Thursday, November 29, 2012

Finding the Heart of New Orleans Outside the French Quarter

Last week, I took a trip “down yonder to Old New Orleans” after finding great deals for travel on off days during the holiday week. I am happy to report that this vacation spot is better than ever after Katrina. With the Super Bowl coming to the Crescent City this February, the city is hard at work repaving roads, upgrading the streetcar system and making other improvements to infrastructure. The shops and galleries of the French Quarter, the main draw for tourists, are open now that most of the proprietors have returned after the storm.

Heart NOLA
When I first visited New Orleans, the main attraction for me was the historic architecture of the Vieux Carré, which reflects the French, Spanish and Caribbean people who originally settled in the city. If you visit during the week, especially after Mardi Gras or in the fall, it’s possible to take a pleasant stroll down quiet streets and enjoy the mild weather. After having my fill of café au lait and beignets at Café du Monde as well as the stumbling drunks and cover bands of Bourbon Street, I decided to venture out of the French Quarter to discover what goes on outside the tourist zone. That’s how I discovered that the true strength of New Orleans is its people.

Cross the border of the French Quarter at Rampart Street, and you’ll enter Tremé, which is considered to be the first black neighborhood in America. Many famous musicians were born in the Tremé, and it’s even considered the birthplace of jazz. It’s also the site of the recently renovated Louis Armstrong Park and Congo Square, where slaves used to gather on Sundays to play music and dance. If you ask anybody in the French Quarter, they’ll warn you not to go to the Tremé. Maybe they say that to keep the visitors spending money in the tourist area, or maybe it’s because I’ve lived in Baltimore for so long, but I felt completely comfortable walking around the neighborhood during the day. Everyone I passed said hello or made friendly conversation, making me feel welcome.

Backstreet Cultural Museum
If you are uncomfortable visiting Tremé alone, French Quarter Phantoms offers a wonderful two-hour tour. My guide was Emelie, who provided a wealth of information on the history and culture of the area and seemed to know everyone we passed. Since I was the only one on the tour, I felt more like I was hanging out with a friend than playing tourist.

After finishing the tour, I returned to the Backstreet Cultural Museum, which tells the story of the Mardi Gras Indians and other groups that make the culture of New Orleans so interesting. Mr. Francis, who founded the museum, is a delightful man, who enjoys telling personal tales about the people who donated the memorabilia. Although the museum only has two rooms, I spent more than an hour there, fascinated by the intricate work of the Indian costumes and his stories.

Wanting to experience the true music of New Orleans, I visited Kermit Ruffins’ Tremé Speakeasy at 1535 Basin Street after reading about his new restaurant in a local entertainment magazine. On Monday nights, this cozy restaurant offers a delicious, affordable meal and an amazing set by Kermit and friends that starts around 6:30 p.m. Etiquette in New Orleans calls for any musicians in the house to get up and play with the band, so a long list of people were called onstage to perform, even some of the servers.  Since there are only about ten tables, early arrivers invite the late-comers to fill in the empty seats, making it a great way to meet people. By the end of the set, everyone in the room was dancing together and tossing balloons around like old friends. It felt more like being welcomed to a house party than hanging out in a bar. You don’t find that friendly, laid back attitude in the North.

A typical night on Frenchmen Street
After all that fun, it was barely 9:00, and the night had barely begun. The couple next to me invited me along to hear more music on Frenchmen Street, the area next to the French Quarter where the locals go to hear the best jazz. How could I refuse? I suddenly found myself in a cab with this former scout for the Texas Rangers, his newly divorced girlfriend, Kenny Terry of the Tremé Brass Band and several other groups and his lady friend Raynette. While I normally wouldn’t get into a car with strangers, Raynette assured me that if they were murderers, she could stop the bleeding because she is a registered nurse. I had nothing to worry about because we had a blast popping in and out of clubs and dancing while Kenny joined the bands onstage. Kenny and Mike, the guy who invited me along, seemed to know everybody and introduced me around like they had known me for ages, or at least more than a few hours. I felt like a regular, and I liked it. When the night finally came to an end, Mike and his girlfriend even walked me back to my bed and breakfast.  

