Bourbon Street

‘The French Quarter reminded Deke of a great big over-decorated wedding cake. The iron balconies had too many swords and curlicues. The doors and windows had too many shutters. The shadows of too many ceiling fans skittered along the wooden porchlike floors that served as sidewalks. Deke was used to the bland American musk of Texas, not the pretty, Frenchified perfume that stank up the air around here. And these people. They hung out of every door and window, half of them in outlandish costume. Whores walked up and down the street as brazen as you please, not even a hint of shame, their smiles as big as sunshine as they minced along in spike heels, big thighs and dresses slit all the way up to there.’

I picked up my mail yesterday and found a review copy of a new murder mystery, Bourbon Street by Leonce Gaiter. The Mardi Gras portrait above may not be designed to flatter the city, but of course the tragedy taking place right now in one of the world’s great cities twists the meaning. The costumes and perfumes and smiling whores must seem like a distant dream to the residents of this city. From my faraway safe distance in New York, I can only hope that today will be better than yesterday for the people of New Orleans, Biloxi and the other Gulf Coast towns and cities.

Here’s some more from Leonce Gaiter’s new novel, set during Mardi Gras in 1958:

‘With his attention fixed on a tingling in his half-sleeping foot, Deke turned a corner. Suddenly a riotous swarm of men and women surrounded him. They bore down on him like a herd of beasts, as if he’d suddenly materialized in the midst of a raucous parade. Horns blared ten different tunes, saxophones and tubas and trumpets, while a hundred voices fought to be heard. Sparklers sizzled and firecrackers smacked like gunshots while boisterous laughter flew through the air like bees, and bodies competed to see in how many different directions they could run and walk and scream and crawl. Their elaborate and grotesque costumes ate up every square inch — centaur heads of papier-mache; kings and queens with foot-tall wigs; red, naked, horned men; coffin-bearing pallbearers and mummified corpses shedding their rotting, linen skins. It was dizzying. Pushed from every side, Deke fought to stay in place and almost closed his eyes until the storm had passed.

I can only try to imagine what it’s like on these streets right now.

11 Responses

  1. sadIt’s so hard to accept.

    It’s so hard to accept. New Orleans is part of our collective mythology, like Greenwich Village, Haight-Ashbury, or Key West. I feel so bad for those people. I heard the mayor of New Orleans on TV this morning and he is not happy with the slowness of the federal government to help his people, and I don’t blame him for being pissed.

  2. Iconic LocationsBill is right
    Iconic Locations

    Bill is right there are some places that just seethe with history N.O. is one of them. So much so that in the Last Stage I have the characters in New Orleans & the main character comments on this:

    I went over the top of a rise and before me lay the Mississippi. It looked like quicksilver from where I was. I watched boats skating across the water like insects that never break the tension of the surface or they’d be engulfed and drown. I walked down, closer to the river to ponder the mysteries of its murky waters. There are certain geographical sights that impress upon you their sense of history. Iconic locations, that when you mention them they conjure concrete images in people’s minds. Triggering a sense of awe and adventure, which have been drawing people to them for centuries. Places like the Amazon, the Seine, the Alps, the Nile, the Rhine, and the Mississippi it’s dark, lapping waters that flow through America from top to bottom. I wanted to see the waters that inspired Mark Twain and Tennessee Williams.

  3. I have never been to New
    I have never been to New Orleans. I guess the closest I’ve been is Birmingham, Alabama. But I have always been fascinated by the Mississippi River and have explored many other Mississippi towns. The incredible contrast between the scenic charm and these sad scenes we’re seeing is leaving everybody dumbfounded, I think. I’d always heard that New Orleans is an “endangered city”, like Seattle or Tokyo. When my city was attacked four years ago, we at least had the comfort of a really effective, fast-moving recovery infrastructure. I don’t know what the hell is going wrong with the recovery system on the Gulf Coast, and I think a lot of people are rightfully angry right now.

  4. Regarding the literary
    Regarding the literary affinity for New Orleans and the area, another example would be Walker Percy’s The Moviegoer. I think there are stories that can only be set in this city and it does hold a certain mystique and presence that is really not found anywhere but there. While it has an essence on its own, the preservation of that history and legacy in literature, music and film creates an even bigger impact on the conscious of modern culture.

