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

November 25, 2015

Après le Déluge, moi — Moving to New Orleans

King Louis XIV famously declared, regarding his excessive spending and living, the construction of Versailles on the peasants’ backs, his love for rich foods, brocade, gilding, and fireworks displays, “Après moi, le déluge.” This refers to an economic collapse he foresaw due to his excesses, but it literally means, “after me, the great flood.”

 Well, today, like a large number of Americans, I am able to look South and declare, not so much in French as in Cajun, “Après le déluge, moi.” After the great flood of Katrina, me, here I am, and I am moving to New Orleans, excessive, effervescent, and like the insect life of the bayoux, burgeoning, fecund with possibility, alive despite toxins and people trying to crush me underfoot when I cross their path.

My husband just got a job transfer down here, and I write this on the Rive Gauche of the Mississippi as we hunt for a place down here. We have investigated rentals of an urban renewing nature in neighborhoods plagued by crime and poverty, and we have investigated choices more conventionally sprawling into prosperous housing.  A French Quarter townhouse lovingly restored will cost one the monthly champagne bill at Versailles, and as lovely as that might be, we aren’t working with the Sun King’s budget. We will likely end up in a small house with a patio in the back.

There is something profoundly invigorating about moving to a place that is rapidly building or rebuilding. It makes a person feel urban, feel renewed, whatever storms have hit. The fumes of fresh paint drying are intoxicating, and like absinthe cocktails at brunch chez Broussard, might make one have visions of the future. In mine, I am writing while being served another unsweet tea at a round table in a brick courtyard, chatter around me, the sound of a trumpet in the background. After all, if a girl can’t write in New Orleans, she can’t write.  And I can write.

If my future vision is a bit cliché, please forgive me. It’s just that with New Orleans, as with so many things at least partially French, plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Like Anne Rice’s Lestat, New Orleans may have a deadly air, but it is forever renewed and élégantà sa façon ringarde, elegant in its tacky ways. Like a jazz funeral procession marks death and grief with joy and syncopation, New Orleans, like anything at least partially French, sees tragedy in defiant irony and triumph with the doubt expressed by Napoleon’s mother when he was crowned emperor — “pourvu que ça dure!”– “we’ll see how long this lasts!”

And will it last? Of course not! And yet, of course it will! New Orleans will never shed its character, and an influx of newcomers, however large or diverse, cannot change this, as New Orleans, like New York, abides in the expectation of newcomers, including carpetbaggers like me, getting tossed in its gumbo.  The roads crumble in flood seasons, but the places to go remain places to go. New pavement cannot change the directions on the face of the compass in the navigator’s hand. New Orleans will always be the home to an enduring and culturally rich African diaspora, Pirates and other transgressive Eurotrash, missionaries, outlaws, and outlaw missionaries. Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose, no matter who shows up.

Like any urban space, New Orleans has traffic laws, and here are a few of them:  Shake hands with the preacher,but keep your wallet in your front pocket where you can feel if someone is trying to lift it. Pay your taxes, but know that not all of the amount due ends up in the government vault. Be a lady, at least while anyone is looking. Strut if at all possible. Be friendly quickly, but make friends slowly. Be better at holding your liquor than the tourists are during Mardi Gras.

I am good at understanding the rules of city life. I am always a lady while anyone is looking. I strutted out of my mother’s womb, so don’t try to out-swagger me. I am friendly. I rarely drink, but my Irish blood keeps me clear-headed, and the sight of my nipples is not available for the tossing of some plastic beads. In other words, it’s practically like I was born here! If not born here, I am at least reborn here, transfused like Lestat by the blood of the living, high on the energy of new beginnings of things without end. Après le déluge, moi. Me voilà.

March 6, 2010

Pockets of fabulousness

My new friend

When I moved to Mississippi, I was determined to be a good immigrant.  I did not intend to complain about the total lack of skyscrapers in Vicksburg, the abominable dearth of good chopped liver bagel sandwiches, the lack of fashion week, or any other thing that is properly associated with New York City.  After all, it would be foolish to lament the lack of amazing grits in Brooklyn, wouldn’t it?  When one emigrates, one embraces the new culture.  That’s just what one does, that is, if one is fabulous.

However, I admit that I have missed certain things.  There is no place to lounge.  Setting a spell, as one says here, is quite possible, even inevitable, but lounging?  That’s just not imagined, not with Buddha Bar CDs playing and tapas, anyway.

There are very few speakers of foreign languages. Many tongue-talking Christians live here, but most people, even in my doctoral program, are astonished at my fluent French and conversant Italian.  I am convinced that at Columbia University, those skills would be standard issue at the doctoral level in literature.

I miss the air kiss.  I miss women who care too much, way too much, about shoes.

I miss the brawling attitudes of New Yorkers, so much so that I (God forgive me) decided to go New York on some teenager who gave me attitude and bad service at a McDonald’s one day last week.  She was giving very bad customer service, it was true, and I did not curse at her, but I sure went Brooklyn on her.  Honestly, I think if the incident had ended in a fist fight, I would have found it refreshing, a sorbet to clear the palate.

However, I have met several very interesting people in the last several weeks.  And they are, despite the total lack  of lounging, the  kind of people I would totally take to the Meat Packing District lounge for elderberry herbal seltzers and dirty martinis.

First, there’s Zonzie (see her photo above, already posted on the Net, since she won a competition last year).  She is a Christian college professor at the college where I teach, and she’s a health educator, as well as the picture of health.  Back in the day, she used to model with the supermodels, and now she competes in the figure competition of body building. She is funny, smart, well-traveled, and  all-around good company.  My only objection to Zonzie is that she has ambitions for my health – -she wants to take me  to the gym.  This intimidates me more than I can say, but because it’s Zonzie, and she’s so cool, I’ll probably go.  She’s just too fabulous to ignore.

Then, there’s Brian, this unusual 23 year-old I met at the cafeteria of my University for my PhD program.  He’s getting a degree in International Relations, and he intends some day to be governor of the State of  Mississippi.  As an out-of-the-closet bisexual African-American man, this will be an impressive feat when he accomplishes it.  He has already started a not-for-profit in the state capitol, Jackson, to end corporal punishment for schools –which, I have learned from him, is still legal, still practiced, chiefly on young black men, and still as offensive as it sounds.  Is it any wonder, Brian muses, that the illiteracy rate is the highest in Mississippi of any state in the Union while this practice continues?  Brian is recruiting me, and I’m joining the movement.  He’s the first person I have ever met who truly reminds me of myself when I was 23.  He’s not the kind of bisexual man who would use the word “fabulous,” but that doesn’t hide his fabulousness from me.

Last but not least is Sirobe, whom I met only yesterday at lunch — she’s the daughter of one of my husband’s colleagues, and when I came to sit down, she — much to my metropolitan delight — air kissed me on both cheeks.  She just got back a few months ago from Milan, where she got a Master’s degree in architecture.  We spoke in our conversant Italian together for a little while, not quite enough to be rude, but almost enough.  She was wearing a black sequinned tank top with a tasteful black angora shrug.  She was fabulous, or as they say in Milan, favolosa.

For my next trick, I need to get all these  people together to set a spell somewhere, bring some interesting beverages and hors d’oeuvres.   I’ll pop my i-pod with Buddha Bar CD tracks into a speaker system, and while it won’t quite be a lounge, perhaps with enough of  us, we can create a pressure system that changes the climate.  Forecast for the Vicksburg area:  Sunny, cool, followed by fresh air with pockets of fabulousness throughout the evening.

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