History, people, fables and critical essays on the 24/7 life of the French Quarter. "Those who live somewhere should be allowed to decide how a place should exist; it should not be determined by how it can be sold." (Grace Lee Boggs) “The great music of the city is not Louis Armstrong; it’s when you say good morning and good evening.” (Mr. Jerome Smith)
Okay. I promised myself I wouldn’t and yet here I am…But this time I am only talking to my neighbors in New Orleans and across the Gulf Coast. Not that I don’t appreciate you, my fellow Yankees and you Canadians and Westerners with your fierce belief in a fair shake for our city. I do, but I feel like I’ve spent these years talking to you about New Orleans and Louisiana and Mississippi and sharing the secret greatness of it with you and by this point, you either get it or you don’t. You either believe we matter or you don’t and there is nothing more I can say to help you understand. But I’ve had little time for my neighbors and pals here so this is for them because so many of them are downhearted and angry about the state of their place.
Now that we have the distance of time from 2005 to raise our eyes and look about, it is very clear that we have lost a tremendous amount that is not going to return. My grandmother died in July of 2006, after returning in January to her remodeled and unfamiliar home. That home that her daughter had done her best to make right, working hard to make even better in some cases. Still, I am convinced Mary Louise looked around for a bit and just said, no thanks. Many seem to know exactly how she must have felt as friends have packed up and moved away – for good most of them – because they are bitter or they are sad, so sad or frightened by the real possibility of it happening again.
At the end of 2005, I wrote this email to friends who had not returned yet:
I know some of you have heard comments from some New Orleanians about your decision to not come back right now. Some people are acting badly about who is here now and who is not. I (and many others) understand why it is not feasible for some folks to come back right now. I think that it is very clear thinking to make sure that you are taking care of yourself and family, as well as doing what you must do to keep a job or children going.This is a frontier town right now, and not too pretty or easy. The ups and downs are dramatic and ongoing. I tell you, I would not be here either right now if my work did not depend on it. Having said that, I am glad I am here. I am glad because I can help with direct action, which is my thing, but if your thing is keeping the awareness up in other places, cool. I know each of you is doing the good work out therein the “normal” world. Thank you for that and please know all of us- whether on Esplanade Avenue or Main Street- are in this together.
Some of those who received it replied with gratitude and promises to return and some did not reply at all. Some who didn’t reply returned soon and some who promised to come back quickly never did. I was wrong a lot about who would stay away and who would return. You never can tell.
I don’t know what wind event or infrastructure collapse or political spite is coming for us next, but there is one thing that I do know: the cool and lovely fall IS coming and with it, second lines and festivals and outdoor movies and football and satsuma season and much more. And then it will be Carnival season and we will sit together on neutral grounds and laugh and sing and dance and shake our head in amazement that people work every day and shovel snow when they could be here. I’ll bike to the park and meet friends for a walk around the Big Lake or make plans to meet for drinks for “an hour” and still find we are still there 3 hours later laughing until we cry, wiping tears away with paper napkins. The server will smile and bring us more drinks and napkins, pleased with our fun. I’ll stand on a corner good-naturedly arguing politics with favored friends who I find walking their dog and when done, will go back to my car thinking how amazing they are. Stopping at a store near my house, I’ll have a looong chat with the shopkeeper and find we went to the same high school or that he is related to my next-door neighbor and neither of us will be that surprised by the many connections. Artist friends will touch me with their enthusiasm and talent, so open and loving to a world that rarely honors them. My mother will proudly show me all of the young bananas on her trees and ask me once again if I know of anyone who wants them-if not, can I just put them on the curb, cuz we both know somebody will take them.And in doing all of this, we’ll get through it again. Hopefully without any evacuation scares or more oil spilling and then we’ll have had another season to catch our breath and keep rebuilding even as we watch more of why we want to rebuild slip away or be taken from us. And really, that knowledge of loss past and present and likely in the future does connect us and make the time together sweeter. It doesn’t always make it easier but makes you feel less alone or unsure. So don’t hide away this week or next; embrace the ragged and the unfinished or shake a fist or raise a finger at the profanely new and shiny. Who cares what the world says about us or about 2005 or the city since; all that matters is what we think, what we do and how we shape it. Take in all of it with the grace and humor that we are awarded at birth or as soon as we kill that first palmetto bug (and keep right on talking) and let’s just go sit at the river and visit and remember.
See what happens when good people get together over music? They come up with something like this, a site dedicated to listing the musical history of our city, place by place.
Jazz, big band, gospel, soul, brass bands, funk, blues, second-lines, hip-hop, bounce, r&b, pop, zydeco, rock, classical all have substantial roots here in the Crescent City. This site will do more than just set tourists to a wandering around; as a visual map, it can help save some of these places and to connect the dots about the development of some of America’s greatest art forms.
The A Closer Walk (ACW) project and site is presented by WWOZ New Orleans and produced by five partners: Bent Media, e/Prime Media, the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation, Randy Fertel and WWOZ.
The Nola Files is preparing stories of the most influential people and places in New Orleans history. To do this history project justice we need to first focus on the people and places that had the widest impact and connected with most of the city. Please look through some of these options and vote for those you think need to be our focus first.
In this survey you will vote on PEOPLE who stories must be told.
