International House and loa Present an Original Vision of the Classic Sicilian Ritual March 14-20, 2013
International House, the premier boutique hotel in America's boutique city, New Orleans, offers its guests an experience manifest with the rites and rituals that heighten daily life in this most sepulchral destination. On the evening of March 14, the hotel celebrates this classic Italian Feast Day for San Giuseppe with great artistic originality and local Sicilian flavor, including sidewalk chalk art, an accordionist, the altar maker, a master baker and the in-house Spirit Handler. A stylized still life and reverential altar will remain on view through March 20.
Just as New Orleans' extensive Sicilian community does in their homes and churches, the lobby at International House honors St. Joseph with an extraordinary ALTAR. The composition of this altar, with offerings that range from fish to figs to fava beans, is highly specific by tradition and is lovingly curated by local designer and stylist Linda Sampson. Another essential contribution, bread, will be provided by the city's newest master baker, Graison Gill of Bellegarde Bakery.
Joining the altar ritual for the first time this year is a still life of sorts. It is styled and produced by Loa's creative director, spirit handler, playwright and director, Alan Walter, and aims to depict Joseph as, quite simply, a father among fathers, an ordinary man who became extraordinary by his actions. A stark TABLEAU features the collected belongings of the Holy Family just before they fled to Egypt ahead of Herod's search parties trying to nip the rumored "messiah" in the bud. Joseph's courageous and defiant role as protector shines an image of upheaval and dislocation, highly familiar to the Sicilian people and to New Orleanians, in many ways the cause of their admirable, hard-earned spiritual acquisitions.
From late afternoon till dusk on March 14, the SIDEWALK entertainment in front of International House might well be taken for an Italian piazza on a Saturday afternoon, when an accordion-led duo plays for seated guests who can order Alan's Citrucino, a cocktail called the Bellucci [Brandy, Aperol, Citrucino, Cucumber, Satsuma, Kombucha], or Café Corretto [Espresso with Grappa]. A chalk artist will be at work too, creating beautiful, temporal sidewalk art beside the hotel, a reminder that life is a gift though fleeting and that the best way to show appreciation for a gift is to enjoy it.
The hotel's bar, Loa, distinguished by homemade and fresh ingredients, marvelous recipes employing proprietary syrups, pressed juices, and herbs, and select vintage stemware, will add its own touches to the feast. Walter each year concocts a love letter to the beloved Sicilian Limoncello, which uses both Sorrento Lemons and local Meyer Lemons along with other native produce. The resulting "Citrucino" has as its base a medley of White Spirits and a decidedly southern Louisiana twist.
Among the ritual days and festivals of New Orleans, none is better known or more frequently misunderstood than Mardi Gras. International House, New Orleans' first truly boutique hotel, celebrates its first Fat Tuesday by offering guests and visitors a unique and colorful vision of Carnival history.
The lobby has been decorated by Henri Schindler, who for twenty years has been active as a designer of parades and balls for some of the city's oldest societies. In conjunction with the publication of his lavishly illustrated book, Mardi Gras: New Orleans (Flammarion, Paris 1997) Schindler served as guest curator of an exhibition at the New Orleans Museum of Art, "The Golden Age of Carnival, 1870-1930" Mardi Gras: New Orleans has been acclaimed an extraordinary work of cultural history; International House is delighted to share images and insights from Schindler's stunning panorama of Mardi Gras' rich history and its exuberant diversity:
"New Orleans is a sensual, sybaritic city, and it is for her pleasures that she has long been celebrated. Mardi Gras is her day of days, and this book will describe its evolution and its legacies. The observance of Mardi Gras predates all else, embracing and infusing all that followed -- the colonial orphan's longing for the crown, the perpetual calendar of fantasy ( of preparation, enactment, and of memory ), the passions for music and dance -- all have been played out amid New Orleans' extravagant vegetation, beneath her blazing suns and warlock moons.
