Newsletter: Escapes: On a quest for the heart and soul of New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA--Big Fun Brass Band, French Quarter, New Orleans. (Not on Royal Street.)
Big Fun Brass Band in the French Quarter of New Orleans, where music seems around almost every corner.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

He heard her before he saw her, or, more precisely, heard her music, big, intense notes that filled New Orleans’ Royal Street.

He had almost missed it.

The “he” in this case is Christopher Reynolds, who writes for the Travel section. “She” is Doreen Ketchens, whose venue for her brand of jazz is right in front of Rouses Market at St. Peter and Royal streets.

Reynolds was in New Orleans to write about the street musicians, but he knew his story wouldn’t be complete without Ketchens, who plays the clarinet with a passion that carries far beyond Rouses Market. Time was running out; he hadn’t been able to connect, and he was due to get on a plane. And suddenly, there she was.


“She’s got a wide grin between tunes and when she’s in conversation,” Reynolds said. “But once it’s her turn to play, she closes her eyes and knits her brow and leans back and you know she is focusing her whole being on the notes coming out of that clarinet.

“You can tell that every note out of her horn is doing exactly what she wants it to do.”

You’ll find scores of musicians all over NOLA, which is part of the allure and what powers Reynolds’ most recent addition to his Sites and Sounds series, which started with Carnegie Hall, pivoted to the Fillmore in San Francisco and has also found sweet music between the two coasts.

There are other stories that may be music to your eyes this week: a guide to the last of the super bloom, a Weekend Escape to the Land of Enchantment, news about a concert in that other land of enchantment known as Las Vegas, a column on growing disenchantment with buying an airfare predicated only on price; and the opening of a hotel in Montecito where a favorite family lodging used to be.


Come join in an armchair journey that just might offer wings.

— Catharine Hamm

New Orleans — and why all that jazz matters

Reynolds prowled a mile of Royal Street, listening mostly to traditional jazz but also listening for the roots of a genre all its own informed by West African rhythms, brass bands, music festivals and more. It all comes together on the streets, and Reynolds captures the character not only of the sound but also of the city. Plus, he shot a really cool video.

NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA--Doreen Ketchens, on clarinet, and her band play Royal Street, New Orleans.
Doreen Ketchens, on clarinet, and her band play Royal Street in New Orleans.
(Christopher Reynolds / Los Angeles Times)

Is the wildflower party over? Not completely

The bloom is off the rose, so to speak, in some areas, but there are still more wildflower places to check out, Mary Forgione writes, including the burn areas of the Antelope Valley California Poppy Reserve, the Santa Monica Mountains and Carrizo Plain. The wildflower guide that leads the story can help you identify what you’re seeing and is viewable on your phone using the mobile L.A. Times app or your smart phone’s browser. (Be sure to open the story.)

What are you seeing? Find out with our wildflower guide
(Francine Orr and Mary Forgione / Los Angeles Times)

In Taos, some like it hot

Irene Lechowitzky hadn’t been to Taos, N.M., in more than two decades, and, deciding it had been too long, returned to the town about 135 miles northeast of Albuquerque. She liked making its re-acquaintance, and she found some eating places that added spice to her Weekend Escape.

TAOS, NEW MEXICO - Southwestern-style goodies are for sale all around the center of Taos.
Shopping in Taos, N.M., includes Southwestern-style wares.
(Irene Lechowitzky)

Welcome to the Hotel California — in Vegas

The Eagles, whose “Greatest Hits” album became the bestselling album of all time in the U.S., will play two shows in Las Vegas and will perform their iconic “Hotel California” album in its entirety. Tickets go on sale on Friday, Michael Hiller reports. No word yet on whether the concert will include mirrors on the ceiling or pink Champagne in ice.

Timothy Schmit, Vince Gill, Don Henley, Deacon Frey and Joe Walsh at an Eagles concert in 2017 in Nashville, Tenn. They will perform “Hotel California” in its entirety in Las Vegas in September.
(Rick Diamond / Getty Images)

When price is a punishment

In this On the Spot column, I told readers how to predict that an airline might be in financial trouble and how to buy a ticket if you think that’s the case. But I also questioned whether we end up paying too high a price when we put price above comfort. Since I wrote this, I have been on a trip that reminded me that, yes, sometimes you should pay a little more so you don’t make yourself crazier. What are your thoughts? Drop me a line at

Are we too focused on the price of an airline ticket?
(Loris Lora / For The Times)

How do I love thee, Lot E? Let me count the ways

Just to reassure you, I haven’t totally abandoned my penny-pinching ways, so I decided to give LAX’s Lot E a whirl while I was away. Funny, but I always had an aversion to Lot C, the previous incarnation of budget parking at LAX. But I think I may have a new BFF. Agree or disagree?

Lot E, the new economy lot for LAX, has opened for visit. Lot C has closed to fliers.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

Rosewood Miramar Beach hotel is open

Rosewood Miramar Beach hotel, which is on the site of the much loved former Miramar by the Sea, has opened in Montecito on 16 acres of prime ocean real estate. The old Miramar was once a family-friendly spot. In its place is the upscale Rosewood. Both have one thing in common: a rail line bisects the resort.

