Seven Year Ache

SATURDAY and the first weekend of parades! There are a ridiculous amount of them today: (Pontchartrain, Choctaw, and Freret this afternoon; Pygmalion and Sparta tonight), starting at one and following each other. Theoretically, there’s a break between afternoon and evening parades, but since they rarely start on time and are frequently delayed, I suspect there will be no such break today; or if there is one, it won’t be for very long.

Yesterday, despite getting off work early, the traffic home was horrendous. I had to run uptown to get the mail and had intended to get groceries as well, but I guess the parades were already started lining up on Tchoupitoulas, which forced all uptown/downtown traffic onto Magazine, Prytania, and St. Charles. I was unable to get to the grocery store–I’m going to try again this morning, despite the very real possibility I won’t be able to park anywhere near the Lost Apartment once I get back–but the first parade isn’t until one this afternoon, so I’m hopeful it won’t be an impossible task. I did get home, got started on the laundry and put a load into the dishwasher before heading to the gym–yes, that’s right; I made it to the gym during parade season and no, I don’t want a cookie. In the past my workouts always got derailed during Carnival–in fact, the last time I started going to the gym regularly Carnival broke the habit and I didn’t go back. So I am determined this year–no matter how difficult it might be–to get to the gym during Carnival this year. It will require some finesse, but I think I can manage to get it handled this year. I am really liking the way the working out is making me feel–and I’m sleeping better than I have in years. That, alone, makes it worthwhile. So, in a little bit I’m going to head uptown to get the mail–a package was delivered yesterday–and then I am heading to the grocery store; I only need a few things, so the entire trip–including the mail–shouldn’t be more than an hour, max.

I also got some more writing done yesterday–just a smidge, not very much–but I am hoping to get some more done today before the parades arrive. If the first starts at one, it probably won’t be here to the Neighborhood of the Nine Muses until around two-ish (which is why I think there really won’t be much of a break today between parades).

It was cold out on the parade route last night–it’s still chilly today, with a high in the low sixties–but it will be sunny, so all I need is a sweatshirt rather than a jacket, and of course a cap to cover my baldness, which feels the cold so much faster than the rest of me. We only were out there last night for about half an hour at most; we wandered up during Cleopatra (I was finishing the laundry during Oshun), caught some beads, and wandered back home, choosing to skip Alla and rest up for today’s insanity. It was much more crowded than I thought it would be–it’s never very crowded on the first night, but then it also usually rains on the first night–and everyone was having a good time and was very friendly. I think that’s one of the major parts of parade season no one thinks about or talks about–the fact that the entire stretch of the parade route is crowded with people and there’s never any problems or issues; if there are, they are few and far between and you don’t really hear about them. Everyone is in a good mood; people share their liquor with strangers; and it’s just a big genial party. That is almost as much fun as catching things.

Yeah, right. No, catching things is the BEST part.

At first, too, I wasn’t doing very well–I was misjudging throws and missing things. Someone from one of the floats threw a purple and gold LSU football at me–I was bedecked in LSU gear from head to toe–and it glanced off my fingers and bounced off a different direction. But I didn’t even have time to feel bad about missing the football because a handful of beads were coming right for my hand–and in true Wonder Woman bullets-and-bracelets fashion, my hand darted up and grabbed them.

I may start out rusty, but once I’m warmed up, I am plucking things from the air left and right.

So, I am hoping to finish the laundry that’s currently in the dryer, then I am going to get a cup of coffee to go and head uptown to get my package and then swing by the grocery store on the way home. I hope to have time to get some writing done this morning, and then of course it’s parades parades parades all day long.

I also started writing yet another short story this week with the working title “Smoky Mountain Rest Stop” (I will most likely shorten it at some point to “Rest Stop,” I don’t know. Maybe I’ll leave it the same.). I don’t know where it came from; I was busy doing data entry and work and happily listening to Spotify (I created a GAY DANCE MIX playlist on there, and it’s quite delightful, actually) when the idea came to me. I just envisioned a woman, driving from Chattanooga north on I-75, going somewhere she doesn’t want to, and  needing to stop because she has to use the bathroom–urgently. Incidentally, she isn’t from Chattanooga, but the story is set on the highway heading north between Chattanooga and Knoxville, through the Smoky Mountains. I am very familiar with that drive, as I have made it any number of times in the past twenty years since my parents moved to Kentucky; it’s a gorgeous stretch of road–the views are spectacular; the Smoky Mountains are quite beautiful–but it’s also extremely terrifying as well. The highway clings to the side of mountains and sometimes the climb is difficult, and then of course you have to be careful going down the other side because if you don’t pay attention suddenly you’re doing more than a hundred miles an hour and you don’t want to be doing that because of sharp curves and bastard eighteen-wheelers. It’s also very dark once the sun goes down, which makes it even scarier. I don’t know what the story is going to be–some amorphous form of it came to me last night as I relaxed in my easy chair with a glass of wine and mindlessly allowing Youtube autoplay keep showing me music videos. I’m not sure, as I said, which direction I want the story to go in, or where it’s going to go, but I have a very strong sense of my main character (Aimee), and that’s a good thing.