It is impossible to capture even one Mardi Gras in words or pictures; a population devoted to joy is not one to leave records, and those created have had to endure a tropical climate notoriously unkind to paper and velvets. Mardi Gras' surviving fragments exist like buried treasure; few New Orleanians have seen them, and they have remained unknown to the outside world. With a few introductory exceptions, the many images in this volume span a hundred years, from 1857 to the mid-1950s. This was the classical period of Mardi Gras -- an age of artistry, opulence, mystery, imagination and wit -- far different from the Mardi Gras of this waning century. Designs for floats and costumes of the Golden Age processions, the elaborate invitations to tableaux balls, old vintage photographs, and prints offer us, however incompletely, tantalizing glimpses of a fantastic, vanished empire and a fabulous city's heart and soul."
High above the lobby, panels have been emblazoned with enlargements of 13 watercolor designs by Charles Briton for the torchlit procession of the Mistick Krewe of Comus (named for the God of Sensual Pleasure and appropriated from Milton's Paradise Lost) on Mardi Gras night of 1873, The Missing Links to Darwin's Origin of Species. The Missing Links were the characters in a brilliantly layered satire. The pageant presented itself as a send-up of Darwin's theory, then regarded as an abomination by many. The order of march followed the stanzas of a poem of great wit; each stanza was borne aloft on painted glass transparencies, in a succession of verse that identified each Group, and traced the evolution of life from Sponge to Gorilla.
Members of the Mistick Krewe were all afoot, inside one hundred wondrous papier-mache animals, fish, flowers, elephants, insects, and sea-creatures, some of them twelve feet high. In the glare of torches, the parade's true targets were revealed -- many links bore unmistakable resemblances to political figures of the day, from local precincts to the White House. Marching among the Insects was the Tobacco Grub, wearing the face of President Ulysses S. Grant. In the ball that followed on the stage of the fabled Varieties Theater, the cast of papier-mache creatures enacted five tableaux with new scenic lighting effects and dissolving views. The remarkable wit and invention of "The Missing Links" secured its position among the greatest efforts of New Orleans Carnival. This pageant was also the first to be constructed entirely in New Orleans, and it launched a dazzling career of forty years for its young builder, Georges Soulie.
High above the Reception Desk, enthroned in a leafy bower, Rex, King of the Carnival and Monarch of Merriment, greets his loyal subjects and visitors. This lovely Mardi Gras image was created for invitations to the Rex Ball of 1893, and was designed by Bror Anders Wikstrom. Wikstrom, a prominent member of the art circles in 19th century New Orleans, was considered the dean of Carnival designers. For twenty-five years he designed the Rex parade, each year creating watercolor designs for twenty floats, one hundred and twenty costumes, and paraphernalia. The two pages flanking the King, with their cups raised in greeting, were created by Ceneilla Bower Alexander, one of the many talented women who designed floats, costumes and invitations for the Carnival krewes.
The Zulu parade, the most beloved and acclaimed African-American institution of Carnival, was born in 1909. In 1916 the organization was incorporated and renamed the "Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club;" that year also saw the landmark debut of their grass skirts and outrageous blackface makeup. This year marks the 50th anniversary of one of the best-remembered events in Mardi Gras history, the reign of Louis Armstrong as King Zulu, and International House shares this important event through a shrine co-created by Schindler and French Quarter artist Linda Sampson. With an oil painting, the cover of the 1949 Time Magazine and authentic elements such as painted Zulu coconuts and grass skirts, the display captures much of the energy and mystique of that day.
Armstrong, New Orleans' most famous native son, had come home for the first time in twenty years to rule as King of the Zulus. He wore the traditional blackface; his royal robe was a red velvet tunic trimmed with gold sequins, worn over black tights and a skirt of yellow cellophane "grass." The red ostrich plumes in Armstrong's crown fluttered in bitter-cold winds, but weather could not diminish the number or warmth of the multitudes that hailed his reign -- the downtown crowds awaiting him were so thick his float could barely proceed. In the annals of Carnival there never had been, nor would there ever be, a king like Louis Armstrong: "You know, I always wanted to be king. Always lived for this day. I always been a Zulu, but King, man, this is the stuff."
Happy Mardi Gras.
For generations New Orleanians have upheld the tradition of altering their homes for summer and winter in response to climactic conditions. Homes are often outfitted with formal wool rugs and furnishings in the winter which add warmth to tall, drafty rooms. As winter gives way to summer, wool gives way to sisal rugs and cotton slip covers, which allow furnishings to breath during the months of heat and humidity found in this semi-tropical climate International House continues this temporal tradition by dressing the hotel for summer each Easter and for winter each Labor Day.
