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Waiting for Godot on the Road Home October 17, 2012

Posted by The Typist in Back of Town, Gentilly, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Treme.
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A new post up at the Treme blog Back of Town, on the scene from Waiting for Godot and my own experience of the play.

I thought it was my house. A left-side double with a carport on the right attached to the next door neighbor’s single-level ranch. My stomach knotted convulsively. The panic bands tightened around my chest. A wave of Permanent Traumatic Stress Disorder, the tension of being transported into a scene I didn’t quite remember, being among the hundreds turned away every night from the Gentilly production of Waiting for Godot in 2007 but I knew the play, knew the text, knew the essential and painful rightness of it like a necessary amputation. I had only been there in spirit but had gone home the last night and after dispirited drinks at the Circle Bar I wrote in the small hours of the morning my reaction to a play I had just not seen.

That could be my house.

Read more…

Lucky August 28, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptic envelopment, Federal Flood, Hurricane Katrina, NOLA, The Narrative, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Survivor guilt is a peculiar condition. I am one of a small handful of avid New Orleans partisans who lost nothing in 2005 except our minds. Two of us moved home, the third completed his interrupted relocation to New Orleans. To this day I ask myself (as every man who has not served does as he scatters popcorn on the floor watching an old war movie): what if I was there? What would I have done? Would I be equal to the task.

If I knew the answer to the question I would have grabbed Ray by the lapels and slammed him to the wall until I could tell him, and I expect he would have done the same. The third of us died never knowing the answer. I think of Ray gutting house after house in the miserable heat, of Ashley always in the front rank banging his spear against his shield, taunting our enemies. Did Ashley die in part because of that lingering doubt, the drive to prove himself not just the equal but of the first rank? Did they do this because of that survivor guilt, because (as Ray once explained eloquently) we were not at Bastogne?

What did you ever do? I was once asked in anger. Did you gut a house? Did you volunteer for habitat? All you did was write, she said, and that’s true: all I did was write, vaporous words that amount to what? Perhaps that is why I am haunted by this video, why I was heart-broken when the original poster took it down from You Tube (and perhaps some copyright holder will be on my case in the morning, demanding I do the same).

I missed the production of Waiting for Godot in the Gentilly Lakefront in 2006, unable to drag a collection of friends away from drinks in the back yard in time to get in, and I have been disappointed about that every since. What better place to watch Godot than in the Ninth Ward or in the brown fields of broken Gentilly, but perhaps there was a healing in that evening I missed, people too busy lingering as we will over cocktails to be on time. I look back and I understand it was better that way, ending up at the Circle Bar listening to Gal Holiday instead of experiencing the existential angst of Godot on a flooded lot.

On good days Radiohead’s Lucky runs through my head. Those are the good days. I feel my luck could change. Its gonna be a glorious day.

Still, I am haunted by this video. When I was searching for another post on Wet Bank Guide I was reminded it was gone from the Internet, and I went searching, finally finding the entire Beckett on Film version in slices online, finding the complete set on Amazon and spending a hundred dollars I don’t have to order it, spending more money on an online service that let me scrape this off to edit down to what is for me the essential speech, the question I will spend the rest of my life answering.

Was I sleeping while the other ones suffered?

Vaporous words.

In all that what truth will there be?

The air is full of our cries.

That Bright Moment February 24, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street, New Orleans, NOLA, flooding, We Are Not OK, Katrina, Hurricane Katrina, quotes, Recovery, Rebirth, Flood, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Sinn Fein, Remember, je me souviens, postdiluvian, 504.
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YOU ARE TRAPPED IN THAT BRIGHT MOMENT
WHERE YOU LEARNED YOUR DOOM
— Samuel R. Delaney in City of a Thousand Suns

Trapped not as you might think, given the juxtaposition of the word doom; trapped instead in the complex web of postdiluvian New Orleans in the way light is said to be trapped by a cut and polished gem, refracted by the complex play of facets until made into a flashing thing of beauty: that is how I try to live with what was once the shadow of The Flood, the rafts of ghosts it unleashed.

I have not finished Delaney’s novella trilogy Fall of the Towers, so I am not certain how the moment described by that recurring line will play out, the mass, simultaneous discovery by an entire society that a key assumption about their lives–that there was an enemy beyond the barrier; that they were at war–was a complex fiction constructed by their ruling class.

I am not certain how something terribly similar will play out here in New Orleans, among people who’s fundamental assumptions have been washed away: that the basic infrastructure of our lives is built well enough that we will not die of living upon it; that our government will rise up to protect and succor us at a moment of great peril; that if we pay our bills to the insurance company they will help make us whole. How do we live when all of the illusions that underpin life in modern America are suddenly swept away.

Some will drift into cynicism: all governments are corrupt, all big corporations dishonest: what did you expect? Nothing to be done. There is a certain beauty when that sardonic surrender is contrasted with the insistent evidence of hope, with the irrational and irresistible persistence that is one of the hallmarks of life, prominently displayed here in New Orleans like flowers erupting on a cooled lava flow. For evidence I offer the rush by Orleanians to embrace the dark and complex Waiting for Godot this year.

Complete cynicism in its modern sense is the fate I want to avoid for fear we become the new Dog Philosophers, mindless of our personal or civic obligations from a misplaced belief that the world is beyond redemption. I started down that road once on the blog I once kept called Wet Bank Guide. For a time the anger there over the Federal Flood and all that followed was palpable, the anger that once led me to ask if it were possible to renounce my citizenship in the United States of America and become a resident alien in the only country I wish to recognize: New Orleans. Over time, I transmuted that ugly funk into something else, a celebration of what I believe it means to be “trapped in that bright moment”. At what I thought the high point of that transformation, I put Wet Bank Guide to bed.

