Tuesday, September 11, 2012

NEW ORLEANS


PEW AND CANDLES
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CHURCH
BARONNE STREET, NEW ORLEANS
Here are two interesting facts I've learned about the historical city of New Orleans.

The city features a phenomenon known as drive-through daiquiri stands. People are allowed not only to walk about the streets but to get behind the wheels of their cars while swilling hard liquor!  I spoke to a local lawyer and he confirmed this makes for many unfortunate accidents.

When a storm's coming and everyone hunkers down, breaks out the booze and food, and starts partying, the ensuing period is known as a "hurrication."

I had pictured the French Quarter as a charming section of widely-spaced homes with wrought-iron porches with a bit of mild debauchery down Bourbon St. It's in the middle of a large city and is more like Coney Island, if every street in Coney Island were a fifty-year-old stage set for A Streetcar Named Desire, dotted with voodoo and liquor stores, and under construction. And it was legal to walk down the street and drive your car while swilling booze. And had St. Louis Cathedral in the middle of it, skinny guys in muscle shirts here and there sitting on benches playing a saxophone or a horn, and a black man dressed in white tie and tails in the hot sun standing stock still, for several minutes, down by the river with a Scotty on a leash and a bucket for change as some kind of odd, ad hoc tourist draw.

Then I went to the Garden District and wandered happily about for a few hours. Now this is my kind of place: wide, shady streets, secret gardens, balconies, stained glass, mansions with 20-feet high Virgin Mary shrines in front, her neck draped with strands of cheap beads (they hand you a strand of these beads as you deplane at Louis Armstrong Airport and after that, you see them everywhere, chiefly lying on the sidewalk amidst piles of dead leaves), and a Starbucks on the corner of Washington and Magazine. Of course being a tourist you see a mere zillionth, and probably a contorted zillionth at that, of what it is to actually live in the city. I shudder to think what people experience when they come to my city and take a brief gander.

Anyway, I went back yesterday, and walked the part around Jackson, and geared up for another talk I'm giving today at a luncheon for the friends of my hostess Hedy K. Boelte at one of Hedy's houses on the Pearl River in Mississippi. I forgot to say Hedy and her husband live on 50,000 acres--that's apparently 20 miles long--on the banks of the Mississippi in Natchez that they've made into, among other things, a bird sanctuary. Which I also got to see, or part of it.

So I am being treated like royalty and I am also way out of my comfort/familiarity zone, and in definite departure from my daily schedule, and that is generally a good thing, at least for awhile. I met a gal yesterday and she talked about how when she was eight, she developed a very strict schedule for her time: 15 minutes for this, 15 minutes for that, brushing her teeth, homework, supper, putting away her toys, the bus ride home from school: all were factored in and she laboriously hand-wrote out the schedule and posted it on her wall.

And then one day the bus was late. And she literally had a semi-psychotic break. In front of all the other kids. Let's just say I could relate. After that, she took the schedule down, as we all have to, in one way or the other, every day.

Hope you're all well, wherever you are. Thank you for welcoming me to beautiful New Orleans!


A SECOND FLOOR DORMER WITH BROKEN-DOWN
SOMETHING OR OTHERS, DRAPED WITH BEADS

10 comments:

  1. It's funny: I visited both New Orleans and Los Angeles 24 years ago this month! I liked the look of New Orleans better, but liked the weather of Los Angeles better. LA's less humid than the Crescent City. And I saw the outskirts of LA, mostly: Hermosa Beach, Redondo Beach, Venice, Santa Monica. Some nice spots in that mix.

    In New Orleans I have a vivid memory of Bourbon Street at night: about 200 drunken persons loudly singing the lyrics of INXS's song "Never Tear Us Apart." One of the bars -- open to the sidewalk -- had a huge TV that was showing the video.

    By day, in a casual eatery, I saw a pencilled graffito on the wall (this was on Chartres Street, if memory serves): "You can lead a horticulture, but you can't make her think." I've seen that mordant quip attributed to Dorothy Parker.

    I regret that at 19 I was going through an agnostic/quasi-Buddhist/Alan Wattsian phase, because I would have loved to have seen the churches of both of those cities.

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  2. Thank you for sharing this lovely piece about my favorite city. There is indeed something so "Christ-haunted" and Catholic saturated about New Orleans! (In my dreams I will move there - maybe even open a gift shop selling antique silver and holy cards; the voodoo shops have a better selection of holy cards than many religious gift stores I have been to. I would like to compete with that.) Every visit has been an exquisite experience - so different to my northern sensibilities. And I'm not just talking about the humidity. The first time I saw a sign that said Hurricane Evacuation Route I thought it was something of a joke (this was pre-Katrina), much like one who grows up in the Garden District would be taken aback by signs that say Frost Heaves or Bridges Freeze Before Roads.

    Thank you for taking me momentarily away from my desk near Chicago - and reminding me to toss a few quarters in my "escape back to New Orleans" jar!

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  3. Thanks for the memory of those amazing iron pew ends at the Jesuit Church! I used to go there occasionally thirty-some years ago when I worked steps away on Common Street. Yes, Bourbon Street in the Quarter is weird, but its parallel neighbor, Royal Street, is another world.

    Safe journeys!

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  4. Heather, you're in my hometown! I appreciate your honest take. Too often writers are sentimental and reverent toward New Orleans when the truth is that the French quarter is pretty much exactly as you describe it. But it is a very catholic place...almost in a medieval way. Enjoy! Oh, and drive thru daiquiri shops....great when your fake I.D. says you are 5'1 and you're really 6'.

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  5. I forgot about those acorn finials at Immaculate Conception. So lovely - and so dangerous!

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  6. Enjoying your travelogue and insights very much, Heather. :)

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  7. Enjoying these dispatches from "Sin City".

    I recall an establishment called “Jazz Funeral”, whose mission in life appeared to be to mock the traditional “remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return”. Everywhere there were skulls and skeletons, some placed in obscene positions. “Jazz Funeral” seemed the flip side of traditional reminders of our mortality, in this case “party, for tomorrow you may die” instead of a “pray, for tomorrow you may die”.

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  8. My favorite thing in the French Quarter is a two-story used book story that has a great big wall full of used Catholic books--at least they used to. I hope they still do.

    AMDG,
    Janet

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  9. The only parts of LA that I am familiar with are LAX and I-5 north to Santa Paula where my daughter went to college, and south to Newport Beach where I got to stay in a friend's nice vacation home--the sort of place I could never afford to visit.

    I did visit the Getty, which was wonderful, and several missions. I would love to visit all the missions.

    AMDG

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  10. Dying to get back to NOLA...had such a great time there :)

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