And on that note, I hear that the dryer has stopped, so it’s time to fold some laundry before I run those pesky errands. Happy Saturday, Constant Reader!

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You’re Still the One

Yep, it’s here. Tonight starts the St. Charles parade schedule, and my life is going to be upended for the next two weeks. Tonight’s parades are Oshun, Cleopatra, and Alla. There are five Saturday, and three on Sunday. Remember–this is the warm-up weekend, the one where we get our throw-catching sea legs to prepare for the marathon to come next week.

As a result, rather than going in later this afternoon, I am going in to the office early this morning, so I can run important errands after I get off work and then can get to the gym and get my workout in before the parades start arriving. Heavy heaving sigh. I’m going to try to get some writing done, but it’s not going to be easy over the course of the weekend, what with eleven parades passing by at the corner. At least on Sunday they are all afternoon parades, so I’ll have the evening free before my two consecutive twelve hour shifts. The rest of the week I have to go in early so I can get home before the parking is all gone and they close St. Charles Avenue, and of course next Friday I’ll be strolling down St. Charles to the Quarter to pass out condoms, and then walking home that evening up the parade route. Yay for corn dogs and funnel cakes! They make everything better.

They do! Don’t be a hater, dear.

I did work on the Secret Project a little while last night; not much, but the character’s voice is starting to come to me more and I am seeing the story a little more clearly, so it’s a nice pass I am giving to this one, and hopefully this will be the pass that finishes it so I can move on to the next part.

Huzzah, I think.

New Orleans’ bipolar weather took a turn yesterday, dropping a ridiculous amount of degrees so it was bitterly cold when I came home last night; I suspect more of the same is in store for us this first weekend of parades, which kind of takes a lot of the fun out of parade-attendance; of course, rain will always be the worst parade weather. The high today is fifty-eight; it’s forty-five right now. I recognize that probably doesn’t qualify as cold enough weather to complain about in most of the country–but I don’t live in most of the country. So there.

I am also mapping out “Festival of the Redeemer.” It’s going to probably be longer than a short story, but not long enough to be a novel–have I mentioned this before? Probably, my memory is really a bit on the disgraceful side these days. It’s a complicated story, and how I want to tell it–in flashbacks as the couple the story is about wander the streets of Venice, sight-seeing, and climaxes while they watch the Festival fireworks from their balcony at the Gritti Palace–is complicated and will require careful planning; but that careful planning also means that I need to map it out before hand, in order to make it easier to write for me. It’s probably going to end up as a stand alone novella, sold as an ebook, most likely; but there are worse things I could do.

The whole novella conversation also has me wondering about this Chanse short story I’ve been writing, “Once a Tiger”–well, writing off and on for about two years now, if I am going to be honest–and now I am thinking it’s more sense, and more likely, that it would work better as a novella. It’s too much story for a short story, which was why it’s been stalled as long as it has been, and now I am thinking, well you can always just write the story you want it to be and see how long it actually winds up. I was trying to keep it to less than 6000 words, which is the max for Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock–which is what I always have in mind when I am writing a short story; they are the best paying and most prestigious market for crime short stories out there, so I always have an eye to sending any story I write (which isn’t being written on request or for an anthology) to them for consideration.

I’ve been in Ellery Queen twice already, and Alfred Hitchcock is still on my bucket list–although it takes a major commitment to send something to Hitchcock–the last story I sent them took over a year to be rejected, which is insane. But they also probably get a lot of submissions, and probably also request stories from people, too. Ah, well.

And on that note, I am heading back into the spice mines. This morning is cold, and the day I am facing is going to be long, so it’s probably best to hit the ground running.

