The Big Easy & The Big Hard


I had the opportunity to go to NOLA last week, mostly for pleasure and then a little business. It had been years since I had been to The Big Easy. The last time I remember being there I was with my Dad's sister "Aunt Betty". She used to make all my nightgowns and she would sew jingle bells on the bottom so they could keep track of me. I must have been around ten. I used to spend my summers with her. Eating cucumbers from the garden, riding bikes under the larger than life pine trees and pool hopping where anyone who would let us with my cousin. One particularly hot summer I remember driving from New Iberia to Nola at night in the back of a pickup truck. I recall the bed of the truck had a foam mattress and my cousin and I were told to keep our heads down. I will never forget that thrill, lying down and looking up at the stars and then as we drove into town at night all the iron street posts and second story porches of what I think was the "Garden District".

This trip was different but just as magical as my previous experiences. I traveled for a dear friend’s 50th birthday party. I was the one woman in a party of sixteen wonderful and talented men from NYC. My first night we had drinks at The Sazerac Bar located in The Grand Roosevelt Hotel with beautiful and intense wall length murals by 1930s artist Paul Ninas. The next day we headed to Jackson square where I immediately felt a change. The painful history of our country had a deep chilling presence in the square. I didn’t have many words for the experience, just profound sadness and recognition. It was an important moment in the trip and I’m glad we took time for it.

From there we were onto the Parkway Bakery & Tavern where we ate authentic Po’ boy sandwiches and WAY too much fried food. The men were beside themselves. After we finished getting our grub on we had an incredible house tour given by Grover, an absolute gentleman whom seemed to have an inside scoop on every fabulous house, woman and family in the neighborhood.

We stopped by our hotel to change and freshen up for the evening then headed to an outrageous private dining room birthday dinner at Brennan's. I made a special crown for the birthday boy which he proudly wore the rest of the evening!

The next day the NYC boys headed off to the airport and I headed to a client and friend’s home to see the amazing space she designed. Her style is very contemporary and it was an extra delight to see one of my large female portraits hanging!

I thought the trip couldn’t go any better when suddenly she smirked and said “let’s go girl, time to head out to Super Sunday”. I had never heard of Super Sunday before and all she let on was that it was a parade. Well, it was certainly that and much more. Since the 19th century the Mardi Gras Indian tribes led by their Big Chiefs often meet other tribes performing colorful dances, chants and rituals. Each tribe and their Big Chief try to outdo the other in a friendly competition. Their ceremonial regalia were not the be believed. They were made of hot pink, yellow, aqua, blue, black and white feathers each with fabulous detailed hand beaded chest plates and head pieces with moccasins and arm and leg pieces. I managed somehow to get directly in the middle of a duel. I was completely smashed against the crowds with a full face of feathers. I was too excited to be nervous and must have taken a thousand pictures! In this moment of festivity and tradition, I found it incredibly inspiring how the people have come back and rebuilt after the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. The feel and mood of the city really reminded me of my hometown, Baltimore. 

I wrapped up the journey with a visit to the set of NCIS New Orleans where Brook Yeaton who I've called my brother for a lifetime is the Property Master. He has created an absolute treasure trove of any and every prop known to the film business. If he does not have it he or one of his team makes it. The day I was there Brook was directing his assistant in the making of a stuffed bear with a camera built into the animal with the eye as the lens for an upcoming episode. I'm no newbie to set life having worked as a costume designer’s assistant on many shows and films like HBO's The Wire and Homicide: Life on the Street. It was humbling to see them at work because sometimes I miss the business but I will never miss the hours! Film people are tough and no one ever realizes how much hard work and dedication goes into it for our entertainment. It is not glamorous work and I have such respect for those that work in front and behind the camera. The next time those credits roll around, I hope you can take a moment to appreciate all of the artistry and craftsmanship to those names.

All of this is to say, I had the time of my life and can’t wait to bring James with me. I think he’d love the architecture, culture and people as I’m sure you would too if you haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the city.

Upon my return I hit the ground running. I said this would be the year of adventure and every day this is reinforced. We will be moving the Amanda James Gallery on June 1st and have lots to do before we make the transition. I’m incredibly grateful for the life that I live but it takes work. I have been faced with a lot of tough decisions and we are making some brave moves! I’m proud of how far we have come and I’m excited for our future.

I can’t lie, I'm scared to death but that won’t stop me. We’re moving forward (hopefully with a little grace and a lot of patience). Thank you all for being on this journey with me!


- Amanda J.

Amanda Johnson