From Labor Day through Easter, or the "not so hot" months in New Orleans, International House dresses the lobby for fall and winter. Exuding almost living room warmth, set in an exalting space with 23" ceilings and enlivened with activity from the candlelight only bar, intimate groupings of lobby furniture have been tailored in the most sensuous fabrics. Colors are derived from those found in New Orleans' native spices and in her verdant, semi tropical landscape. Fern greens and a gallery of earth tones, for instance, compliment a subtle reaux-like cayenne, and formal wool rugs coupled with flora, such as Vetiver and palms, complete the sartorial composition for the cooler season.
Equally important is staff dress, for in New Orleans people not only dress their homes but themselves in response to climate. In contrast to the cream colored seersucker suits worn in summer, staff members dress in a classic, tropical weight, black suit from Banana Republic and an earth tone shirt, reflective of the more autumnal palette during the winter months. As such, with seasonal change International House celebrates the rich traditions and mores of this temporal city.
In heavily Catholic New Orleans, All Saints Day (November 1) and All Souls' Day (November 2) have been observed for centuries through rituals celebrating life over death.
During the Yellow Fever epidemics in eighteenth century New Orleans, death always loomed close. It's presence left the lasting impression on this city and its inhabitants that life is a gift, perhaps fleeting, and should be enjoyed to its fullest each day. And so, on All Saints Day and All Souls Day, New Orleanians honor the lives of their dead loved ones by painting tombs with brilliant whitewashes, placing yellow chrysanthemums and red coxcombs on graves and ringing statuary with immortelles (wreaths of black glass beads). On these days, cemeteries throughout the city are alive with the flickering glow from fields of candles, as death is forgotten and lives lived are celebrated.
It is one of the many rich New Orleans' traditions we observe annually at International House, for we can imagine no other city which has turned such tragedy into such a joyous celebration of life.
International House, New Orleans' first boutique hotel, is created around a distinct idea, one born of a love for New Orleans and a keen sense of time and place. Simply put, this hotel is about New Orleans today, its tangible contemporary style and its intangible timeless spirit. International House showcases this spirit by observing seven times each year in its lobby important local customs and rituals. Holiday time is one of our favorites.
The gas lanterns, designed by third generation New Orleans lantern maker Drew Bevolo, grace the main entrance and are rung with pine boughs. The boughs offer a subtle nod to the Mississippi River via their authentic barge rope ties. In addition, light in its many forms, influences mood, and these holiday-clad lanterns initiate the warm, welcoming glow which weaves its way throughout International House this time of year. The monumental main entrance is framed with indigenous magnolia garland and natural pine cone wreathes, embellished ever so slightly with oversized tassels.
Once inside, the sartorial statement for this wonderfully spiritual season is classic, simple and, as always at International House, rooted in our New Orleans culture. The woven forged steel face of the front desk, evocative of the delicate tracery of wrought iron introduced into the French Quarter by the Spanish, is draped with cedar garland. Likewise, openings which lead into the candlelight only bar called loa, meaning deity or divine spirit in Voodoo, are framed in ivy. Interestingly, ivy has long been the most popular of greens for holiday decorations. It is recognized as not only an enduring symbol of friendship but a sign that "God has walked here." Holly branches from 3 to 5 feet protrude exaltingly from hand-blown wall sconces made by acclaimed glass blower Mitchell Gaudet at Studio Inferno.
Instead of a traditional tree this year, the bright minds at Urban Earth created an unexpected and imaginative element for the entry table. Made of holly branches and classicly lit with white lights, this piece features a sphere of holly and in its center a pendulum-like swinging pine cone. Whimsical reference to "Father Time", the New Year and the Millennium are clearly evident, and wrapped gifts and ornaments complete the composition.
The entire ensemble of holiday flora is provided by Urban Earth, a shop which began as the collective dream of three New Orleans men. Their desire was to educate and attract city dwellers about and to the richness of indigenous plant life and the natural environment from which we have largely allowed ourselves to disconnect. "A garden in the city", as they call it, is a means by which one can soulfully reconnect with the Earth while still enjoying the benefits of modern, urban living.