Many people remember it as Miramar by the Sea. Now it’s the Rosewood Miramar Beach hotel, a luxury property.
(Rosewood Miramar Beach)

Go on a trip, cancel the guilt trip

It’s not easy being green, as Kermit the Frog would say, but it is attainable when it comes to travel, George Hobica writes. He outlines several ways in which you can reduce your carbon footprint while still enjoying the rewards of travel.

Costa Rica’s Arenal Volcano at sunrise. The Latin American country wants to be free of fossil fuels by 2050.
(Nick Ledger / Getty Images / AWL Images RM)

A two-fer in San Francisco Bay

Now you can take a trip to Alcatraz and get a second destination — in this case, Angel Island, the “Ellis Island of the West’’ — as part of the package. And this is not three-hour tour — more like 5½, Mary Forgione writes.

Alcatraz Island, the former federal penitentiary in San Francisco Bay that’s one of the most popular tourist attractions in the U.S., now offers a tour that includes nearby Angel Island State Park.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

What we’re reading

Ghost towns have a certain charm; Cisco, Utah, certainly cast its spell on Eileen Muza, who is restoring the town — and offering a three- to five-week artist residency “to both preserve and share the unique character of the place,” Evan Nicole Brown writes in Atlas Obscura. The town is about an hour from anywhere, so if you need peace and quiet, this just may be your ticket. The residency begins Oct. 1. Muza’s website has application details.

Cats don’t usually make the list of ideal traveling companions. Maybe occasionally there’s one who’s pretty good in the car, but this is the first we’ve heard of one being a suitable cycling companion. Say hello to the dynamic duo of Dean Nicholson of Scotland and Nala, formerly of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Nicholson heard a little meow, stopped his bike and there she was. Now he and she are biking the world, he on a bicycle and she on his shoulder, Isaac Stanley-Becker reports in the Washington Post.

Komodo Island has about 5,700 of its namesake lizards (the ones dubbed dragons), which are the objects of curiosity and, for some, longing. Now the Indonesian island is closing to tourists, perhaps for as long as a year, Lyndsey Matthews writes in Afar. The creatures, which can grow as large as 10 feet, have been disappearing. Recently, 40 of the dragons were snatched, fetching $35,000 each. The government is hoping to increase the population of the lizards and keep them away from poachers. I don’t quite understand the allure of having one as a pet; I certainly wouldn’t want one cycling with me on my shoulder, especially because they can grow to 300 pounds and can kill a human with their venom, which keeps your blood from clotting so you bleed to death. Nice.

LOS ANGELES, CA., OCTOBER 22, 2013: A komodo dragon hatchling keeps a watchful eye on a visitor in a
Here’s a Komodo dragon, but it’s just a baby. Imagine one that’s 300 pounds.
(Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times)

Reading, reaching out and buying in

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Come see master bargain hunters at the L.A. Times Festival of Books

The L.A. Times Festival of Books is this weekend at USC, and you can find out about travel bargains from experts George Hobica and John DiScala. The session is at 2:30 p.m. Saturday. It’s free and, even better, could save you a bundle on your travels.

George Hobica, left, and John DiScala will tell you where and how to find travel bargains.
(Courtesy of the panelists)

End paper

I used to have a thing for world’s fairs, which was apparently genetic. My mother’s parents honeymooned in St. Louis, where they attended the 1904 World’s Fair. My older sister honeymooned in New York, where she and her husband attended the 1964 World’s Fair. And I went to New Orleans in 1984 for the World’s Fair, but it was no honeymoon.

I was sent to cover the May 12 opening of that fair and its aftermath. Gov. Edwin Edwards gave a shout of “Laissez le bons temps rouler” to get the good times rolling for an event that would let countries, including ours, show off their best and brightest.

All was well until the fair went bankrupt and ended up about $100 million ($245 million in today’s dollars) in the hole, the New York Times reported, noting that some blamed the high price of admission — $15, or about $35 nowadays, the heat, bad marketing and an outdated concept. Could have been any or all of those.

The city has taken its share of hard knocks in its 300-plus years, including 2005’s Hurricane Katrina, which killed 1,800 across the South and caused $160 billion in damage, half of that in New Orleans. Almost a third of the population left.

It would be trite to say the city bounced back. It fought its way back. It’s still fighting. Ann Simmons, formerly with the L.A. Times, was a correspondent in New Orleans for more than a year after Katrina. When Hurricane Harvey pummeled Houston, she wrote of New Orleans’ path back.

Just saying ‘Katrina’ seemed painful; it was reduced to the ‘K-word,’” Simmons wrote. “The K-word always came up in conversation, no matter the topic. Tears typically accompanied the talk.

“But the storm did not only spawn hardship and discontent; it seeded solidarity.”

Maybe that’s what makes New Orleans so remarkable; much has been taken from it, yet it continues to give back. Music is at its core, part of its solidarity and one of its gifts to us.

Wherever you go, travel safely and well, appreciate the grit and the gifts wherever you are and always remember we will be here to welcome you home.

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