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.
here’s my new conversation starter about the Confederate monuments around town. If you want to honor Civil War history, then (as befits the victors), for the Lee statue, insert Grant; for the J. Davis one, Lincoln; for PGT Beauregard, Gen. Lovell or Butler. In fact, the history that would be appropriate would be to only have the victor depicted with information about the war and the losers left to a plaque, and would then offer true Civil War history to the future generations…That is my argument; explaining the history of a failed insurrection (of which New Orleans was in for all of 16 months or so of its 300 year history) was not the point of those statues, but rather meant as a defiance of the order of the victors to integrate, and as a way to tell this new tall tale of the “Lost Cause.” The Davis statue, in particular is in that camp as it was put up in the 1900s (I hope no one is arguing for the Battle of Liberty Place Monument to remain). I believe anyone who argues for these to stay as they are is arguing for a false narrative of triumph and encouraging that long ago generation’s view of subjugation of their neighbors. Still, I’d like them to remain in the city, in an appropriate place with other symbols of previous times available to all to see and understand. History is not erased but with the removal of false idols, is also no longer appropriated and altered as it is presently.
When people scornfully use the argument that those who want this change want to deny history, I reply that it is those who argue for the losers of the war to be depicted who are the ones denying history. Yes, let’s absolutely depict the history of our horrific Civil War, but do it truthfully and with respect to ALL of our people and our (at times, shameful) history. If you truly want to have our history on display, then get actively involved in finding innovative and respectful ways to match the complicated details of it.