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Good Hearted Woman

Thursday, and Parades Eve in New Orleans. I have to work tomorrow from 9-2 rather than my usual 12-5, so that I can get home in time to get a place to park before they close the streets and the hordes from the rest of the city and the outer parishes descend upon my neighborhood for beads and other throws.

The gym is going well, thanks for asking. I’m trying not to get anxious about not getting instant results (seriously, you’d think I of all people would  know better) but my sleep is improving–IMPORTANT–and I physically feel much better than I have in years. I am still trying to go slowly, pace myself, and work my way back into it better–I suspect my impatience is what led to the constant re-injuring of my back–and I am starting to feel better about myself in general. That has been a constant battle with myself my entire life, but now that I am on the fast, downward waterslide to sixty, I think I am finally finding some sort of inner peace with myself.

It may have only taken me nearly six decades, but I’m getting there. Better late than never, right?

I watched another twenty-five minutes of The Talented Mr.Ripley yesterday on the treadmill, and I have to say each additional scene I watch makes me appreciate the script and Matt Damon’s performance as Tom even more. This is the sequence of the film in which Tom finally snaps and kills Dickie on the boat–and while certainly I don’t think Dickie needed killing, I do think he was a pretty awful person. The film sets this up in ways that Highsmith did not in the novel–by establishing Dickie as a player with a roving eye; the creation of the local village girl, Silvana, that he’s having an affair with, who ends up killing herself when she finds herself pregnant (although on my initial two viewings, I thought it was implied that Dickie actually killed her rather than her killing herself); the women he’s constantly ogling and flirting with; Marge’s tolerant acceptance of Dickie’s many many flaws because she just sighs and says “well, that’s Dickie”, which essentially turns her into a doormat who doesn’t think she deserves better–which really hurts Gwyneth Paltrow’s performance–Dickie has led Tom on (certainly in Tom’s mind) and while this isn’t really established so much in the film as it was in the novel, Tom is lonely and looking for friends and love while being torn apart inside as to who he actually is; so Dickie’s turning on him and cruelty in finally telling him to go away is so nasty and vicious Tom strikes him with the oar to shut him up–which results in further rage on Dickie’s part and Tom finally has to finish him off.

I know watching this film, after reading the book, is what is driving me to write “Festival of the Redeemer”–instead of what I really should be doing.

Ugh, creative ADHD is the absolute WORST.

But I finally got stuck last night on “Festival”, which means I can put it aside now while i think about how I want to structure it better. I also realized yesterday that it’s not a short story, but it’s also not enough story to be a novel; so a novella it is. I also have a kind of subversive idea about it not being a linear story; flashing back and forth from the present to the past.  It’s hard to get into details about it without giving too much away, but that’s the nice thing about short stories and, I suppose, novellas: you can play with things like structure and form that you can’t get away with in a shorter story or might not actually work, so best not to try it in a novel first, because if it doesn’t work straightening out the mess is a lot more work. I am rather curious about trying out more novellas, frankly; primarily because, as I often like to remind myself, some of James M. Cain’s novels, like The Postman Always Rings Twice, were closer to novellas than novels.

All of this speculation, of course, keeps me from actually writing, you know.

I started watching a series on Netflix last night about the fall of Constantinople, Ottoman: The Rise of an Empire, which was pretty interesting. I got a little bored, frankly, in the second episode, but I’ve always been interested in the old Eastern Roman Empire (rebranded by western historians as the Byzantine Empire, but it was the last vestiges of the Roman Empire. Western European historians managed to try, and succeed, for the most part, to erase that history by teaching that the Roman Empire ended when Rome fell in the fifth century–but the Roman Empire continued on for another thousand years until Constantinople fell in 1453. Westerners, attempting to claim themselves and their culture and civilization as the rightful heirs to Rome, began calling them the Byzantine Empire and referring to them as Greeks, but the Ottomans thought of them as the Romans. It was the Roman Empire. Lars Brownworth has done some wonderful histories of the eastern Roman empire and the history of the eastern Mediterranean; I highly recommend his work–he also appears with several other historians in the docuseries, which is a mixture of reenactment and documentary style filmmaking). The first episode was interesting, but my mind wandered during the second; so I shut it off about half-way through preparatory to going to bed.