Laissez les bons temps rouler!

Check out more of my photos of New Orleans.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Eat and Drink Your Way Through Old Nice

As the days grow shorter and colder at my home in the mid-Atlantic, I fondly reminisce about my time in my tiny apartment in Old Nice just a few months ago. I miss feeling like a part of the neighborhood and  wandering through the tiny streets, discovering new shops, galleries and cafés along the way. If you are lucky enough to visit Nice yourself, be sure to make time to visit Vieux Nice, the old town, where you’ll find some of the tastiest food and wine in the world. And a lot of it is even good for you.

When someone refers to Niçoise cuisine, you probably think of Niçoise salad; however, that’s just one dish on a long list of this city’s specialties. While Nice is located in the heart of the lavish French Riviera, its cuisine evolved when the region was controlled by Italy, and the majority of its inhabitants were poor. Therefore, the primary ingredients are grown or caught in the area, and they are always fresh. Local olives and olive oils, cheese, zucchini, tomatoes, herbs de Provence and fish are easy to find at the daily market on the Cours Saleya.

Where to go
Beside the market, here is a list of some of the can’t-miss spots that will give you a true taste of Niçoise cuisine.

Alziari Moulin à Huile, 14 rue St. Francis de Paule (near the Opera)
This shop is known for its olive oil, which has been produced for more than 150 years. In addition, you can find honey, spices and wine here.

This wine shop is next to Alziari, so be sure to stop in and buy a few ice bags, a thick plastic bag that doubles as portable wine chiller and is perfect for picnics and parties. It makes a great souvenir for friends who like wine, and it’s easy to pack.

Bistrot Antoine, 27 rue de la Préfecture, (0)4 93 85 29 57 (past the Palais de Justice)
This small restaurant is frequented by the locals, which usually means you can’t go wrong. The menu is definitely not geared toward vegetarians, but there are some fish dishes. Prices are reasonable, and it’s always crowded, so reservations are a must. The restaurant is closed Sunday and Monday.

Les Distilleries Idéales, 24 rue de la Préfecture
This is one of the best happy hour spots in Nice. Small tables outside are the ideal place to sip on a draft beer or a glass of local wine and watch the world go by. Inside, you’ll find large televisions airing sports in a pub-like atmosphere.

Caves Caprioglio, 23 rue de la Préfecture
If you’re looking for a great bargain, visit this wine shop. Bring in your own bottle, and have it filled with the house rosé or red for only €1.90. Speaking of rosé, this isn’t the rosé that’s considered undrinkable by connoisseurs. In fact, it’s a specialty of the region. If you like wine, be sure to try some while you’re here.  

Pizza Pili, rue du Collet and 24 Rue Benoît Bunico 
Nothing goes with cheap wine like cheap pizza, and Pizza Pili doesn’t disappoint. For €6.50, you can get a large pizza loaded with toppings. There are about a dozen varieties, including my favorite, the Provencal, which overflows with vegetables. Like other pizzerias in Italy and France, this dish has thin crust and creamy cheese, and I find it more delicious than the American version. If you plan to go to Pizza Pili, be sure to avoid the rush around 8:00, the traditional French dinner time. Also, there are only a few tables on the street, so it’s best to count on taking the pizza back to your hotel.

Fenocchio, Place Rosetti
Known as the best ice cream in Nice, Fenocchio boasts more than 100 flavors ranging from the everyday chocolate and vanilla to the exotic, including basil, cactus, oregano, beer and zucchini. Enjoy your treat and the view of St. Réparate cathedral, which dates back to the eleventh century, in this bustling but beautiful square.

