For two decades NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu has been living in and writing about his adopted city, where, as he puts it, the official language is dreams. How apt that a refugee born in Transylvania found his home in a place where vampires roam the streets and voodoo queens live around the corner; where cemeteries are the most popular picnic spots, the ghosts of poets, prostitutes, and pirates are palpable, and in the French Quarter, no one ever sleeps.
Codrescu's essays have been called "satirical gems," "subversive," "sardonic and stunning," "funny," "gonzo," "wittily poignant," and "perverse"—here is a writer who perfectly mirrors the wild, voluptuous, bohemian character of New Orleans itself. This retrospective follows him from newcomer to near native: first seduced by the lush banana trees in his backyard and the sensual aroma of coffee at the café down the block, Codrescu soon becomes a Window Gang regular at the infamous bar Molly's on Decatur, does a stint as King of Krewe de Vieux Carré at Mardi Gras, befriends artists, musicians, and eccentrics, and exposes the city’s underbelly of corruption, warning presciently about the lack of planning for floods in a city high on its own insouciance. Alas, as we all now know, Paradise is lost.
New Orleans, Mon Amour is an epic love song, a clear-eyed elegy, a cultural celebration, and a thank-you note to New Orleans in its Golden Age.
|Publisher:||Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill|
|Product dimensions:||5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
A poet, novelist, essayist, screenwriter, and commentator for NPR’s All Things Considered, ANDREI CODRESCU is the MacCurdy Distinguished Professor of English at Louisiana State University and the editor of the literary journal Exquisite Corpse.
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gripped by the spirit 1985–1990
A CRAVING FOR SWAN
THE DAY AFTER MARDI GRAS, in New Orleans, I had a terrible craving for filet of swan. It was nothing I had ever tasted before, God forbid, but something in me called for swan the way Nero called for his violin. Maybe it was the extravagance of the night's revelry, during which a thousand feathered creatures swam by in big wheels of light. Or maybe it was my Transylvanian neck fetish, which exalts swans and giraffes, calling for a feverish rite du printemps. Maybe it was New Orleans itself, and the bus named Desire, which twice rumbled by, leaving me weak-kneed.
I rarely require such recondite satisfactions. I have occasionally lusted and immersed myself in a large Bermuda onion slice lying thickly atop a trembling wheel of head cheese. I have eaten boar and rabbit and snails and frogs' legs, but never elephant or rhino or flamingo. I could never eat parrot or nightingale or owl. Even seafood, with its textural oddities, viscous inconsistencies, and insectlike conglomerations, repels me slightly, though I eat it. There is a closed-eyes rapture in the act of swallowing raw oysters au deux, the rapture of legend and rumor, no doubt. And in the swallowing of shrimps and the sucking of crabs there resides the ever-so-slight perversity of devouring our origins, a kind of reverse cannibalistic philogeny.
Only the night before, I'd feasted with my friends Philip and Heather on a large brewing potful of hellish sea and land animals gathered by a wild, masked crowd. The drunken, howling mob dived into the liberally spiced cauldron with the abandon of guests at a Hollywood pool party. It was my great luck, I thought next day, to have emerged into the sunlight with a relatively sound body. Had all the knowns and the unknowns in the pot decided to tear me apart, they could have certainly done so. But like the festival itself, the stew had been good-natured and amazingly lawful.
But instead of blessing my good fortune, I wandered about craving swan. Oh, dark star! It was therefore with great pleasure that I read in the newspaper about Prince Philip's resignation from the Explorers' Club of New York because it served hippopotamus and lion steaks at its annual dinner.
The prince, who is the president of the World Wildlife Fund, said that he was "appalled by the exhibition of bad taste." Of course, had I been the prince I might have thought twice before abrogating my royal right to eat anything. His ancestors must have eaten the last of many species, including the griffin, the phoenix, and the unicorn. In our day, however, even a prince must control his cravings and eat the commoner's fare.
I took the hint. Had chicken instead.