So, here I am this morning with my first cup of coffee. The weather is supposed to be spectacular in New Orleans today and tomorrow–someone posted a picture of blooming flowers with the caption SPRING IN NEW ORLEANS and I wanted to comment um it’s February but then I realized, our spring IS in February and March and early April–and summer generally kicks into gear in late April and lasts till early October. This week has been hit-or-miss with rain and sunshine, but has been warm the entire time. I’ve not taken a jacket with me to work one day this week, and I’ve only carried my hats with me because my bald head gets cold in our building. (I forgot my hat yesterday and my head was cold all evening.)

And on that note, tis back to the spice mines with me. Have a lovely Thursday, Constant Reader, and I’ll catch up with you later.

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Strawberry Wine

Tuesday, Tuesday–can we really trust this day?

I’ve always found Tuesdays to be more questionable than Mondays, if we’re going to be completely honest. At least on Monday–despite the inevitable ring of the alarm, the grudging getting out of bed earlier than you want to, the unpleasantness of the desire and need for caffeine–you’re rested from the weekend. When the Tuesday morning alarm goes off, you have already worn off that weekend glow and are tired from a full day’s work already, with several more still left to go…I daresay that Monday’s blue and Tuesday’s, too.

I got some writing done last night–I’ve found three different versions of the first chapter of the Secret Project, so  I spent some time merging them together; today I am most likely going to edit that chapter and get it revised, polished and pulled together. I also worked on the new short story idea I had, “Festival of the Redeemer”, which is a  noirish Daphne du Maurier-type story with a bit of inspiration from Highsmith, Ripley, and the film; which I will watch another half hour of tomorrow morning at the gym. My writing muscles are much more slack and harder to whip back into shape that the regular muscles of my body. Sunday’s gym trip broke me through the tired-muscle syndrome I was experiencing that first week back; now my muscles no longer feel a bit achy and tired all the time, and I am sleeping ever so much better.

I know I have to push through and the writing muscles will eventually catch up and the words will start coming out of me again, but JFC, what a pain in the ass. I guess the message here is to never let my writing muscles get out of shape ever again–not that I ever remember letting them get out of shape in the first place.

I do think “Festival of the Redeemer” has the potential to be a terrific story, but again–gay main character, gay noir, who’s going to publish that? I currently have a “gay” story out on submission to a mainstream market, but feel relatively confident that story is going to be rejected eventually; they’ve had it longer than they had the one they already published, and delayed response usually means eventual rejection. Every story, of course, is a different animal than the one that came before it; so a quick turnaround on one story doesn’t mean the next one will get that same quick turnaround, of course, and it’s a different story so–

I wonder what it’s like to not have to wonder if your story is going to be rejected because you wrote about gay characters?

But it’s been awhile since i wrote a short story, and I’m writing this one around the Secret Project; once the Secret Project is finished I’ll have to put this story aside to focus on the Sherlock story–which I still can’t believe I’m actually writing a Sherlock story. But this year I know I will have at least two stories for sure in print: my story for The Faking of the President will be out around the same time as my story in The Beat of Black Wings. Which is incredibly cool; both stories have the same kind of noirish dark tone, but I still think “This Town” is the best short story I’ve written over the last few years. I don’t know if it will get an Anthony nomination for this year’s Bouchercon, but you never know; stranger things have happened, and I never thought “Cold Beer No Flies” would have been an Anthony finalist, either.

“Festival of the Redeemer”–well, I’ve wanted to write a story about Venice ever since I visited there, and of course, the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley is reminding me of how much I loved Italy when I was there; I haven’t gotten to the “Tom in Venice” segments yet, but just thinking about it–and the weird friendship between Tom and Dickie–made me finally understand how I could write this story; what the crux of it is, and why it should be told–and where the story should come from within me; and I think I finally can root the story out.

At any rate, I am probably going to have to stop at the grocery store tonight on my way home to start storing provisions for the coming weekend of being trapped inside the parade route for most of the weekend. It’ll be fun, of course, wandering down to the corner to watch the parades and catch some things, watching the crowds and seeing who else from the neighborhood is out there; it always is, if somewhat exhausting. Barkus of course is Sunday afternoon in the Quarter–the dog walking parade–and there’s no parades on Sunday night, I suppose so we can start getting rested for the marathon to come beginning on Wednesday. I decided to do my usual Outreach shift on Friday afternoon, which will mean walking down to the Quarter after doing my workout Friday morning–no need, obviously, to do my cardio since I’ll be walking several miles that day–and then trying to get to the gym Sunday morning before the first parades start arriving in the neighborhood. I don’t remember who is Bacchus this year–nor do I remember who is riding in Orpheus–but I know Jennifer Coolidge is the celebrity guest Muse, riding in the big shoe this year.

