A couple of weeks ago I went down to New Orleans, following some hunches and thoughts about Carnival towns. I’d been reading a lot of literature about the Crescent City, some Andrei Codrescu, Tom Piazza, Lafcadio Hearn, etc…and the more I read the more intrigued I got about the whole New Orleans mystique and how it might relate to the work I’ve been doing lately. The funky soup of Spanish, French, Caribbean, African, Native American, and Southern American influences; the histories of licentiousness, voodoo magic, free black communities long before “emancipation”; the 300-year tradition of Mardi Gras and the Carnival spirit that expresses itself year-round in second-line parades and celebrations for just about anything that can be celebrated; the almost-religious devotion to food, with a language all its own: po’ boys, beignets, mufalettas, crawfish, gumbo, file, jambalaya; and of course, the music–the jazz, the funk, the blues, cajun and zydeco, the dancing in the streets…
Then of course there is the precariousness of New Orleans, which somehow adds to its allure: its relationship to tragedy is more real and more raw than any other city in America, even New York. The water that threatens to swallow New Orleans–either from the north over the banks of the Mississippi, or from the south in the form of great tropical cyclones–is at the same time the cause of its incredible stew of influences. The French came down the Missisippi from Arcadia, the slaves came on boats through the straits of Florida…The Spanish had a direct line from New Orleans to Havana and from there to all points beyond…
As I read and pondered, there just seemed no end to the peeling layers of strangeness and allure that lay inside that crook in the Mississippi. So with my last remaining bits of free time and money before the spring wedding season kicks in, I booked a room in a little guesthouse in the Marigny Triangle called the “Bohemian Armadillo”, and flew down.
For better or worse, events in my personal life and issues with my health turned this trip into more of a retreat than a project. I rented a bike and rode out to Bywater and the Ninth Ward to see the wreckage of Katrina, still very present almost two years later. I bought a leatherbound journal in the French Quarter and nearly filled it with thoughts about life, career, relationships, the future. I got my tarot cards read–twice–by a guy named Norman in Jackson Square. And I spent a lot of time sitting in the doorway of my place, which opened into the street, just staring out and wondering what the hell was I doing with my life…My new friends at the Armadillo, Rachel and Maia, took me out for a fun night on the town, and kept me from getting lonely. Unfortunately, nothing could keep my mind from spinning into a deep sad place where I could do nothing but weep over lost love, and know all too well that I’ve nobody but myself to blame for it.
But I’m not done with New Orleans. I believe I’ll be back next winter, for Carnival, Louisiana style, and hopefully I’ll have more time and more presence of mind to explore deeper, make more friends, and get a firmer grasp of the whole thing. The visual elements have already taken root in my mind, and though it’s not my best work lately, I found a few photo moments that hold promise for something bigger. And I think, if I can just keep my head together, it could be some interesting work.