The Carpet Bagger's Journal — moving from NYC to Mississippi

May 28, 2016

Vicious Cuisine — How New Orleans just made me eat something very, very naughty

They say in Vegas that what happens there stays there, but for most of what happens in New Orleans, what happens there has an afterlife that wafts eveywhere. What I have done makes me want to confess in pre-Vatican-II Latin: Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa.

The French Quarter is a tourist destination for decadence.  I was not there exactly as a tourist when I committed my trespass against decency.  No, I was there on business, truly — getting my book The White Trash Pantheon (Vox Press, 2015) in local independent bookstores like Faulkner House Books on Pirate’s Alley and Beckham’s Bookshop over on Decatur Street. I was literally minding my own business, that of poet, when I was seduced by the vicious underbelly life of the French Quarter to do something so unspeakable, I hardly tell you all now how decadent it was.

I am an unlikely candidate for temptation to commit the many vices present on Bourbon Street.  First of all, I drink in moderation whenever I drink.  As a woman of Irish ancestry, I have my ancestors’ hollow leg, anyway, unlikely to be overcome by intoxicants of the fermented kind.  The idea of vomiting on myself in an alleyway doesn’t sound like a fun afternoon, even in the rain. I am unlikely to seek out the ministrations of strippers and prostitutes.  Not even Sam Heughan taking off all his clothes would inspire me to find places to stuff dollar bills, and he is my ideal log thrower in a traditional Celtic caber toss, certainly. I have no desire for any perversion I could hire an illicit sex worker to perform.  My money is therefore generally safe on Bourbon Street, as is my soul.  The Lord’s Prayer asks that we be not led into temptation, and Bourbon Street is not a direct path to any temptation for me.  I see the end from the beginning there — vomit on shoes, throbbing heads, empty wallets, and a need to see the doctor, just in case. Bourbon Street does not lead me into temptation, even though it does not exactly deliver me from evil — if you don’t want a hooker on Bourbon Street, there are voodoo curses available for a price.  I am a generally forgiving soul.  I do not play with witchcraft — it’s not a toy; it’s not a joke; and malevolent intentions are in themselves curses on the holder of said intentions.

But Bourbon Street, named for the decadent royal dynasty that built Versailles, is not the only decadent street in the French Quarter.  Conti Street, named for one of the leaders of that dynasty, a Prince of Bourbon, held my decadent downfall a few days ago.  Mea Culpa. Mea Culpa.  I am an American.  I have American sins. Mea Maxima Culpa.

At a lovely new shop, I stopped as the rain burst from the sky.  The thing you see in the photo seemed to call out my name. It glistened before me as thunder rattled the pastry  cases at the shop. The French Quarter, after putting forth all other forms of temptation in front of me, finally found my kink, my proclivity, my sin.  Indeed, it is a sin akin to original sin — that of eating what one mustn’t ever eat. The object of my desire seemed to whisper what Stanley said to Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire right before he rapes her — “We’ve had this date since the beginning.” Like Blanche, I swooned and let myself be ravaged.

bacon donut

This is the bacon maple donut available 24/7 at Sweet Things & Grill #2 on Conti Street in New Orleans.

No one should ever eat a bacon-topped maple donut, but if it’s wrong, well, I didn’t want to be right.  The salty grease of the bacon mitigated the over-sweetness of the maple fondant frosting. It tasted like American imperialism, like land stolen from Native American tribes.  It tasted like the last day in the imagined chateau of the Marquis de Sade (who must have known the Prince de Conti for whom my fated destination with the donut was named), when all the other decadence was spent in his banned book.  It tasted like the fifty-first shade of gray.  It tasted like my mortality, embraced suicidally, as the paramedics placed the cold paddles on my chest and shouted clear, and I murmured, “no — let me go toward the light, that salty, maple light.”

It tasted like the end of Jim Morrison’s song, “The End.” It tasted like New Orleans, wrapped in bacon, slathered with syrup, demanding a perpetual carnival, then throwing the ashes from the smokehouse where the bacon was cured into the river at the Saint Ann’s Parade.  This is the end, my only friend, the end.  This is the end of America, its ultimate expression of selfish piggishness as the Third World starves.  This is the end, mon semblable, mon frère.

It was like I ripped the head off a chicken in a sacrifice to some shadowy Dick Cheney-like Orisha, then drank the blood from its neck, smearing the mess all over my white santera dress, then rolling my eyes back in my head, seeing a vision of the molecular structures of lipids and glucose in an orgy of stray atomic legs as I chattered like a blonde Fox News pundit as the crawl of words underneath my head ran like this: “Lost in a Roman wilderness of pain/ And all the children are insane /All the children are insane /Waiting for the summer rain, yeah”  — The end, beautiful friend, the end.