I’m probably going to have to write another book about Mardi Gras someday; I think seeing Scotty and the boys through another Mardi Gras is probably a good idea–hell, it might even be worthwhile to take them through Southern Decadence again. I don’t think Scotty’s quite done with his partying ways, frankly, even with sort-of-nephew Taylor around to be badly influenced–although I would imagine it would be relatively awkward for him and Frank to be wasted on Ecstasy on the dance floor at Oz and run into Taylor and some of his friends from Tulane. Hmmm.

But I need to get back to reading Where are the Children? so I can get back to my reading of Tracy Clark; I also need to read Lori Rader-Day’s The Lucky One for a panel I am moderating this year at the Tennessee Williams Literary Festival. And I also have some MWA business I need to work on this week–the life of an executive vice-president is always intended to be, well, interesting–and as such, I should probably head back into the spice mines.

Have a lovely Wednesday Eve, all!

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He’ll Have to Go

Saturday morning, and I slept in until nearly eight thirty! Living large here, I have to say.

Yesterday was one of those days; the temperature dropped, as you may recall, and once again when turning on the heat Thursday night, it didn’t really come on–it did, but it never truly got warm in the Lost Apartment, either upstairs or down. So, I wound up having to stay home from work to wait for the HVAC guys, who actually arrived dutifully when they said they would (this is so rare as to merit mention), and worked on it for a while. They did eventually leave, and I went to the gym and ran my errands.  I don’t know if the heat is actually fixed or not; we didn’t need it last night anywhere other than the kitchen, and I have a space heater for in there (it never warms up in the kitchen, ever) but I did manage to get a lot of cleaning and organizing done. I also managed to start watching the film of The Talented Mr. Ripley on the iPad yesterday at the gym (the Anthony Minghella version) and it veers away from the book’s narrative much more than I ever had supposed; the character of Meredith (played by Cate Blanchett) doesn’t exist in the book, nor does the entire subplot about Dickie’s affair with the village girl in Mongibello. But the one thing I will say about this film–and the thirty or so minutes of it I watched–Matt Damon is exceptionally great in the role of Tom; far more so than Jude Law as Dickie (he was nominated for an Oscar; the film made him a star), and this just might be one of Damon’s best performances.

Paul, I believe, is off to the office later today, and has plans with friends to go watch Krewe de Vieux tonight; I intend to stay home and work on the Secret Project, get my taxes together and sent off to the accountant, and emails to answer. There’s also organizing and filing to do, and I need to do the floors; I always leave the floors for Saturday vacuuming. Paul’s absence also gives me no excuse for not reading and writing for most of the day; around the cleaning, at any rate–and I am actually looking forward to getting a lot of both done today.

I’m still reading Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is really good, and in fact, once I finish writing this I am most likely going to  head over to the easy chair and spend a few hours with it this morning before moving on to the Secret Project. I am also really enjoying Jason Berry’s City of a Million Dreams, which I am not very far into, but I feel confident in recommending just based on the introduction and part of the first chapter. I’ve not read Berry before–he’s local, and has written quite a few books, including taking the Archdiocese to task for covering up the sexual abuse of children–but I am impressed enough to start adding his canon to my TBR list. We started watching Avenue 5, which was much funnier than I thought it would be–and Hugh Laurie is terrific as the captain; the entire cast is actually quite good. We’re probably going to also start watching The Outsider on HBO, which presents a conundrum for me; I generally like to read the book while I am watching the TV series based on it (I did this with Big Little Lies, and found it to be incredibly enjoyable; I’ve not read the King yet, but once I am done with the Clark, I am definitely going to pull The Outsider down from the shelf and give it a go)., but I guess pulling down The Outsider and moving it up to the top of the TBR list won’t hurt anyone or anything.

Parades also start this coming Friday on the St. Charles Avenue route; the challenge is going to be continuing to write and go to the gym around my job and the parades; parade watching is always a blast–it will probably never get old for me–but it’s also exhausting and keeps me up later at night than I probably need to be awake, given how early I will have to get up the following mornings.

