I’d Rather Stay Here With All The Madmen January 21, 2011Posted by Mark Folse in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Billy Sothern, Lancelot, Walker Percy
Almost everyone thinks of Confederacy of Dunces as The Great New Orleans book. When my daughter started Loyola this year, every entering student was handed a copy. I love the book as much as anyone else, but I think to raise it up on a pedestal like that ignores the fact that, while the city has fared poorly on film before Treme (and I have routine arguments with people even over that), it has produced a great many books that actually capture the sense of it, what Walker called in the Moviegoer “the genie soul of…place“.
Attorney, blogger and author Billy Sothern muses a bit on Walker Percy’s Lancelot, which owns its place in the canon for the character’s reflections while confined to a mental institution on the character of the city. Here is a fitting excerpt as we start to think of Carnival seasons.
What is it I can smell, even from here, as if the city has a soul and the soul exhaled an effluvium all its own? I can’t quite name it. A certain vital decay? A lively fetor? When I think of New Orleans away from New Orleans, I think of rotting fish on the sidewalk and good times inside. A Catholic city in a sense, but that’s not it. Providence, Rhode Island, is a Catholic city, but my God who would want to live in Providence, Rhode Island? It’s not it, your religion, that informs this city, but rather some special local accommodation to it or relaxation from it. The city’s soul I think of as neither damned nor saved but eased rather, existing in a kind of comfortable Catholic limbo somewhere between the outer circle of hell, where sexual sinners don’t have it all that bad, and the inner circle of purgatory, where things are even better. Add to that a flavor of Marseilles vice leavened by Southern U.S.A. good nature. Death and sex treated unseriously and money seriously. The Whitney Bank is as solemn as the cemetery is lively. Protestants started Mardi Gras, you know. Presbyterians take siestas or play gin at the Boston Club. Jews ride on carnival floats celebrating the onset of Christ’s forty-day fast.
If you don’t follow his blog, you really should. Check out Character and Fitness from last Tuesday.