Rain falls differently here, in entire puddles, not individual drops. Nobody stops. Not for a little rain. The homeless street youth shrugs and shakes the wet from his dreadlocks, the bag ladies pull their plastic ponchos over tousled heads, the tourists squeal and run for the nearest bar.
The day before New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is Christmas Eve, and every street corner has the best music you ever heard.
Pianist Tom McDermott plays his effortless ragtime and blues in a joint called The Three Muses. McDermott seems to use the clatter of the bar as complementary instrumentation, rendering otherwise noisy distractions powerless to stop his poetry.
Across the street at the Spotted Cat, Miss Sophie Lee sings about “blue skies” as if to dismiss the pelting rain. Before she begins her set, wedding singer Monty Banks plays a rousing keyboard and punctuates the end of one song with a partial split on the concrete floor. Liberace meets knee replacement. Then, without a hitch, he channels Irma Thomas.
I don’t know what it is exactly about New Orleans. Your chin can be hanging so low it scrapes the storm sewers, but after a few songs and a couple of rounds the will to live bubbles up from that part of the soul that badly needed a spring shower. The streets are dirty, parking is hopeless, the clubs are crowded, the drinks expensive, and all anyone talks about is crime.
And yet we keep going back, and back again, to hear the music and satisfy the urge to live outside the box, if only for an evening. Life isn’t neat and tidy and free of bloodshed. And New Orleans is about life, the creative way to live it.
Speaking of creativity, I visited with a friend here not long ago. Kenneth Holditch is a Mississippi native and professor emeritus of American literature at the University of New Orleans.
Holditch lives in a cathedral of books with a few nooks and crannies carved out in which to eat and sleep and make room for his paintings on the wall, including those of Tennessee Williams. Who knew?
Holditch is considering where to leave his books, but even the thought of parting after death with his vast library makes him sad. To hear him say that makes me glad.
Holditch is the mastermind behind literary tours of the French Quarter and a respected Tennessee Williams scholar. He also is the archetypal transplant, who came as a youth from Tupelo, Mississippi, to New Orleans with his parents and swore he’d someday live here. On that first visit, the family had a meal at Galatoire’s; Holditch later wrote a book about the restaurant.
“In a figurative sense,” Holditch writes, “I had taken a streetcar named Desire, transferred to one called Cemeteries and wound up on the Elysian Fields I wanted: the French Quarter and Galatoire’s.”
Nothing but blue skies, did he see.
Email Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org.