It’s also lovely to wake up and sit at my desk and glance around and see clean, clear counters and a sink that is primarily empty of dirty dishes. There’s a load in the dishwasher that needs to be put away, and a load of laundry in the dryer that also neede to be fluffed and folded, but like I said, other than that and the floors (and these stacks of file folders and scribbled notes scattered around my desk), there’s no cleaning to be done this morning. My muscles are tired this morning from the gym yesterday, but I’m not sore, and I feel more stretched than I usually do, which also actually feels good–I may just stretch out a bit a little later; I’d forgotten how good it feels to have stretched muscles as opposed to tight ones.

So, that’s the plan for today, at any rate. I’m going to go pour yet another cup of coffee, take my book and repair to the easy chair; after that, it’s back to the desk to do some writing and answer some emails (I never actually send them until Monday morning; emails beget emails, and I’d rather not wake up Monday morning at the crack of dawn with an insane amount of emails to answer; it’s too, too daunting to deal with on a twelve hour day).

I was also thinking the other day–thanks to a post by someone on Facebook–about books that should be paired together, like a good wine and some good cheese; how reading the two back-to-back can enhance the reading pleasure of both. Michael Koryta’s The Prophet (which is one of my favorite books), for example, pairs beautifully with Megan Abbott’s Dare Me (and you need to be watching the television adaptation of Dare Me); Alafair Burke recommends pairing Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent with Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, and there was one more I can’t quite remember, but it was also quite brilliant. (I also think pairing Stephen King’s Carrie and Christine together enhances the pleasure of reading each even more.)

I was also thinking about “event” books; Gone Girl was probably the most recent “event” book–a book that sold a gazillion copies and everyone was talking about. There have always been “event books”, which in the pre-Internet, pre-social media days was harder to have happen, and yet it did, all the time. Two such books from the 70’s include Thomas Tryon’s The Other and Peter Benchley’s Jaws; the fame of Jaws was spread even further by an event film based on it that has almost entirely eclipsed the book. Robin Cook’s Coma was another one of these; I intend to include The Other in my Reread Project this year, but rather than Jaws I am going to reread Benchley’s second novel, The Deep, and Cook’s second novel, Sphinx–which was Cook’s only non-medical thriller thriller.

And on that note, I am going to repair to the easy chair with my coffee and Tracy Clark. Have a lovely Saturday, Constant Reader; I certainly intend to.

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Please Remember Me

I am often, incorrectly, referred to as a “New Orleans expert.”

Nothing, as I inferred in that sentence, could be further than the truth.

Don’t get me wrong–I absolutely, positively love New Orleans, for many and varied reasons. The short, elevator-pitch answer is always Because I’m not the weird one here. And it’s true; New Orleans is an eccentric city filled with eccentrics. No other city in North America is like it, even remotely; New Orleans is a city that doesn’t abhor strangeness, but rather embraces it. When I came here for my thirty-third birthday in 1994, when I got out of the cab at the intersection of St. Ann and Bourbon that first night, my actual birthday, to go out to the gay bars of the Quarter, I knew I was home. There was no doubt in my mind, no question; just an immediate and instant connection with the city and I knew, not only that I would eventually live here, but that if and when I did all my  dreams would come true.

And that feeling was right. I fell in love with New Orleans, I fell in love in New Orleans, and after I moved here, all of my dreams did, in fact, come true.

So, when I write about New Orleans my deep and abiding love and passion for the city inevitably comes through. But I always kind of smile inwardly to myself when people call me an expert on the city; I am hardly that, and libraries could be filled with what I don’t know about the city. Sure, I do know some things, but an expert? Not even remotely close.

A perfect case in point is Milneburg. What, you may every well ask, is Milneburg? Milneburg was a resort village on the lake shore that many New Orleanians would escape to during the wretched heat of the summer (and I am vastly oversimplifying this); I’ve read about it in history books and so forth. I even thought Murder in Milneburg might make for an interesting historical mystery. I always saw it, though, in my mind’s eye, as close to the parish line between Orleans and Jefferson parishes; closer to Metairie and the causeway. So, you can imagine my shock when I saw a map of Milneburg posted on one of the New Orleans historical Facebook pages I belong to, and realized that I was completely wrong: there was a railroad line from New Orleans to Milneburg (which I knew) that ran along what is now Elysian Fields Avenue. 

So, Milneburg was actually where the University of New Orleans is now located; and the train line continued along east, crossing at the Rigolets.