I HAVE NEVER LIVED in a city where so many people call the wrong number. Ten times a day in New Orleans the phone rings and somebody asks for Florence or Mort or Spanky. "No Florence here," I say. That would stop people in most places. Not here. They go on talking to Florence as if I were just someone on the extension. I slam the phone down. Thirty seconds later it rings. Florence, Mort, or Spanky, please.
I told this to a native. He laughed. This city, he said, is famous for wrong numbers. I got an answering machine and said my name and number on it, and people leave messages for Florence, Mort, or Spanky. Or worse, they keep talking to them as if they were there. What I do now, see, is to say: "I'm so sorry. Florence had an accident. She's dying at Mercy Hospital. And Mort is dead. And Spanky's been hit by the streetcar."
Now I could do that. But it might not be enough. Another native told me that often the calls are for dead people. People call the old numbers, believing that the dead to whom that number once belonged will answer. There is a telephonic voodoo cult in the city. It's an old New Orleans practice, based on the belief that a person's phone number passes with the person's soul into the beyond. Something similar must have been on the minds of the people who buried Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of Christian Science. They put a phone in her grave, waiting for her to call. On the other end, in a small office, a church official waits.
Good work, if you can get it.
But to return to the problem at hand: There is some evidence that the practice brings results. Either that, or people exasperated at being called Florence, Mort, or Spanky finally admit that they are.
Call me Florence.
NEW ORLEANS IS A PIRATE CITY, in both legend and fact. It is no wonder then that as soon as I disembarked — from the 4:20 Greyhound from Baton Rouge — I ran into privateers. What happened was that I walked into the first bar I saw to order a cold beer.
"Beer," I said. "It's hell out there."
It was only then that I looked at the bartender. A red scar traversed his face like a bolt of lightning from one corner of a marble-slab chin to a closed purple ostrich-egg of an eye.
"It's hell in here," he said.
Verily. Uncomfortably close to my left was a wrinkled midget with a scorpion face wearing a sleeveless T-shirt. His arms and shoulder were tattooed with layers of vicious symbols and proper names belonging to both sexes. He was muttering to himself something that sounded like: "I killed thirty-six people and I'm still hungry!"
On my right was an enormous cowboy with a huge hat and no shirt. Waves of flesh rolled away from him into the carved edge of the bar. One of his arms, the size of a regular person, was around a haggard wench with sagging everything, who sported also a number of wavy and faded tattoos that looked as if they'd been recently dug out in Pompeii.
I took two gulps of beer, noting in passing that the glass hadn't been washed in anything but beer and was quite possibly crawling with things you can only get in three or four places on earth.
I stepped over a few sprawled bodies on my way out the door, and marveled at my great fortune when I was actually on the other side of it. The merciless sun of New Orleans beat on my head like Jean Lafitte, the blacksmith pirate, beating a horseshoe in his forge.
When I got home, I walked into the serenity of my house and fondly watched my well-educated fourteen-year-old son work on his middle-class computer.
"How ya doing?" I said cheerily, trying to banish hell from my nostrils.
"I'm pirating a program," he said. "I get seasick, so I became a computer pirate instead."
He smiled that sweet fourteen-year-old smile, you know.
I'VE BEEN PASSING BY this store on my way to school, and it never fails to charm me. The hand-lettered sign in the window advertises new things every day: gator, coon, possum, garfish, alligator. Any given day, at least three of those will be present.
Having only recently ventured to taste crawfish, I look forward to the rest of it.
Chef Paul Prudhomme may be making Cajun cooking pretty famous in the rest of the country, but people down here go by other lights. Justin Wilson's Gourmet & Gourmand Cookbook is a great authority. He has recipes for everything from alligator to venison, including the mighty strange Dishwasher Fish.
You wrap your fish in tinfoil and put it in your dishwasher with your dirty dishes. When they're clean, it's done.
