Better preserved, and a most interesting connecting link between the past and the present, is the world-renowned French Market in New Orleans. A story is told of a great novelist, who traveled several thousand miles in order to find representatives of all nationalities grouped together in one narrow space. For a work he had in contemplation he was anxious to select for his characters men of all nationalities, whom chance or destiny had thrown together. He spent several days in Paris, journeyed throughout sunny Italy, got lost in some of the labyrinths of the unexplored sections of London, and finally crossed the Atlantic without having found the group of which he was in search. Not even in the large cities of America could he find his heart's desire, and it was not until he strayed into the old French Market of New Orleans that he found that for which he searched. He spent several days, and even weeks, wandering through the peculiar market, and making friends with the men of all nationalities who were working in different parts of it. He found the Creole, full of anecdote, superstition and pride, even when he was earning an occasional meal by helping to unload bananas, or to carry away the refuse from the fish stores. The negro, in every phase of development, civilization and ignorance, could, and always can, be found within the confines of the market. The amount of folk-lore stored up in the brains covered by masses of unkempt wool astounded the novelist, who distributed dollars, in return for information received, so lavishly, that he began to be looked upon after a while as a capitalist whose wealth had driven him insane. Then, again, he met disappointed emigrants from nearly all the European countries, men, and even women, who had crossed the Atlantic full of great expectations, but who had found a good many thorns among the looked-for roses.
The Indian is not often seen now around the French Market, although he used to be quite a feature of it. Some of the most exceptionally idle loungers, however, show evidence of Indian blood in their veins, in the shape of exceptionally high cheek-bones, and abnormally straight and ungovernable hair.
Almost every known language is spoken here. There is the purest French and the most atrocious patois. There is polished English, which seems to indicate high education, and there is the most picturesque dialect variation that could be desired by the most ardent devotee of the everlasting dialect story. Spanish is of course spoken by several of the market traders and workers, while Italian is quite common. At times in the day, when trade is very busy, the visitor may hear choice expletives in three or four languages at one time. He may not be able to interpret the peculiar noises and stern rebukes administered to idle help and truant boys, but he can generally guess pretty accurately the scope and object of the little speeches which are scattered around so freely.
If it be asked what special function the market fulfills, the answer is that it is a kind of inquire-within for everything. Many of the poorer people do all their trading here. Fruit is a great staple, and on another page a picture is given of one of the fruit stands of the old market. The picture is reproduced from a photograph taken on the spot by an artist of the National Company of St. Louis, publishers of "Our Own Country," and it shows well the peculiar construction of the market. The fruit sections are probably the most attractive and the least objectionable of the entire market, because here cleanliness is indispensable. In the vegetable section, which is also very large, there is not always quite so much care displayed or so much cleanliness enforced, refuse being sometimes allowed to accumulate liberally. Fish can be obtained in this market for an almost nominal consideration, being sometimes almost given away. Macaroni and other similar articles of diet form the staple feature of the Italian store of trade, which is carried on on the second floor of the market. The legitimate work called for alone provides excuse for the presence of many thousand people, who run hither and thither at certain hours of the day as though time were the essence of the contract, and no delay of any kind could be tolerated. As soon, however, as the pressing needs of the moment are satisfied, a period of luxurious idleness follows, and rest seems to be the chief desideratum of the average habitue or employe. The children, who are sitting around in large numbers, vie with their elders in matters of idleness, though they are occasionally aroused to a condition of pernicious activity by the hope of securing donations or compensation of some kind from newcomers and guests.
The Old French Market at New Orleans
Structurally, the French Market is very well preserved. There are evidences of antiquity and of the ravages of time and weather on every side, but for all that the market seems to have as its special mission the reminding of the people that when our ancestors built, they built for ages, and not entirely for the immediate present, as is too often the case nowadays. The market also serves as a link between the present and the past. It is only of late years that the bazaar, which used to be so prominent a feature, has fallen into insignificance. Formerly it retained the importance of the extreme Orient, and afforded infinite fund for reflection for the antiquarian and the lover of history.
MY NATIVE LAND
The United States: its Wonders, its Beauties, and its People; with Descriptive Notes, Character Sketches, Folk Lore, Traditions, Legends and History, for the Amusement of the Old and the Instruction of the Young.
BY JAMES COX, Author of "Our Own Country," "Missouri at the World's Fair," "Old and New St. Louis," "An Arkansas Eden," "Oklahoma Revisited," Etc., 1903
"Breathes there a man with soul so dead
Who never to himself has said,
This is my own,my native land."