‘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.