There are literally hundreds of homemade cookbooks everywhere. They have things like Drunk Squirrel, Microwave-Baked Juicy Swamp Rabbit, Opelousas's Baked Long Island Duck, Smothered Doves (Oh, Picasso! Oh, Paloma!), Garfish en croute, Frog Legs Congo Square, Gator Meatballs and Fried Alligator, Tipsy Turkey and Dove Pie, Blackbirds and Brown Rice, Bacon-Baked Quail, Stuffed Teals — I have no idea what teals are (maybe the Audubon Society hotline can tell me) — and a huge pot roast of dove, quail, snipe, squirrel, pheasant, or rabbit.
I don't know when I'll get around to all these things, but I won't go until I've had alligator sauce piquante. I hope it doesn't taste like the inside of a purse.
All these dishes come with explanations like "how to skin a deer in five minutes" and other handy hints.
Here is a quick recipe for Sally's Armadillo, from the Cane River Cuisine Cookbook, put out by the Service League of Natchitoches:
Clean the armadillo like a turtle. Marinate for twenty-four hours in salad dressing. Pour a quart of wine over it and refrigerate for six hours. Brown sausage and armadillo in iron skillet. Serve over rice. Use the shell for fortune-telling.
I TOOK A PACIFIST, vegetarian friend of mine to this big sporting goods store down here. Add to my friend's credit the fact that he's from New York and you have a perfect target to tease. The store in question is wallpapered with pistols. Even the ceiling is done in pistols. Everything from derringers to Civil War Colt revolvers festoon the place. They tell me that there used to be a rifle here until not so long ago captioned The Rifle That Killed Kennedy, but that may be apocryphal. In any case, there was plenty for my friend to get disgusted about. Here and there in the store stand the huge stuffed bodies of bears, deer, and foxes. And wherever there is room between pistols, they've got the innocent-looking head of some creature peering at you. The guns on the walls are old. The guns in the glass cases are new. You can take your pick of anything from a pearl-handled revolver to an Uzi machine gun. A young office worker was in fact engaged in deep conversation with the salesman, trying to make just that kind of decision. "One of these would be nice," she said, cocking a Magnum pistol. She put it to her eye and took aim somewhere over the head of my New York friend. But he wasn't afraid.
"You know," he said, "until this Bernhard Goetz thing, everybody thought that New York wasn't part of America. Now I think they might be willing to let us back in."
Maybe. The back door was open and parked there was a huge, shiny-looking mobile home. Written on the side of it in huge black letters was: BIG MIKE'S BAIL BONDS. 24 HOURS. Now I'm not one to argue. Who's gonna run out on Big Mike? I could just see him, driving into city slums at night. Rejoyce, ye crooks, Big Mike's in town!
My friend said, "How about a soyburger?"
The office worker put down the Magnum. "Wrap it up," she said.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "New Orleans, Mon Amour"
Copyright © 2006 Andrei Codrescu.