Taken as a whole, it is evident that International House is considerably more than a place to spend the night. It is, says owner Sean Cummings, "…a cohesive guest experience deeply rooted in the fascinating culture of this city we call home. There are layers upon layers here to discover".
International House Hails Summer Solstice with Voudou Ceremony on the Holiest Day in the Voudou Religion- St. John’s Day
The eve of the feast of St. John falls so close to the summer solstice that St. John became known as the Patron of Midsummer Night. He was endowed with all of the ancient pagan attributes associated with that astrologically potent event - bonfires to the old gods became rededicated to St. John; the herb hypericum, traditionally harvested at that time of year, came to be called St. John's Wort.
Marie Laveau, New Orleans' most famous Voudou Queen, was instrumental in combining Catholicism with the practice of Voudou. She held annual Voudou ceremonies to honor St. John on the banks of the city's legendary Bayou St. John. That tradition continues today with authentic moonlight rituals performed on the bayou near its Cabrini Bridge.
International House will hold a celebration of this most important holiday in the Voudou religion in the soaring space of its lobby. As many as 200 participants gather, wearing the customary white dress. The hotel will honor the cultural importance of Voudou by building a monumental altar to the two main "nations" of Voudou gods, or Loa. Renowned Voudou priestess Sallie Ann Glassman will lead a traditional celebration, including drawing powerful symbols in cornmeal on the floor, and conducting a head-washing ceremony for all willing, recalling the traditional Voudou baptism performed on St. John's Eve at Bayou St. John. This ritual may well bring on significant dreams that evening, perhaps ones that foretell the future. All participants will receive candles decorated with a ritual ‘veve painting’ to light the soul’s way forward. An initiated ensemble of drummers, singers, and dancers dressed all in white with "tignon" scarves will enliven the festivities, and the celebration will teach visitors and locals alike about Voudou practices and principles.
International House’s exclusive cocktail, Laveau 347, will also be available for purchase, as St. John's Day involves reaching out to the spirit of Marie Laveau. This cocktail created in her honor indicates the number of her tomb in Cemetery #1. Laveau 347 is the perfect combination of champagne and pear, which both represent purity and affection.
Come shine your light at the celebration of the Feast of St. John at International House, the only hotel in New Orleans that reveals New Orleans through its local rituals and traditions.
For generations New Orleanians have upheld the tradition of altering their homes for summer and winter in response to climactic conditions. As winter gives way to summer, wool gives way to sisal rugs and cotton slip covers, which allow furnishings to breathe during the months of heat and humidity found in this semi-tropical climate.
With the advent of summer, International House enters the season with a change of light, design and rituals. In an effort to fulfill this hope, International House transforms its lobby by dressing it for summer and the more relaxed, languid lifestyle, which accompanies it. Guests will discover cotton slipcovers with mocha piping on the furniture and sisal rugs in place of formal upholstery and throw rugs. Likewise, the lobby is accessorized with indigenous banana leaves, palms, fragrant floating blossoms and spiraling topiary. This soothing, relaxing environment is sure to induce most guests to spend at least a portion of their day happily lounging. International House not only looks outwardly to create the ambiance within, but also inwardly with the furnishings designed by local artisans.
In keeping with this time, staff members add to the mix by dressing in taupe and cream colored seersucker suits, which may be recognized as a sartorial statement honored by most New Orleanians. Seersucker is arguably the most unique fashion statement in the city. It is common to see a veritable pilgrimage of businessmen dressed in the more traditional blue and white seersucker meandering around CBD streets at lunchtime.
Guests may discover the depth, diversity and beauty of celebrated traditions related to African-American and folk communities. Beautifully, they have given us jazz, ragtime and blues music. They have given us that rich culinary delight which is Creole cooking and they have provided us with intriguing days of observance, rooted rituals known to locals International House proudly shares these celebrations with their guests. Whether it is the RaRa festival on April 2, or a festival steeped in Voodoo lore, St. John's Eve, June 24, or Louis Armstrong's Birthday, July 14, guests can peer into these longstanding rituals. Each night, a hotel staff member places a "picayune card" at each bedside to not only wish pleasant dreams and a good night's rest but to explain the current ritual. It is not uncommon to stumble upon a jazz funeral with its famed second-line or spontaneous parade of the Mardi Gras Indians.