Guides to New OrleansPosted: May 25, 2020
A medical expert once described the difficulty of surgery on the liver, a soft, fragile organ that can shred in your hands and rip with every stitch. The heart is a hard lump of muscle, but the liver is delicate spongy tissue. Manhattan is a rocky island, San Francisco is as solid and situation at the end of a long peninsula; those cities are as clearly defined as a fist or a heart. But think of New Orleans as a liver, an expanse of soggy land doing some of what a liver does, filtering poisons, keeping the body going, necessary to survival and infinitely fragile, hard to pull out of context, and nowadays deteriorating from more poison that it can absorb, including the ongoing toxins of the petroleum industry and the colossal overdose delivered by the 2010 BP blowout.
The first thing you notice about New Orleans are the burying grounds – the cemeteries – and they’re a cold proposition, one of the best things there are here. Going by, you try to be as quiet as possible, better to let them sleep. Greek, Roman, sepulchres- palatial mausoleums made to order, phantomesque, signs and symbols of hidden decay – ghosts of women and men who have sinned and who’ve died and are now living in tombs. The past doesn’t pass away so quickly here.
You could be dead for a long time
so says Bob Dylan in Chronicles.
New Orleans is illogical, upsetting. It makes a mockery. You start in Chicago, sensible enough, but float down the river and you end in African jungle, a Caribbean outpost of a forgotten empire, ruled by French pretension – but pretending to what, exactly? No matter, it’s already forgotten. What the jazz player and the performing drunk and the crooked politician all act out is the tension: this shouldn’t be here.
Vivien Kent in The Fatback of America (1948, is she cancelled?)
The minute you land in New Orleans, something wet and dark leaps on you and starts humping you like a swamp dog in heat, and the only way to get that aspect of New Orleans off you is to eat it off. That means beignets and crayfish bisque and jambalaya, it means shrimp remoulade, pecan pie, and red beans with rice, it means elegant pompano au papillote, funky file z’herbes, and raw oysters by the dozen, it means grillades for breakfast, a po’ boy with chowchow at bedtime, and tubs of gumbo in between. It is not unusual for a visitor to the city to gain fifteen pounds in a week–yet the alternative is a whole lot worse. If you don’t eat day and night, if you don’t constantly funnel the indigenous flavors into your bloodstream, then the mystery beast will go right on humping you, and you will feel its sordid presence rubbing against you long after you have left town. In fact, like any sex offender, it can leave permanent psychological scars.
Tom Robbins in Jitterbug Perfume
Did not complete my reading of that book — it was too dense! Every page was packed! Every bite was sausage and spice, there was no rice.
In addition to the Atlas I had this one:
Books are good for getting ideas, but no information set in as permanent a form as a book should be trusted when it comes to New Orleans. Whether it’s open, what night is good, intel of that nature must be gathered by asking somebody, or a phone call, or maybe best of all by walking by.
One of these books gave us the notion to take the ferry to Algiers from the foot of Canal Street. The book claimed it was free, I believe it was $2.50. Small price to pay to be out on the river.
This book is just wonderful, I can’t recommend it enough. What gifts Lee Sandlin left the world! Lee begins his book by talking about how, when he waits for the bus in Chicago, the water under the grate at his feet is on its way to the Mississippi River, and on down to New Orleans. This book has it all: Mike Fink, the New Madrid Great Shakes, the siege of Vicksburg. And my God if he doesn’t make you feel like you’re really there in Congo Square, or at one of the true old Mardi Gras nights, a candlelight carnival, when the wildness could turn deadly, when they really thought they might summon the dead or the devil or worse. I keep meaning to devote a longer post to Wicked River, but I shouldn’t miss this chance to recommend it.
New Orleans, populationwise, at 391,006, is about the size of Bakersfield, significantly smaller than Fresno. Just a hair ahead of Wichita, Kansas.
One idea I really got out of the Snedeker Solnit Atlas is New Orleans as part of the Caribbean. Bananas were shipped through here. United Fruit Company, it was going down. District Attorney Jim Garrison may have been off but he was not wrong to smell conspiracy everywhere.
There actually used to be an overnight ferry between here and Havana. The mambo figures prominantly in New Orleans piano. Professor Longhair. It’s the Cuba Connection.
Steve Zahn’s character says in Treme. It was really funny in Treme to have a character whose main quality was how annoying he was about being “into” New Orleans. If you’re really “into” New Orleans, does that not by itself prove that you don’t get it? Is that all part of the joke?
Re: the banana connection, The Atlas had me go listen to Lil Wayne’s Six Foot Seven Foot.
Life is a bitch and Death is her sister
Sleep is the cousin what a fuckin’ family picture
This time last year I was in New Orleans. From The Atlas we learned the time of the Money Wasters second line was coming around. The WWOZ website confirms the date and a route for the parade, ending Under The 10, in the epic sonic canyon created by the concrete freeway overpass that takes I-10 across the city on its way to Los Angeles and Jacksonville, Florida. What a time! What a place! When will we feel that free again?
A guy at the second line said to me
if it’s Sunday in New Orleans and you ain’t at the second line you’re either stupid or dumb
When the wind is right it’s said you can see a dead body in the ruins of the Hard Rock Hotel. A living ghost story: how New Orleans is that?
I’ve been thinking about New Orleans, and listening to WWOZ.