Excerpted by permission of ALGONQUIN BOOKS OF CHAPEL HILL.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
SOME PREFATORY REMARKS: DO YOU KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO MISS NEW ORLEANS?,
gripped by the spirit (1985–1990),
A CRAVING FOR SWAN,
CEREMONIES OF THE NEW RIGHT; OR, THE PEOPLE'S RELIGION,
WHOSE TIME IS IT ANYWAY?,
LOVE AND CROISSANTS,
OIL AND THE SIN TAX,
THE HIDDEN WEALTH,
THE MIND CIRCUS IS IN TOWN,
se habla dreams (1990–1995),
SE HABLA DREAMS,
THE MUSE IS ALWAYS HALF-DRESSED IN NEW ORLEANS,
MOVING FASTER THAN MY BODY,
FEAR AND TREMBLING,
HOW HOT IS IT: SUMMER VACATION IN LOUISIANA,
A MODEL FOR THE WORLD: A LOUISIANA FAIRY TALE,
PRE–MARDI GRAS BLUES,
MARDI GRAS AGAIN,
LAST YEAR WITH THE KREWE DE VIEUX CARRÉ: THE KORPSE OF KOMATOSE,
DEATH WAS THE THEME THIS YEAR,
BAYOU BABYLON CAFÉ,
SUCK DA HEADS AND EAT DA TAILS!,
ALLIGATOR SAUCE PIQUANTE,
ROLL ON, BIG RIVER!,
my city my wilderness (1995),
MY CITY MY WILDERNESS,
the dead rehearse (1995–2000),
HUMAN REMEDIES AGAINST THE DEVIL,
SOLUTION: ENIVREZ-VOUS: THE BARS OF NEW ORLEANS,
PROSPERITY AND THE DEVIL,
FROM AMERICAN LIFE,
HINT OF FALL,
THE PASSING OF JIM MONAGHAN, NEW ORLEANS BAR OWNER,
the mysteries of new orleans (2000–2005),
THE MYSTERIES OF NEW ORLEANS,
FOR THE LOVE OF SPRING,
BEADS PARA LOS MUERTOS,
DOGS OF SUMMER,
NEW ORLEANS UNDER ATTACK!,
poetry will not end with the world,
LOVE NOTE TO NEW ORLEANS,
THE ICONOGRAPHY OF HELL AND OUR GUILT,
NEW ORLEANS OR BAGHDAD?,
AFTER THE DELUGE: A LETTER TO AMERICA,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
a beautiful homage to the city. short essays that contain excellent prose and make you utterly nostalgic for new orleans.
In 1947 Louis Armstrong posited the musical question, ¿Do you know what it means to miss New Orleans?¿ Sixty years later, this chestnut has taken on a whole new meaning, and (if you have any kind of heart at all) has a tendency to stick in the throat. This collection of mostly short musings in, around, and about the Crescent City finds Transylvanian transplant Andrei Codrescu in his cups and in his element and shows us exactly what it should mean.You might think that the Deep South would be an odd choice of pot for a former Eastern Bloc no-goodnik to replant himself in, but with further contemplation, it does make sense. First of all, there is the vampire connection, a Bohemian sense of empire gone to dangerous seed, and a certain resigned patience that someone familiar with Soviet-style can-do attitude might recognize and respond to (eventually) in the low-gear stifling heat.Arriving in town in 1985, Codrescu wasted no time in surrounding himself with like-minded writers, artists, and miscreants which all make for an entertaining read as they play out their fantastical roles on a rotting, vibrantly-colored stage. There is a bracingly abrupt pause between Codrescu¿s description of a burgeoning art scene and the arrival of Hurricane Katrina. Most of this book is concerned with the years between 1985 and 2005, but there is an epilogue chillingly entitled, poetry will not end with the world.¿It¿s heartbreaking watching my city sink,¿ Codrescu writes. ¿New Orleans will be rebuilt, but it will never again be the city I know and love.¿ After an entire book taken up showing us what we were missing, Codrescu unwittingly showed the world exactly what it should miss.
I've been a fan of Codrescu for years through his spoken word bits he's done on National Public Radio (NPR). This is a collection of essays that he's written over a twenty year period about his adopted city of New Orleans, and it is a marvelous read. Codrescu's humor and insight are always sharp, and ordering this collection in this way allows the reader to follow his love affair with the city as it evolves from an initial infatuation to a deep and abiding love (the good and the bad), with the dark, unhappy moments that come with the package. Codrescu sees more from a coffee shop window than most of us can see in a year of observing our own neighborhood. Knowing about hurricane Katrina and post-Katrina New Orleans only serves to make many of his early observations even more relevant and powerful. Codrescu's essays reveal an ever-present awareness, likely shared by his neighbors, that the City was living on the edge of disaster. I normally recommend reading collections like this in bits and pieces, and, certainly, one could do that, but the coherency of this anthology is so striking that I'd suggest taking it all in as you would a memoir or biography - a memoir is what this anthology turns out to be.