By Jim McCloskey
It was nice taking a break after so many consecutive annual pilgrimages to Las Vegas by heading over to New Orleans for the 2012 edition of the International Pool|Spa|Patio Expo. I’ve been to the Crescent City about a dozen times through the past 30 years and have always enjoyed the incredible dining opportunities it offers along with its great music and, well, interesting crowd behavior.
Unlike past trips, however, this time I stayed in one of the newer hotels near the Convention Center – and that’s a bit of a pity: With previous expos, I had always enjoyed the longish stroll along the Mississippi from some hotel near the French Quarter and through the Riverwalk’s complex of shops and eateries on my way to and from the show floor.
I particularly enjoyed that twice-daily hike because of the Plaza de España and its wonderful fountain. Surrounded on all sides by azulejo tile depictions of the coats of arms of Spain’s provinces, the fountain was dedicated in our bicentennial year of 1976 in anticipation of the 400th anniversary of Spain’s discovery of the Mississippi River in 1581. (The plaza was spruced up and rededicated in 2001 and seems to have come through hurricanes and floods with considerable dignity and grace.)
To be sure, I’ve seen fountains that are both larger and more extravagant than this one, but I’ve never found another that is better positioned on a pedestrian route or more inviting on warm, sunny days. The tiles are exquisite, too – a rare visual treat.
As I mentioned above, my daily walks to and from the Expo didn’t lead me anywhere near the plaza, but I headed out early one morning to spend a few quiet moments at the fountain’s edge. I noticed patches of popped tile on the bottom of the basin and saw that a few of the jets weren’t sending their streams of water quite where intended. Still, my time there brought back memories of past visits and helped me feel about as “at home” as one can feel while 2,000 miles away from kith and kin.
The next time you’re in New Orleans for business or pleasure, make a point of wandering down to the banks of the Mississippi. Before you visit the Aquarium or march up to get a closer look at one of the world’s great rivers, stroll on over to the Plaza de España and set a spell: It’ll do your outlook (and if you’re like me, your feet!) some good.