Some New Orleans expert I am, which is why I decided to start reading more histories of the city over the last few years. It’s been quite an education, and there are still some things I don’t quite grasp–like when the Basin Canal was filled in to become Basin Street, and what relation that had to Storyville and Treme, because the train station also used to be located near Storyville (this was part of the reason why the drive to clean up Storyville and end legal prostitution in New Orleans was successful; the other part was because New Orleans was an embarkation point for the military during World War I and the Pentagon frowned on delivering green military recruits to whorehouses).

So, yeah, some expert I am.

But I really enjoyed Richard Campanella’s Bourbon Street.

bourbon street

There are no straight lines in nature. Nor are there any right angles. Rather, intricate arcs and fractures merge and bifurcate recurrently, like capillaries in a plant leaf or veins in an arm. Nowhere is this sinuous geometry more evident than in deltas, like that of the Mississippi River. Starting eighteen thousand years ago, warming global temperatures melted immense ice sheets across North America. The runoff aggregated to form the lower Mississippi River and flowed southward bearing vast quantities of sediment. The bluffs and terraces that confined the channel to a broad alluvial valley petered out roughly between present-day Lafayette and Baton Rouge in Louisiana, south of which lay the Gulf of Mexico.

Into that sea disembogued the Mississippi, its innumerable tons of alluvium smothering the soft marshes of the Gulf Coast and accumulating upon the hard clays of the sea floor. So voluminous was the Mississippi’s muddy water column that it overpowered the (relatively weak tides and currents of) Gulf of Mexico, thus prograding the deposition farther into the sea. Occasional crevasses in the river’s banks diverted waters to the left or right, creating multiple river mouths and thus multiple depositions. High springtime flow also overtopped the river’s banks and released a think sheet of sediment-laden water sideways, further raising the delta’s elevation.

In this manner, southeastern Louisiana rose from the sea. The process took about 7,200 years, making the Mississippi Delta, as Mark Twain put it, “the youthfulest batch of country that lies around there anywhere.” Young, dynamic, fluid, warm, humid: flora and fauna flourish in such conditions, as evidenced by the verdant vegetation and high productivity of the delta’s ecosystem. Humans, on the other other, view these same conditons as inhospitable, dangerous, even evil, and endeavor to impose rigidity and rectitude upon them, so as to better exploit the delta’s resources.

If New Orleans is known for anything, it’s Bourbon Street. Everyone has heard about Bourbon Street, it seems; just as they’ve heard about Carnival/Mardi Gras, beads, and show us your tits (which locals do NOT do–either yell it or bare them). Campanella’s book traces the history of the famous street, and by extension, the French Quarter itself, from its very beginnings when the French arrived and designed the streets, to its modern day incarnation as a street of endless partying and no little debauchery. It’s very well researched, and Campanella, who I believe teaches at Tulane, is the true expert on the city; I follow his pages on Facebook, and I can’t even begin to tell you how much inspiration and information Bourbon Street  has given me. I’ve put so many page markers in my copy that I’m worried about breaking the spine!

One thing that my reading of New Orleans history has further emphasized to me–and it also really comes through strongly in Campanella’s book–is how New Orleans has always been a city of neighborhoods, and how each neighborhood of the city had (has?) its own unique  sense of itself, and how those who lived in those neighborhoods so strongly identified with them. The evolution of the French Quarter from the original city and seat of its government, to the original French leaving and being replaced by immigrants (as late as the 1960’s the lower quarter was known as ‘little Sicily’ because of all the Italian immigrants and their descendants who lived there), and then evolved again into a different type of neighborhood, with mixed incomes and everything from inexpensive apartments to gradiose condos; and a variety of ethnicities, races, sexualities, and gender identities.

One of the primary concerns modern-day New Orleanians have is the fear of the loss of those neighborhoods; because those neighborhoods were the incubators for all the things that makes New Orleans so special and unique: the music, the art, the literature, and the characters. Short-term rentals are carving up neighborhoods and the rents/property values are currently climbing, with no peak in sight, and people are rightfully concerned about these things.

But one thing I’ve learned from reading these histories, and Campanella’s in particular, is that New Orleans has always changed and evolved, yet has also always managed to keep that unique strangeness that make it New Orleans somehow intact.

If you love New Orleans or find it at all interesting, I cannot recommend Bourbon Street enough to you.

