No Fountain of Youth January 5, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in A Fiction, cryptic envelopment, The Narrative, Toulouse Street.
The city swallows dreams as it does the cars of the morning commute. Approaching from the east barricaded exits to nowhere stand as monuments to the vanity of speculators imagining hydrologically impossible towns, an endless extension of the city’s fringes farther into the dissolving marsh. The closer you approach, the towers of downtown bathed in a damp haze, the city appears like Atlantis ascending to reveal itself to a new age but this is just another soluble delusion. The road collapsing into the soft earth rolls the car like a small boat or drums a rattling tattoo, a reminder that the waters are gradually reclaiming the black muck bottom of forgotten dinosaur oceans, washed down by continental rivers, returning itself to the sea.
Further west the exits empty into geometric streets of modern subdivisions on the last land men managed to fill and level, dredging canals and pumping in river sand, pushing back the water as far as was feasible. The smart money moved into those neighborhoods that pushed up against the boundaries of the possible, carrying their dreams away from the old city. A larger house, a lawn, two cars in the garage, concrete streets level and straight, a shopping mall at the center. Gleaming car dealerships and stores for the furnishing of homes popped up along the highway in a wall barricading 300 years of history just as the levees held back the water.
Over the new, tall span that made the drawbridges obsolete lies the rickety the old city, the jumble of streets which fan out each perpendicular to the bends of the river, the old neighborhoods lined with narrow, clapboard affairs sagging under the weight of too many coats of paint, punctuated by the odd brick box and the last corner stores, divided by avenues lined with the grand houses of another century. Groaning trolleys with wooden seats, so old new parts must be built by hand, rumble along the neutral ground. The eldest oaks bow under the weight of age, their branches reaching back down to touch the ground.
Here people live in the powerful nostalgia of the city’s devoured and communal dreams, drifting from Carnival to Carnival, moving slowly in the humidity, sleep walkers on a journey the rest of the wide-awake world cannot fathom. They have found the fountain not of youth but of a graceful age, a freedom and ease flavored by the communal dreams, far from the frantic Yankee hustle that long ago passed us by, headed west.