Why have these places played muse to so many writers? There are plenty of answers, clichés, all of them true, and plenty of words incessantly invoked to describe the literary appeal of New Orleans: Desire. Seduction. Uniqueness. Timelessness. History. Eccentricity. Diversity. Culture. Religion. Hedonism. Contradictions. Intoxication. Laissez les bonnes temps roule—let the good times roll. The city that care forgot. The city that forgot to care.
Unnoticed by his phalanx of security, I watched from my third-floor apartment window as our president used a couple of these clichés himself. Photo perfect, he stood in Jackson Square to give his seminal address on this emergency, just feet from Ripley’s. Behind him loomed St. Louis Cathedral, its clocked stopped at 6:26, as Katrina left it, and in front of that, also behind him, another president, Andrew Jackson, upon his veined horse.
The longer you gaze at Jackson’s monument, the more unsure of its momentum you become. The general appears not quite sure if he should charge forward, following the American tendency toward endless reinvention; backward into the swamp of yesterday; or rear in the glory of what we still have today, however dirty it is.
Well, the clock is moving again. Jackson, of course, has stayed put. But the city again turns around him, creaking slowly now.
Tennessee Williams called this a place where poets “huddle together for some dim, communal comfort.” He said, “I have been a part of their groups because of the desperate necessity for the companionship of one’s own kind.” This is the flesh and blood over the bones of affordable living that is Bohemia. Those who can come home, please do. Be the voice to stop the rising tide of museum-quality preservation and corporate honky-tonks. The world may be holding its breath. But it is you who must take the first step, home, now.
America’s oldest Bohemia is taking a last gasp before reincarnation. Never has a place felt stranger. And never have I felt more at home, nor has home ever been more precious to me. We cannot afford to lose the things that have made this city. And we cannot afford to lose those who have written it.
Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans? Well, now she misses you.
Joshua Clark is the editor of Light of New Orleans Publishing. Proceeds of his company's first book, French Quarter Review, now go to KARES (Katrina Arts Relief and Emergency Support).