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Le mal du pays October 19, 2014

Posted by The Typist in A Fiction, cryptical envelopment, home, Murder, New Orleans, The Dead, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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‘Le mal du pays.’ It’s French. Usually its translated as ‘homesickness’ or ‘melancholy.’ If you put a finer point on it, it’s more like ‘a groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.’ It’s a hard expression to translate accurately. — Haruki Murakami, Colorless Tsukiru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgramage

Homesickness. Home sickness. Home. Sickness. “…they are the figures in the frame that make the landscape.” There is nothing pastoral about the Upper Ninth Ward. Taking the shortcut to Poland down Galvez to avoid the no left turn signs, the Musician’s Village is just a few blocks over but you don’t see the pretty stick-and-Tyvek houses. You see the aging wood-frame shotguns sagging with and into the ground, come to a stop at Poland across from a scrap yard filled with rusty anchors.

A man gunned down in the middle of a street in the Lower 9th Ward Friday night has been identified by the Orleans Parish coroner’s office. Malik Braddy, 18, of New Orleans was killed shortly after 10 p.m. in the 1600 block of Lizardi Street.

When I come to post here the dashboard shows statistics for most viewed posts and pages. The leaders are always the list of victims I started several years ago, and have semi-abandoned. (Somehow I have to find time to finish 2013 before 2014 is over). Melvin Labranch III.

Once upon a time downtown in the nine, what it don’t mind dyin’ Sworn to a life of crime, was a youngin’ standing only 5’5, big money on his mind Clothes ain’t wrinkled with his hand on the iron, shot six times Shot six times, ran in from of my mom (dear lord) — Downtown, Kidd Kidd

People come looking for Labranch, the subject of the R&B style hip hop elegy by his cousin, who elsewhere in the song sings “somebody done killed my brother, now I gotta get back/let ’em know cause a nigga gotta feel that/Sitting shotgun with the shotgun: when you hear the shots come, nigga don’t run.” The song is a hit of sorts, which is I guess what drives the traffic: the celebration of a child “sworn to a life of crime” and someone “riddin on those niggas” looking for revenge.

Guess this is the game we chose to play Crazy how it’s always been the same.

Has it? Has it always been this way when I was growing up on the Lakefront just off Robert E. Lee Boulevard, and the Times-Picayune and States-Item just didn’t bother with dead black me? I don’t think so. There is nothing pastoral about the Upper Ninth Ward, but there is a terrible sadness. There is as I suggested above, a home sickness, the old style proud of the working class–black and white–that was once settled with fists that has metastasized into a violence most Americans only read about in the paper, stories of some far away country, and then only the body count of the American soldiers, not the million and a half Arabs dead for what? Killing random people because they live in the wrong ward of the planet just for revenge. A friend went ballistic on Facebook after attending a memorial for the man everyone in her hood in the upper nine knew as Sappy. She was mostly going after the hipsters in the same bar looking for food but avoiding any contact with the largely black crowd at the memorial, black except for her and her partner. She grew up in San Diego in poverty to match any sad story from the Ninth Ward, but chooses New Orleans. She lives there, running a small business with her partner while both work part time, and make themselves a part of their stretch of St. Claude. What is sad about Sappy is not the hipsters gathered in a tight, white knot at the other end of the bar is that he was a country kid from Mississippi who also chose New Orleans, made a living as a minimum wage worker at Rally’s. When he was gunned down over some stupid argument in the parking lot of Church’s Chicken on St. Claude he asked the woman who drew the gun, “Are you going to shoot me?” She did. Was his tone of voice confrontational, the braggadocio that is part of a life in that part of town, or was he incredulous that some dumb argument could turn so quickly to a gun? I like to imagine the latter, but either way it doesn’t matter. The man born Derrick Christmas is cold in the ground. It was not his first brush with senseless violence. He was the victim of a vicious beatdown in a bathroom with Harrah’s for brushing a man’s shoulder. To chose to live in New Orleans is to chose to live with the body count, to walk back to your car in the relative safety of the Marigny like a soldier on patrol, every sense hyper-alert, suddenly sober as the adrenaline prepares you for the man passing on the street who might be a road side bomb waiting to go off. To chose to live in the Ninth Ward is to put your plastic piece down on the Monopoly block where many go directly to jail, do not pass home and collect $200. No real hope going in, less coming out. And too many do not pass home but go directly to the cemetery. How to live in this city when every morning I go to the blog to grab the day’s Odd Words to post and see my statistics, the numbers next to the list of the dead. Sometimes they leave comments, as I ask, the way people leave plastic flowers, bottles of a favorite rum, a faded picture in the spot where another one fell. I don’t need to open the newspaper to be reminded that I live in a city at war with itself. How to live in this city? When my daughter came back from a semester in Amsterdam there was a seminar they were all required to take on readjustment to one’s home culture. I only had a week of jet lag, and a second week frantically finishing a paper and a manuscript for the courses I took there. It was only then that the culture shock began to sink in. I met an old friend for drinks and after walking back to her house to sit on the patio on Conti Street. When I left, she insisted there was no way I was walking alone through the quarter the nine blocks to Buffa’s, or standing on the corner of Esplanade and Rampart waiting for the last 93 bus to take me home. She shoved money in my hands and walked me up to the corner for a cab. It wasn’t safe, she insisted, to walk nine blocks through my town, although I count myself a street-wise former quarter rat, keep to the well-lit, no-parking side of the street. Too many robberies, and the latest craze, senseless beatdowns. 14786415702_24147f966b_o How many died while I was wandering Europe? I could consult my local newspaper’s helpful online Murders page. Does your hometown newspaper have a Murders page? How to live in this city? Those who know me know I have sworn a blood oath to New Orleans as serious and final as any gang initiation, and yet I find I can’t stop asking this question. I know a woman alone could not walk the dark streets of Rome or Barcelona as I did, but I wandered lost and enchanted in the Barri Gòtic looking for the familiar square that had become my landmark, from which I could easily find my way out of the maze and back to my hostel. Now I am home and am told I dare not walk Burgundy or Dauphine nine blocks to get a burger. “A groundless sadness called forth in a person’s heart by a pastoral landscape.” Were I to look back at my pictures, the view from the castle in the Tyrol of northern Italy, the vistas of Granada from atop the Alhambra, my memories of Lorca’s beloved vega (and that was le mal du pays, but not homesickness but rather the pain of leaving, of going home to the place I love); in those visions it is not a groundless sadness in the pastoral landscape. It is a sadness born not of homesickness but home sickness, a culture shock the two women returning from the castle to San Diego will never know. It is a deep sadness, born of blood, like the Deep Song of the gypsies of southern Spain, the black and terrible angel or familiar demon of Duende that lives deep in the gut, born of love and suffering. Le mal du pays.

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