Now I try instead to celebrate the found moments of odd or profound beauty that come out of All That: the moments of simple, quiet pleasure and ecstatic, public joy that mark life in postdiluvian New Orleans, the surest signs that what we are building here is indeed New Orleans, heedless of the violent transfiguration of our landscape, the vast swaths of ruin that still blanket the Gentilly and the East, the last exits on the road to the modern Land of Nod.

I cannot entirely surrender that anger, not while I have this public forum and a handful of readers I might influence. There is too much to be done to realize the potential that arises out of that bright moment when we learned our doom. What the citizen journalists of the blogosphere call the ground truth must continue to be told in pieces like the one below, Crazy Like a Fox, until we have — like Saint Patrick — driven the snakes out of paradise.

Until that work is accomplished there is still a life to be lived here. For all of the constant struggle and the occasional horror of that life there are still the moments that flash out like shinning from shook foil, as Gerald Manley Hopkins put it. Our world is charged with the grandeur not of God precisely but of who we are, of how we live: every bar of music and snatch of song that puts a lilt in our step I never saw on the streets of Washington or Fargo; every sloppy po-boy unrolled from its waxy wrapper like an Egyptian treasure, that sustains us as much by the thought of which neighborhood joint it came from and by the sight of it laying there like a woman in dishabille, as we are as by the smell and the taste of it; the peculiar site lines of a city built to conform to the zaftig geography of the river’s crescent and our slow descent into the ocean. All of these flash out of the cold, hard moment when we rediscovered who we are, flash out with a beauty that should settle the question once and for all: why do we choose to live here having learned our doom?

For Orleanians, as I believe it will unfold for Delaney’s characters, living in that bright moment is not an end but a beginning, not so much a scar but like a smudge of transient ash on the forehead that reminds us of who we are, that helps us to rediscover for ourselves who we are and where we live.

The quote that eventually came to rest prominently at the top of Wet Bank Guide was from the jazz and performance artist Sun Ran: Its After the End of the World, Don’t You Know That Yet? For Sun Ra, it was a profound renunciation of the ugly history of what it meant to be Black in late 20th Century America. It was not the presumed despair of some character in a Left Behind novel (I can’t bring myself to read those Christian tracts, but I can imagine what that world is like, borrowed no doubt in large measure from works like Stephen King’s The Stand).

Instead Sun Ra’s aphorism calls us to a celebration of the realization that we have been unshackled from the conventional, from so much of our history and attachment. Perhaps I can help all those around me who still cling to the past, to the ugliest parts of the long story what makes us who we are; I hope I can push them to recognize that those shackles lie about their feet and no longer bind them, that they have been freed by that bright moment in which we knew our doom to become something at once old and new: not the city bequeathed to us like a curse by our ancestors who held or felt the lash but instead the city of memory and of dreams, the city that lives in our hearts.

Still waiting, still dreaming… November 11, 2007

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptic envelopment, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, Rebirth, Recovery, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Since all of the tickets for the Theater of Harlem’s outdoor production of Waiting for Godot were long gone by the time we arrived, we decided not to wait around under the tree at Pratt and Robert E. Lee and debate, but instead withdrew for more drinks, starting back on the porch at Chez Folse and ending at the Circle Bar for Gal Holliday.

I heard (from someone who asked last night) that there would be no Sunday show added as they did last weekend. So tonight instead of seeing Becket’s play, I am–after a prolonged episode of absurdest, existential angst in my friend’s club level seats at the Dome–reduced to watching bits of video.

I had read the script through online during a business trip this week. There is something essential in it to the current experience of so many in New Orleans, the discovery that we are not suffering from post traumatic stress disorder because we are not past the thing but instead in the very midst of it, in a landscape and a plot as bleak and confusing as Beckett’s, on a road of dubious prospects in a landscape swept clear of familiar geography and of hope, no prospect that over a hill or beyond a wood there is something different, something better.

Nothing to be done.

And yet we came in the hundreds last night, into the thousands, turning our back on the well-lit streets of the sliver by the river, forgoing the restaurants of Magazine and the lively nightclubs of Frenchman to try to sit through this difficult work, a comedy as black as the streets were for months in this part of town, as dark as the picture windows remain in so many of the empty brick boxes that line the streets. We came because all of us are so like these characters, lost in a landscape from which familiar references have been erased, clinging to the one thing that keeps us all from dropping over the brink: each other. We know Godot will not save us, that the Pollo’s of the world care not a whit for the outcome.

The careful fictions we have erected like pyramids in this country were all swept away by the flood, were taken from us as cataclysms of the Twentieth Century destroyed the illusions for Beckett’s generation. We have peered into the abyss, an abyss where many waded or swam in desperation and too many drowned, while the newsreaders stood puzzled on dry streets and the relief trucks stopped at the edge of town, waiting for word that it was safe to come, waiting for instructions from Godot. We were not simply ignored or abandoned by America. Instead we tasted the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, and were driven out of the garden of mass marketing, ashamed of our nakedness. We have peered into that abyss and come away filled with uncertainly and angst, equally incapable of trust in god or government. What is left? What reason is there to live here, to live at all?

And still we come home, even as we came to see Godot. The ticket rules changed without announcement, more turned away than admitted, we left the site of the play not confused but affirmed in the life we have found here. We left that open air stage, but we can no more leave this place, this city than these characters can hang themselves: not because we are incapable, but instead because it is beyond our human nature to surrender this life we call New Orleans. Perhaps Godot will come. Just as likely he will not. All we can be certain of us ourselves: Sinn Fein. In the end, however bleak the scene, we will not give up hope.

VLADIMIR:
Well? Shall we go?
ESTRAGON:
Yes, let’s go.

    They do not move.
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