(October 2005) I just finished reading Andrei Codrescu’s essays about New Orleans, some of which you may have heard on NPR.
When Codrescu talks about Jimmy Swaggart and Jimmy’s cousins Jerry Lee Lewis and Mickey Gilley, he says with whom [Jimmy] is co-emperor of the lower middle class.
Here are other favorite passages (the first of which could also be a comment on a Jeanette Winterson novel):
There are certain cities and certain areas of certain cities where the official language is dreams. Venice is one. And Paris. North Beach in San Francisco. Wencelaus Square in Prague. And New Orleans, the city that dreams stories.
And this could be a comment on the low country cuisine of my childhood:
There is a closed-eye rapture in the act of swallowing raw oysters au deux, the rapture of legend and rumor, no doubt. And in the swallowing of shrimps and the sucking of crabs there resides the ever-so-slight perversity of devouring our origins, a kind of reverse cannibalistic philogeny.
And this, sadly, could be a statement about my workaholic tendencies, but my spirit rebels against this ultimately dysfunctional soul-killing tendency of mine and forces me to write and create again, to save myself:
Vacations are desperate things even if you are not old and retired. I have always felt keenly the unbearable pathos of tourism, the lonely masses of the twentieth century shuffling through each others’ cities in small, insulated units looking for innocence. It’s there somewhere, riddled with the holes the clock punched in it.
And this comment stopped me in my tracks. I hope Commander’s Palace survived Hurricane Katrina:
The turtle soup at Commander’s is said to be over one hundred years old. They say that the turtle-soup pot has never gone out since the restaurant opened on these premises in 1888. One time there was a fire and the first thing the cooks did was to take the turtle-soup pot outside. Then the building burned down. There is something indescribably comforting in knowing that you’re eating from the same pot with your dead ancestors.
And finally, some post-Katrina words from Codrescu:
AFTER THE DELUGE: A LETTER TO AMERICA
There will be a little bit of New Orleans everywhere when our refugees move into your communities.
Here are some of the changes:
Your food will get better. In the past ten years, thanks to Asian and Latin flavors brought in my immigrants, American food improved. Now it will reach sublimity.
Instead of canned music you will have the real live thing. Clubs will mushroom and street performers will make your town a livelier place. Start working now to remove the tight-ass rules that forbid street theater.
Get ready to hear strangers open up to you in public places and tell you stories. You will remember that once upon a time, before television, people used to say hello to strangers and tell them stories.
Several times a year there will be festivals and parades that will remind you ritually that it’s okay to be alive and you don’t have to work like a dog without any joy in this lifetime.
There will be new coffeehouses, bars, and community centers where you will, hopefully, forget to be a couch potato. Sure, you might become a barfly instead, but I’ll take a living human drunk over a phony electronic-pixel vampire. Many people will shoot their televisions; that’s inevitable.
Speaking of shooting, the gun business will boom, as it is doing right now. Other businesses will boom as well, as skilled manual laborers from New Orleans pour in. (Just don’t expect them to finish anything on time.) The real estate market is booming already. Schools will be filled to capacity and there will be a need for more teachers. There will also be more jobs for doctors, nurses, firemen, policemen, and criminals.
You will experience an overnight growth in self-esteem as our refugee poets and writers begin to use your city as a source of material. You will also experience an equal plunge into embarrassment when they reveal what they found out.
You will no longer experience any faith in your government—if you still have any. Our refugees will teach you how to be self-reliant, depend on your community, and live without any faith in the government.
The bums who run the country now will be swept out of power, first Bush and his cronies, then all the spineless officials and bureaucrats wasting your money in Washington.
You will be renewed by the intelligence of a whole culture, just the way we were renewed by the refugees of Europe after the Second World War.
On the downside, you will start smoking again.
I’ll take a living human drunk over a phony electronic-pixel vampire. Yes indeedy.
SANG IN SHOWER: Lyle Lovett’s “If I Had a Boat” (a song Rosa just taught me)
LISTENING TO: My tummy rumble because I am hongry!
READING: “2005 Legislation Affecting Local Taxes” (sigh)