Discovering New Orleans’ past, present and future with Denise Altobello

Denise Altobello is a writer, traveller, teacher and author who grew up in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans. When she’s not travelling, she’s exploring her neighbourhood, and her new audio walking tour of the Tremé will give you a window into what she has found.

VoiceMap: Do you see potential for apps and other new technology to engage new audiences in aspects of New Orleans’ culture and history?

Denise: Without a doubt, I see where recent and emerging technologies are truly offering opportunities to explore New Orleans culture and history in novel ways. I’m a traveler and a writer. For me, nothing beats meeting locals on their own turf when I travel. Their voices, their accents, their stories become part of my travel experience. So, on one hand, I would hope that audio tourists drop those earbuds whenever they have the good fortune to interact with real, in-the-flesh characters; on the other hand, I love wandering around new places on my own, soaking in the sights, sounds and smells. That’s where audio touring is such a boon. The voice of a local whispering in my ear and guiding me along a path is pretty darned enticing.

As a longtime teacher, I have completely embraced augmented reality as a means to create more immersive experiences. Imagine hearing Louis Armstrong playing La Vie en Rose or Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans while wandering through the park! New Orleans is indeed a feast for the senses. Any technology that enhances that experience is one to note. So many possibilities!

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VoiceMap: Were you surprised by how starting out with a map influenced the stories you ended up telling?

Denise: Starting with a map really helped me develop my story arc. Beginning on Rampart Street in Congo Square set the stage for exploring the earliest days of the neighborhood. And as we walked through more than a 150 years of history, we explored the past, the very vibrant present filled with incredible artists and musicians, and ended back almost where we started – at the Tomb of the Unknown Slave. The map kept me focused. And, hopefully, it keeps my listeners riveted. I hope, I hope, I hope.

VoiceMap: As a storyteller, what do you gain by knowing exactly where your audience is at any given moment?

Denise: Storytelling is always visual for me. So it was natural for me to picture my listeners looking straight into the sternly sculptured eyes of Tootie Montana in Armstrong Park, as I narrated the remarkable story of this Mardi Gras Indian’s death in the New Orleans City Council chambers.

IMG_5204 RESIZEDKnowing that a half-mile farther on, they would be rocked by the body-jolting reverberations from the overhead concrete expressway on Claiborne Avenue helped me focus on sharing the story of the young brass band musicians who rock that site with their incredible acoustics every Sunday and on holidays.

And, I especially hope that my words move them to explore a little around the divine deterioration of St. Augustine Church. I remember the first time I saw the giant chains and medieval-looking shackles against the white wall of the church. I wanted to recreate that feeling for listeners. The Tomb of the Unknown Slave is a powerful, visual reminder of the Tremé’s complex history. I was determined to fix the gaze of my listeners upon it.


VoiceMap: What did you enjoy most about creating this audio walk?

Denise: Wandering my city always energizes me. Seeing it through new eyes as I worked on the tour brought me real pleasure, and again and again piqued my curiosity to learn even more about the nooks, crannies, and characters that abound in New Orleans. Creating this tour has inspired me to tell more stories and to explore other faubourgs. And working with the editors of VoiceMap has been a delight! It was always exciting to check my inbox each morning to read Katherine’s comments and suggestions.

View and purchase Denise’s audio walking tour through the Tremé here.

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