It's been said that the United States doesn't have royalty (we did after all fight a war to keep from having them) but we do vicariously have a Queen. We celebrate our aristocratic family in a slightly less open way than our true founding fathers, the British. And yes, true founding fathers is a stretch since I come from an area more proud of its Spanish and french founding fathers than their English heritage (I still think that D'Iberville and Bienville spoke with a Southern drawl). Whether you agree or not, there is unquestionably some degree of interest in the British Royal family. Maybe we don't treasure the Queen or mourn the loss of the Queen Mother. Perhaps there isn't much speculation on whether or not the Queen really wants to hang on until she can give her grandson the throne rather than her son (a topic I did discuss with an actual Englishman en route from Bahrain to Heathrow). But we keep track of our cousins the Brits. Twice in my life I've woken up to watch a Royal Wedding, maybe I don't care about the Prime Minister or his politics, but I still track the Queen.
In the same way, The South has New Orleans. Eclectic, original, historic, any city in the United States can claim the same things, but New Orleans revels in it and just puts it out to say love us or hate us, you know where we are. New Orleans is the heart of the South, the screw it all, I want to be just like it was South. The heat, the humidity, the old sidewalks, dangerous and non-ADA compliant. Buildings that look like they'll fall down at any minute, yet they house new restaurants, new bars, new antique shops.
Growing up within 90 miles of New Orleans, I went a lot. I remember a trip at the age of 5 with my Aunt Susie, I remember trips to the Audubon Zoo in just about every one of its renovations and stages. I recall when the Aquarium of the Americas was built, the 1984 World's Fair, my first NFL game when the Vikings beat the Saints by three points because Tony Galbreath cost them the game with Archie Manning as quarterback. I recall Bobby Hebert's less than stellar return to the Superdome when everyone booed as he took the field and he cheered them on thinking them cheers. I recall three plays later when they did turn to cheers and in typical Saints-fan fashion they loved him again. I recall the first time I saw the no longer there swinging legs at Big Daddy's, my first underage Hurricane at Pat O'Brien's. Well, underage because you could drink at 18 but you couldn't buy it until 21, last State in the country on that one. I recall getting caught in many a torrential downpour in Jackson Square that lasted only as long as it took to get under cover, a tour of the Papal Portraits in St. Louis Cathedral. So much history, mine, and the country's.
New Orleans is the heart of a lot of things. Some stuff that they claim started here didn't but they claim it all the same. No one corrects them, they just add to it. I heard a guy explaining how Basin Street was filled in starting in the 40's. That part is probably true, but the remainder of his explanation, that it was done as they started building the interstate system, not so much, since Eisenhower didn't sign that act for a few years yet. There are lots of other stories, not so factually off, about interstates such as The Second Battle of New Orleans was fought by people who didn't want an elevated interstate going through the heart of the Heart of the South (a fascinating story that's really, REALLY off-topic, and if I say it's off-topic, wow!).
Despite my love of Biloxi, my love of my new home Fairhope, and despite the fact that I have never "loved" New Orleans, it has always held a place in my heart as well. Not the decadent, debauchery associated with Mardi Gras, not the party all day, every day feel of New Orleans, the real part of the city. The quiet, heartbeat of the city.
New Orleans has made appearances in my blog even though this it the first time I have visited the city proper since before Katrina. It is the model for New Ixeveh from my novella. When I was told that novellas are too hard to publish as a first work (unless you want to self-publish), I chose New Ixeveh as the part of my novella that would be expanded in my work in progress. So yes, the plan is to publish the novel simply to generate interest in the novella. Backwards, perhaps. Impossible, highly likely (though impossible is a synonym for unimaginative in my book). But it is the plan. New Orleans lies at the heart of the plan.
William Faulkner wrote his first novel here in a small unassuming little house on Pirate Alley. The Nobel Prize winning author began the leg of his career that 30 years later would earn the award in New Orleans. For all that I've ever done in New Orleans, the one thing I haven't done is write there.
The heartbeat of the city pulses underneath me as I sit on the second story balcony of the Dauphine Orleans. The heat presses down from above as I view the varied and changing skyline from my metal deck chair. One of St. Louis's spires sticks above the roofline as the humidity envelops me. The Macbook in my lap burns my legs as I watch the city sleepily prepare for another day, and another night.
New Orleans lives and breathes. It gets in your blood, in your soul. It inspires. It is.
After I returned home to Fairhope I started reading New Orleans Sketches by William Faulkner. They were short pieces he sold to make money while living in New Orleans. I bought the book in the Pirates Alley Bookstore in one of the two rooms he rented while living there. In many ways these sketches show the transition from poet to novelist he made while living there. In typical form, he succinctly said what I prolifically (and ineptly) said above:
New Orleans . . . a courtesan whose hold is strong upon the mature, to whose charm the young must respond. And all who leave her, seeking the virgin's unbrown, ungold hair and her blanched and icy breast where no lover has died, return to her when she smiles across her languid fan. . . .
From "New Orleans" in New Orleans Sketches
Before I found the Faulkner bit I was going to end with: And, it's like my home in Afghanistan, because you are afraid to drink the water straight from the tap.