Chez Juliette
Chez Juliette, 1 rue Rosetti, (0)4 93 92 68 47
The food at this tiny restaurant off Place Rosetti is only matched by its charm. I passed this place quite often since it was around the corner from my apartment, and it was always packed. When I stopped in to eat shortly after it opened one night, the outside dining area was already full, so I settled for a table inside, but I was not disappointed, thanks to the shabby chic décor and impeccable service. The menu included local favorites, including petit farcis, a dish made of vegetables stuffed with meat. Whether you’re with friends or on a date, Chez Juliette this is a delight in dining. Just be sure you arrive when it opens at 7 or make a reservation.

Local flavor
You can find several restaurants in Old Nice that serve local dishes. Here is what to look for:

Petits farcis: vegetables, such as red peppers, eggplant and zucchini stuffed with ground meat, parmesan cheese and olive oil.

Tarte aux blettes or tourte de blettes: tarte made with swiss chard, a vegetable similar to spinach and kale. You can order it either sucré or salée. Sucré means that it’s sweet, which makes a delicious dessert. Salée is salty, making it a delicious appetizer or main dish that is similar to spinach pie found on Greek menus.

Socca bread: made of chickpea flour and olive oil, it’s simple and filling.    

Pissaladière: an appetizer similar to pizza, it is topped with anchovies and caramelized onions.

Tapenade: puréed or finely chopped olivescapersanchovies and olive oil. Spread it on bread and serve as an hors d’oeuvre. A similar recipe is caviar d’aubergines, which is made of puréed eggplant and olive oil, but has no caviar. 

Bon appétit!

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Non-communicator’s Guide to Creating Effective Communications

If you work for a small organization, you will probably have some involvement in a publication or a website at one time or another. Sure, you know your organization inside and out, so this should be a snap, right? Hardly. To do it right always requires work, but if you follow these tips, you can create a more professional looking piece, which will give your organization more credibility. It will also increase the chances that people will read your piece and take the actions that you intend, which is the goal of your project.

Do your research.
photo of beach
Creating effective communications is no day at the beach. 
Before you begin, find out as much as you can about your audience. Consider education level, age, level of knowledge about your product or service. What benefit will you provide to them? Keep in mind that the reader wants to know what’s in it for him, so develop your material accordingly.

Interview members of your target audience. They are your best resource for developing effective materials. If several people offer similar comments, incorporate them into your piece.

Write active, effective copy.
  • Write copy based on your research. 
  • If you are writing to the general public, do not use technical terms or industry jargon. If you can’t avoid certain terms, define them clearly.
  • Use active voice rather than passive.
  • Write concisely, deleting unnecessary words. This is especially important if you are writing for the Web.
  • Don’t try to impress your reader by using big words and long sentences. This is not a term paper, and people are too busy to invest their time in reading a document that requires effort.
  • If you are trying to engage the reader, do not ask him to do anything that requires work. For example, I recently wrote a flier for my neighborhood association to present to new residents as a means of engaging them in caring about the community. In it I listed the social activities as well as the online resources that provide more information about the community. I purposely did not mention the monthly clean-ups because telling people that they have to go to work as soon as they move in is only going to turn them off. We’ll save that until they hang out with us a few times and begin to feel an obligation to help.  
  • Do not include more than two to three central messages because research shows that people will not retain more than that.
  • Avoid exclamation points, parentheses, underlining, bolding and all caps.They are distracting.
  • Use spell check and ask someone else to proofread your work because people tend to miss errors in their own writing. Also, someone else will be able to tell you if something you wrote is not clear.
  • Use short paragraphs, bullets and subheads to break up the copy.

Form follows function and budget.
Design your piece to fit its purpose. For example, if you plan to mail a short message to present to your reader, consider a post card, which has a lower mailing cost and increases the odds that your reader will look at it since he doesn’t have to open an envelope. However, if your piece will be part of a packet of materials that is stuffed in a folder, a letter-sized flier is more appropriate.

At this stage, you also need to make sure that you have enough money to create what you’ve envisioned. Don’t waste your time working on a booklet for mailing to hundreds of people if you only have a budget of $100. Determine mailing and printing costs now and adjust your project accordingly. If you don’t have a lot of money, consider what you can do on your website or on social media.  