    That said, regarding the relief efforts … I think while there have obviously been shortcomings, failures and mismanagement, the real importance now is for everyone to do what they can, however they can and work to improve the situation and get aid to those who need it as quickly as they can. I think to compare this tragedy to others is a little apples/oranges and the reality is that no one was prepared for a devastation as great as what has happened on the Gulf coast. The problems are numerous, the scope is massive and the solutions are precarious at best. Sadly, this is really only the beginning as thousands upon thousands are displaced with literally nothing. On top of the destruction, on top of the many dead and dying. I’m not sure how incredible a task it might be to begin to tackle this, even one step at a time. I hope that only more situations can come about such as the efforts in Houston.

  5. One thing I forgot is that
    One thing I forgot is that New Orleans has been there since before there was a United States, Indians used it as place to trade, so I think New Orleans will be there for a long time.

  6. French Quarter is okayI’ve
    French Quarter is okay

    I’ve been glued to the tube since overnight Monday when I first heard a levee had broken. As soon as I wake up from sleeping I go right back to it. I have about 10 news networks on my digi cable. shepard smith on Fox (of all things) has been far and away the best reporter on the scene, followed possibly by anderson Cooper on CNN. And it’s interesting to get the unfiltered BBC. This is not playing well overseas. Between the non-response of the govt and the looting of the victims.

    But in the Good News Dept., believe it or not, I saw footage today (Friday) from the Quarter and it never got flooded (much). it and the CBD are on higher ground to the west near the Mississippi River — the big flooding and destruction is in the lower ground to the east.

    There were shots from Jackson Square and it just looked like there’d been a bad rainstorm. I thought the whole place including the Quarter was gone, but there was Jackson’s statue, the cathedral, the park, the benches, the green grass. and there were shots down bourbon street etc. and it looked much as it always had. just thought I’d share.

  7. Brian,Thanks for passing on
    Thanks for passing on this bright star amongst the murk.

    Bourbon st looking a little rained on is an image to cling to.

  8. Salvation ArmyI guess that
    Salvation Army

    I guess that I’m doing what I can from 600 miles away- volunteering at the local Salvation Army where several projects are in the works. I have mostly been working on a clothing drive, which helps but is still a far cry from the desperate rescue of the thousands still trapped. I’ve been glued to the news on the major networks every day this week and I’m especially sick of partisan politics. Now is NOT the time to analyze why the infrastructure has failed. I like what the New Orleans mayor passionately implored the federal government to “get off your ass and DO SOMETHING”. This is such a sorrowful tragedy in that not only are people continuing to die, but are suffering horribly beforehand. The additional tradgedy exists in the majority of Americans will have an interest in helping for a couple of weeks before quickly and quietly resuming their everyday lives while thousands are displaced permanently and many more will die.

  9. And then today (Saturday) the
    And then today (Saturday) the front page of the Toronto Star has a piece “Doors Never Closed” — here’s a couple sentences to further lift your glass and spirits …

    “At Johnny White’s Bar, the weathered oak doors were flung wide open yesterday, as they have been throughout the sweaty days and crazy nights since Hurricane Katrina pummelled this magnificent, gallant and eternally buoyant city.

    “This was, as far as I could find, the only such establishment in the French Quarter – possibly the only establishment in all of New Orleans – still doing business. It’s not business as usual, but damn near close to it. An oasis of conviviality in a metropolis that is waterlogged, without power, and officially locked down.

    “But at the decidedly downscale Johnny White’s, a clutch of regulars remain defiantly perched on their stools at the tiny, knife-scarred bar, joined here by an influx of hurricane refugees who have managed to wash ashore at a saloon that sailed through the storm with all its facilities intact. “The beer’s warm,” shrugs one bearded, funky-smelling patron. “But have one on me.”

    Kinda reminds me of The Back Fence on Bleecker during the blackout …

  10. Having just walked around the
    Having just walked around the Back Fence, I can easily picture a well-packed scene during the blackout.

    But the scene at Johnny’s with Katrina doing her worst just down the street is another thing altogether. Hope some musicians are keeping their instruments dry for a soulful encore.

    thanks, again, Brian. Went looking for more articles based on your Star quote to fill up this angle on things.

  11. Poems about Hurricane
    Poems about Hurricane Katrina

    For whatever measure of comfort they may bring to those afflicted and concerned, various poems by, for and about the victims of Hurricane Katrina (many written by survivors themselves) are being solicited, collected and presented at a new Web site:

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