Bon Temps No More

February 18, 2007

It’s been years since I last visited New Orleans, but every year I usually feel the necessity to observe Mardi Gras from a distance. Break out the Wild Tchoupitoulas and Professor Longhair discs, have a Hurricane or two at Oddfellows down the street, splurge on jambalaya for lunch. My happiest memories of the Crescent City involve the Jazz & Heritage Festival, not Mardi Gras, but what the hey.

Not this year. Not this year.

When I read items like this and this, getting into the mighty kootie fiyo groove seems not just inappropriate but downright indecent. The city is flatlining and somehow we’re supposed to concentrate on how lovely it is that celebrities are throwing beads. It’s like a Disneyland facade has been erected to block the view of a moldering cemetery.

The culture that produced the goodies that draw the tourists — the music, the food, the traditions, the ironic exuberance in the face of privation — is rotting away. In bygone days, the city’s black residents reacted to being barred from the mainline Mardi Gras events by inventing their own parade and tribes of Mardi Gras Indians whose glamour and artistry put the mainliners to shame. Those residents are gone.

The question of what amazing, irresistible cultural innovation would come along to replace the old ones has now been answered — there won’t be one. The terrible storm that flattened New Orleans and the federal and state incompetence that kept it from getting up have done their work.

Cut flowers can stay pretty for a long time, especially when it’s in the interests of the tourism industry to keep them preserved in plastic. But the roots and body are gone — there won’t be any new blossoms coming forth. Bourbon Street and the French Quarter will do well as long as there are tourists eager to blow out their arteries and get puking drunk before Lent. But outside the zone of lights, away from the music and the food, New Orleans is all emptiness and decay. It’s a crying, screaming, shouting, roaring, filthy, enraging shame.

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3 Responses to “Bon Temps No More”

  1. Nordette Says:

    Thanks, Steve, for the link. The tornadoes just blew Mardis Gras out of my mind. The sentiments you expressed in this post reminded me of some of the feelings I expressed in Crescent Blues in K. People who were/are glad to see fewer African-Americans in New Orleans but say they want the city restored show that they are ignorant of the city’s history and culture. I don’t like Nagin’s posturing with statements like “the city will be chocolate again” (I think it trivializes what’s really happening and did happen), but to deny that New Orleans has a rich African-American heritage that may now be lost is equally offensive.


  2. Thanks for saying what droves are thinking. New Orleans and her traditions will be thought about a lot this Mardi Gras day. For too many, the bleeding hasn’t stopped.


  3. the indians won’t bow down, won’t quit, can’t stop. now more than ever, tho you gotta look a little harder to spot the good stuff, it’s still out there and open for the chanting, parading, and experiencing. check it: neworleansnation.blogspot.com


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