Follow design principles.
Make your copy as easy to read as possible. If you have to use a decorative font, save it for large headlines. Do not use justified copy, which is copy that extends from margin to margin. This is especially distracting with larger fonts. For printed pieces, use a serif font, the type with the curly tail, like Times Roman. For a website, use sans serif, a font without a tail, because the tail is harder to read on a monitor since the resolution is lower than that of a printed piece. It’s also important to choose a font that most people have on their computer, such as Arial.

Use callout boxes, photos, illustrations and lots of white space to break up your copy.

Be consistent throughout your material. Use your corporate colors and try not to deviate. Do not use too many fonts. Usually, two font families are enough. Make sure all of your photos are of a similar style, whether black and white, color or altered with a filter.

Speaking of photos, make sure they are good quality if you are going to use your own. Make sure they are 300 dots per inch for printed pieces, and don’t enlarge small ones. Also, keep in mind that photos found on the Internet are only 72 dots per inch and should never be used in printed pieces. The same goes for cell phone photos. If you are going to use photos of people, make sure you have their permission. Read this article to find out when you need a photo release form.   

If you don’t have your own photos, you can buy them from a stock photo agency. Some of the better known stock photo companies are Photostock, iStock, Veer and Bigstock.

Review with care.
While it’s important that others in your organization review the work for accuracy, avoid writing and designing by committee. Since everyone has a different opinion and style, the piece gets watered down and becomes less effective when everyone starts making changes.

If possible, have a few members of your intended audience review your work before publishing it. Ask the readers how your piece makes them feel, whether they are motivated to take the action you intended, whether anything is confusing and what would make it better. This is valuable feedback, and although it may require a lot of adjustments, your extra work will pay off in the long run.

Call any phone numbers and tests any email addresses or links to websites one last time before publishing. I know from experience how embarrassing it is for a reader to tell you that he called the number in your magazine and reached a sex line.

Find a good printer.
If you are creating a printed piece, make sure you go with a good printer. With advances in digital printing, this task has become much simpler and more affordable for small organizations that have little experience in printing and don’t need large quantities. Before printing, ask the printer what kind of file you should submit. Usually, it’s either a print quality PDF or original design files, such as Quark or the more commonly used InDesign.

Some tips on dealing with communications professionals
If you are working with a writer, designer or web specialist, keep in mind that your expectations are probably not be the same as theirs. At the beginning, it’s essential that both parties clearly define their roles, production timelines and other conditions that will affect the project to ensure the best results.

One of the most common misconceptions about working with designers is that they can just push a few buttons, and a masterpiece will appear. The best design does look simple. It facilitates the reader’s experience rather than detracts from it. It takes time to make a professional peice. It’s important to settle on a schedule at the beginning, and remember that just because you need something tomorrow, that doesn’t mean that it’s possible to do an effective job in your time frame, especially when there is a lot of text, or if there are many photos to process. Agree on important milestones such as the following due dates:
  • sending copy and images to the designer
  • first proof from designer
  • providing changes to the designer
  • second proof from the designer
  • date to printer
  • due date from printer

The easiest way to create a production schedule is to work back from the due date.

It’s also important to define the specifications for the designer, such as:
  • whether the work will be printed or published online
  • for printed pieces, how the piece will be distributed and any required format, such as trifold brochure or post card
  • whether the piece will be black and white or color
  • budget for producing the piece
When requesting changes from the designer, mark exact corrections on the proof. For example, if you have to change the wording of a sentence, cross out the words on the proof and write the correct words next to them. Don’t give general comments, like “this is too confusing.” Unless you’ve contracted with a designer to provide copywriting services as well, it’s not his or her job to figure out what you should say.

Remember that the designer is not a miracle worker. If your copy is not well written, or if your photos are of poor quality, your final product will not be successful. In addition, some changes are impossible, such as adding photos to a page that is completely full.

Finally, if the designer tells you that your changes aren’t going to work, don’t ignore his advice. Just as you are trained in your field, so is he or she. 

Communications professionals, feel free to add your tips and advice.