I wish, as I kneel here confessing myself to all of you, that I could tell you I was sorry.  I am not.  I will have to work out at my new gym in Algiers for at least a week just to burn off the calories that one donut put on my body, but how can I say I am sorry?  New Orleans made me eat it, the way it seduces all newcomers somehow.  I confess the sin of American gluttony and hegemony.  I confess the sin of re-appropriating Jim Morrison and Charles Baudelaire to hegemonic ends, the end.  Honestly, the donut was quite delicious, and if there is anyone who needs to gain at least twenty pounds for some reason, perhaps just one of them wouldn’t be bad.  I do not have that need.  I am at the gym now.  I was asked by the trainer why on Earth I would eat that bacon-maple donut, and I said, “It was like Everest.  I ate it because it was there.”

It was there, the full expression of our American flaws, the rock uplifted, slithering exposed. Yes, I ate that thing.  Yes, I need to sweat. Yes, the  end, the end.

For your own apotheosis via a bacon-maple donut, find it if you dare at Sweet Things & Grill #2, 806 Conti Street, New Orleans.

 

July 24, 2010

Vulture Shock

A giant vulture has moved in down the street.  There goes the neighborhood.  I’ve always been in favor of integration, but biodiversity has seemed highly suspect to me.

My new neighbor

On Earth Day, in NYC, I sometimes used to go to parks and receive pamphlets about saving the planet.  I did this with about as much gusto as I went to Wigstock, the drag queen festival, to a Bolivian cultural day I once wandered into, and a variety of other demonstrations and cultural manifestations.  New York, that glorious mosaic has two or three festivals going on every non-blizzard day of the year in its streets and parks.  I was always up for enlightening myself, raising my awareness — whatever.  Earth day was only that.

Despite it being a politically incorrect sentiment, I always agreed with Katherine Hepburn’s character in The African Queen, who said, “Nature, Mister Alnaught, is what we were put here to rise above.”

In New York, that rising above normally takes place at least several floors above the sidewalks.  Nature is penned in, given its own day,Earth Day,  like the Bolivian cultural day, which represents a tile in that glorious mosaic, not that New York is secretly La Paz.  Yes, a tree grows in Brooklyn, but trust me, that tree is either in a city park, a diminutive back yard, or in a circle of soil surrounded by sidewalk.

Getting dirty in New York means either a sex shop tour followed by brunch at Restaurant O  or soot and dust — not soil all over one’s immaculate True Religion jeans.

However, every day in Vicksburg is Earth Day, and honestly, it’s starting to freak me out a little.  I mean, in Genesis, God gave Adam dominion over the animals, and I take it on good authority that I’m his distant relative.  Here, I am exposed to all that cute wildlife that used to be visible to me only if I took a very long bus ride to the Bronx Zoo.  I’m surrounded.

Since I moved here to Mississippi, in my own very, very large by Brooklyn standards (3/4 of an acre) back yard or less than a hundred yards from it, I have seen the following creatures parading around, looking like they owned the place:

  • Chipmunks
  • Squirrels
  • Deer
  • Possums
  • Raccoons
  • Hawks
  • Vultures
  • Turtles
  • Snakes
  • Bats
  • All kinds of bugs, I mean all kinds.
  • Yeti

Okay, I’m kidding about the Yeti, but we’re talking about MY backyard!  With my husband, I own this place!  Haven’t these creatures been given notice of my property lines?

I am not sure I’m ready for all this Jack London living.  I am not so much a To Build a Fire kind of a person than a To Build an Art Colony type.

And yet, all this biodiversity seems to have its limits — our planet is in crisis, just like Al Gore warned us.  From what I remember from high school biology, in an ecosystem, symbiosis occurs, creating an interdependency of existence.  Yet, in my back yard, this seems to have hit a speed bump.  The bugs attract bats, the bats attract goth kids, normally, but I’ve seen nary a goth kid since I moved here, and this in the season where those Twilight Saga films have made such an impact on our youth!  The deer might attract Dick Cheney and his hunting buddies, but he hasn’t been by, either.  Maybe the goth kids and the Dick Cheneys repel each other.  I think that explains why this ecosystem has yet to attract larger creatures.

Perhaps I am living a rustic, bucolic existence, in recluse, like Salinger, from all the hustle and bustle.  I think that this is true — there is no hustle and bustle, but in the bushes at night, inevitably, there’s a rustle.

At first this really intimidated me.  One night before I married him, my husband noticed I was slightly nervous in what is now our back yard at night.  The darkness around here at night is thick, embracing, and at night, there are all kinds of noises emanating from the dark, rustles and chirps, buzzings and flappings.

He teased me, “I guess now would be a good time to tell you about the vampire bugs out here.”

I laughed and told him I didn’t believe they existed.  Now, one vulture living in a tree later, just down the street, I’m not so sure.

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