, especially in summer, the organ-grinder goes his rounds. The organ-grinder is generally an Italian or negro. He is the last relic of minstrelsy, and the old "Carro" has a tender place in its heart for him. He stops at every corner and plays a tune or two, while the children gaily dance on the sidewalks. He makes many a nickel as he continues his rounds till far into the evening.Picayune's guide to New Orleans (1904)
The Flower Girls and Praline Women, are generally to be found in the vicinity of Canal Street. The old "praliniere" looks very quaint with guinea blue dress and bandana "tignon," as she shows the dainty stock of pink and white pecan "pralines." She has others in a basket tucked away in a cozy corner formed by two show windows. Neither the flower women nor the pralinieres cry their wares, but sit patiently waiting for customers, meantime brushing the flies away with palmetto fans or mops of brown paper. In the "Vieux Carre" you see "Ma Belle Creole," every morning going to early mass, at the Cathedral, and of an evening" dancing her pretty feet off at the gracious old lime "soirees," so beautiful, so exclusively Creole, and where the olden "eau sucre" or "orangeade," and "orgeat," are often the only refreshments served, as in the parties of the old regime. Here Monsieur must have his good "French wine" for dinner, and his morning cup of "cafe noir," and dining well is as much a duty for him as going to church. Here are the old Creole restaurants, where Creole viands are a specialty. There the brazier and the candlestick are still household appointments; old brass knockers are still found on the doors and the keys and locks are big enough for a Cathedral. There the shopman as of old encases his windows with almost impregnable shutters and bars.
And sweetest of all, the daily, familiar sights of the "Vieux Carre" is the good old mammy, "la bonne vielle gardienne," taking the children for an airing of an evening, and crooning to them, as they fall asleep in her arms, on the granite steps of Jackson Square, the familiar old songs which have been handed down by the Creole nurses to the children from generation to generation.
It is a custom in New Orleans to announce deaths by printing a notice on a double sheet of paper, bordered with black, and to nail these on telegraph poles in the more frequented parts of the town. This practice is confined to the city. It is also a custom to drape the door or gate of the stricken household with crepe, white for the young dead, black for the elderly, and to fasten here also one of the printed notices.
Gentlemen always lift their hats and remain uncovered while a funeral goes by, as a mark of respect for the dead. And this gracious custom is observed in the most crowded marts in the heart of the business day. Catholics invariably lift their hats when passing a church of their faith, and the stranger will observe this done even in the street cars.