Something in Red

Well, we made it to Friday yet again, did we not? One week from today the St. Charles parades kick back into gear again; and the madness of Carnival season descends on those of us who live inside the box. (“The box”, for those of you Not From Here, designates the most common parade route: Tchoupitoulas up Napoleon to St. Charles to Canal to Convention Center Boulevard; the river/Tchoupitoulas forms the one side of the box–it’s usually open somewhat to traffic, but when the parades are lined up…it’s best to avoid. Living inside the box means you have to be home and parked at least an hour to two hours before the start time of the first parade, else you’ll be unable to get home.) So, yes, for a total of about seven or eight days scattered over two weekends, the parade schedule will dominate my life and force me to accommodate my life around them. It’s a very fun, if exhausting, time.

The weather changed dramatically, as it always does at this time of year when it rains. It was in the thirties overnight, and while it is supposed to be in the fifties today–it’s going back up to sunny and warm this weekend–it still feels like its in the thirties inside the Lost Apartment today, which is rather unpleasant. I’m layered, and the space heater is one, but it’s still unpleasant and I really didn’t want to get out of bed this morning at all. But I did get up, and I am going to go to the gym–it’s gym morning–around ten; I’d set the alarm for seven but the bed felt simply too delicious to get out of, so instead of nine I’ll go at ten. Compromise. I am resisting the urge to say I’ll go when I get home from work because I think we all know that will turn into well, I went twice this week and I’m tired and home now.

Which is how it always starts, you know.

I finished reading Bourbon Street this week, and have moved on to City of a Million Dreams, which opens in a prologue about the Confederate monuments tied into Allen Toussaint’s funeral. Jason Berry is a very good writer, and I am already drawn into his (nonfiction) story; which is incredibly cool. I am also enjoying Tracy Clark’s Broken Places, which is also cool. I’ll probably spend some more time with it tonight when I get home from work.

We finished watching the second season of  Sex Education, and of course it sort of ended the way I feared it might; while everyone else’s story-lines came to a rather lovely close, others had to be seeded in order for there to be a third season, and of course the core storyline is Otis and Maeve’s relationship. Otis and Maeve are the odd couple we can’t help but root for to get together; the poor but extremely smart daughter of a drug addict with a sharp tongue and the awkward son of the sex therapist; we’ve seen them grow beyond their original selves and develop as people as well as fall in love with each other; so wanting them to get together is the pull of their story–and even if they did somehow wind up together, for purposes of the show they would have to be pulled apart anyway so we could root for them to get back together again.

I’ve also gotten moving on the Secret Project again; this new opening was the right choice, and I’ve actually found the character’s voice. As I worked on it last night after work, getting in a very difficult four or five hundred words, despite that struggle I also couldn’t help but realize my mind was filling in other details, and both the story and the characters were beginning to expand inside my mind, which is terribly important–and also caused a breakthrough regarding the two unfinished manuscripts languishing in files in my computer: I don’t believe I ever found the core of the main characters in either of them, and that’s why I am so deeply dissatisfied with both manuscripts, and why they never feel right. I do think this last, third revision of Bury Me in Shadows is the closest I’ve gotten to getting his voice right; but this breakthrough on the Secret Project last night also opened the door to what is going wrong with the others. So, once I get the Secret Project finished–the goal is to have it finished by Valentine’s Day/first day of St. Charles parades–I can spend that following weekend primarily working on who my main character is, and reviewing this most recent rewrite, with an eye to making sure I have his voice right.

And then perhaps I can get it finished, once and for all.

I also have to write blog entries about Bourbon Street and another book I finished reading for the Reread Project; if nothing else, I can always say I have the blog entries finished.

I also found The Talented Mr. Ripley on Netflix, so I am going to start watching that while I walk on the treadmill at the gym. I also want to watch this new true crime Netflix series, The Pharmacist, about the drug problem in New Orleans. I watched the trailer for it last night, and it looks quite interesting, to say the least. We also need to get caught up on Megan Abbott’s Dare Me, which of course has been DVRing merrily; I think it might be more fun to binge it, quite frankly.

I’ve also got a short story to start writing–not to mention all the ones languishing in their folders, begging to be finished or desperate for revisions–but this particular one has a due date, and I’d really like to get it started; which means more Sherlock reading tonight when I get home from the office, interspersed with Tracy Clark.

And on that note, I need to eat some carbs for energy before I head to the gym this morning; y’all behave and have a lovely Friday, okay?

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