Admission is free. Reservations: firstname.lastname@example.org or (504) 523-4662
HNOC Williams Research Center, 410 Chartres Street
As part of its acclaimed exhibition about Louisiana photographer Clarence John Laughlin (1905–1985), The Historic New Orleans Collection will host a double-feature screening of two documentaries about the eccentric artist on Saturday, March 4, from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
The screenings include The Phantasmagorical Clarence John Laughlin (2015) by Gene Fredericks and Clarence John Laughlin: An Artist with a Camera (2009) by Michael Frierson and Michael Murphy. The filmmakers for both works will be present to answer questions and discuss their films at each screening.
One of the trueisms about living in the Quarter ( and different from even the experiences of our “almost-residents” aka storekeepers or other business owners) is the scads of information that one gets from popping out on the sidewalk dozens or more times in one day, observing the activities or even while still back in your space, hearing them happen and perhaps noting the time in the back of your mind while you put laundry in the washer before any commerce is even beginning. Those activities include workers arriving at dawn and standing in front of your door soberly assessing current tip levels; delivery trucks huffing and puffing outside from 5:30 am on, pulling cases of items out (which ramps up especially in mid-week); knowing the tour guides who do their work with respect and gusto and those who do not; separating the good hustlers from the dangerous ones and much more. One other is learning the names and company of the sanitation crews and the identification of who actually works versus those who just walk and swipe at the ground once in a while. One of the good ones is Royal Carriages. In case you didn’t know, all of the carriage companies are supposed to take their turn in the Quarter, cleaning up after their mules; however most do not bother. The one company that is consistent and conscientious is Royal Carriages.
Recently, they had an open house at their stables in the Marigny where they invited the locals via social media to see what was up and offered some free food and drink and music. I went by and was impressed by the cleanliness and attention they paid to their space. So when I saw the cleaner out on the cart today and that he was stopped right in front of my door, I thanked him for his work and we had a short chat. His name is Roger and he is proud of his company and told me that the mules there get 4 months off per year and the place is kept “spotlessly”clean. He was as cheery of a worker as the modern world has and I am glad to have him around and to have a name to assign to his face.
The workers and residents of the Quarter acknowledge each other’s dependency on the other. We share a pride in our place and a willingness to play the hosts to the city’s millions of visitors. Royal Mule Carriages illustrates that truth.
Listen to The Anthology of Louisiana Literature‘s 2-part interview with Dr. Nancy Dixon, editor of one of the necessary books for any New Orleans scholar or armchair historian: N.O. Lit: 200 Years of New Orleans Literature. Even if this brilliant woman wasn’t my pal, I’d still be urging you to get a copy. I open it up again and again to read her selections from different authors.
The 560 pages includes a well-curated set of short fiction and plays that reflect the city’s literary history, from Paul Louis LeBlanc de Villeneuve’s 18th-century play The Festival of the Young Corn, or The Heroism of Poucha-Houmma to Fatima Shaik’s 1987 short story “Climbing Monkey Hill.”
Dixon provides informative introductions to each author’s section, placing the works and their creators within the context of the city’s history and the history of its literature, making the anthology both an enjoyable artful artifact and an important academic resource.
One relevant reason for this book is the recently reignited protests centering on race inequities and immigration across America, a conversation that is always sadly necessary in the American South. Local historian Rien Fertel addresses it by writing about the elite Creole literary circle that, starting in the 1820s/1830s, largely created and sustained the story of the region’s “exceptionalism.” That era of virtuous manifest destiny – not just in the South of course- is largely to blame for the lack of understanding among those who continue to grow up amid their own ethnic myths in the U.S.
For New Orleans, most people know the story of Creole culture only through Creoles of color who continue to inhabit the city, partly because they are largely responsible for much of what we continue to value culturally in New Orleans such as live music, public and family culture, and informal Carnival activities. But it is also convincingly identified here as resulting from the profiled writers unapologetic and sometimes incorrect assertion of their whiteness and its embedded privileges during Reconstruction through the turn of the 20th century. Yet the historical details contained here give those actions context and perspective; Fertel’s description of the politics of post-Louisiana Purchase New Orleans and the concern from the White House on any potential allegiance to the Old World as partially responsible for the Creoles’ sensitivity about the eclipse of their history is especially informative.
By offering individual profiles of prominent writers of Creole history starting with eminent historian Charles Gayarré, “Transcendentalist” New Orleans Choctaw missionary Adrien Rouquette and through those writers who took up the “cause” in the 20th century, including Grace King, Robert Tallant and Lyle Saxon, Fertel offers a human-scaled trek through that complicated history and time. Having the book end with the profile of George Washington Cable and his more inclusive history of the city, he shows the reordering of history that began with Cable as well as the tension among writers, which (partly) led to Cable’s self-imposed exile from the city. Fertel does his best to fairly catalogue both good and bad (or the long and the short) of that tension; for example, he shares how Grace King’s later-in-life acknowledgement of Cable’s value to the city showed the potential for change among those earlier devoted only to the “gallant” Creole story.
The details gathered by many of these writers will continue to offer us a rich tapestry of Louisiana life and cannot be entirely eclipsed by their love of heroic epics or even their insistence on racial “purity” and entitlement that belied the truth that existed in the tumultuous and complicated times of Jim Crow’s America. Yet, the dismissal of most of these writers works in the last 50 years as provincial cheerleading with either a stated or unstated allegiance to the “Lost Cause” should be a lesson in these Tea Party days and is vitally important for any writer in these times to consider.