Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Back to New Orleans

Since I knew almost nothing about New Orleans (other than “The Big Easy” and “Pretty Baby”), I did some reading before we got there, and more after we arrived. I reread “Confederacy of Dunces,” since I hadn’t read it since college. I also read “Dinner at Antoine’s” by Frances Parkinson Keyes. Mrs. Keyes wrote a lot of novels, but I read somewhere that one had the most New Orleans local color. The racism in it, particularly the way the white male characters refer to the victim’s mammy, is pretty harsh, even given the fact it was published in 1948. I’m not surprised it’s out of print.

We went on a private tour of Mrs. Keyes’ house, which I suspect is held in higher regard because for a few months it was the home of Confederate General P.G.T. Beauregard. At any rate, I envied Mrs. Keyes such a gorgeous place to write in the winter. A photo of the garden is above (photo by Tom Bovo).

There is a wonderful bookstore on Pirates Alley, near the Cathedral, called Faulkner House Books. I ran amok there, and among other things bought Herbert Asbury’s “The French Quarter.” I really like Asbury’s “Gangs of New York,” all about the Plug-Uglies and the Dead-Rabbits. Last night I finished reading “The French Quarter.” He really gets into Storyville and the brothels- even to the point of photos of the public rooms. But I want to touch on a few things that struck me.

The Code Noir: Several places we visited made reference to the Code Noir, which was drawn up under the French. I understood it to be a code of conduct for masters’ behavior towards their slaves. According to Asbury, it’s a 50 point code which first deals with expelling Jews from the colony, banning any non-Roman Catholic worship, allowing masters to legally free their slaves and permitting freemen to own property and marry.

Duels: Dueling was incredibly popular in antebellum New Orleans, to the point where there were multiple fencing schools. Duels were usually held in the garden behind the Cathedral.

Jim Bowie: Bowie earned his living for a time by reselling slaves (it was a scam) in New Orleans.

Basin Street: Where Basin Street is now, there was once water, which you could call a basin. As opposed to Canal Street, where there was only talk of have a canal.

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