In praise of New Orleans.

From a recent Michael Ledeen essay:

"The possibility of its destruction no doubt played a role in the character of its people, and it is no accident that an annual bacchanal took place there, in the riotous celebrations of Mardi Gras. Death has always been omnipresent in the consciousness of the city; dancing in defiance of death was the city's trademark, and the spirited music that defined New Orleans for much of the world was played at the happiest occasions, and at the most famous funerals.

New Orleans is one of a handful of cities that are defined in large part by the recognition that it can all come to an end most any day. Joel Lockhart Dyer wrote that "New Orleans is North America's Venice; both cities are living on borrowed time." New Orleans and Venice are both subject to the vagaries of the water gods, and both have acted sporadically to fend off their seemingly inevitable fate. But their basic response to the looming disaster has been defiance, a ritual assertion of life in the face of the inevitable, and an embrace of human frailty that echoes the frailty of the city itself.

Carnival in Venice, albeit more so in the past than today, has much in common with Mardi Gras, including the use of masks by the celebrants, who thereby throw off their daily identities to participate anonymously in the licentious celebrations. Thomas Mann knew what he was doing when he wrote Death in Venice, in which a proper German professor (pointedly named Aschenbach, the stream of ashes) hurls himself into bawdy Venice to recover his repressed sexuality and creativity. Similar characters abound in the works of Tennessee Williams, who lived many years in New Orleans, the setting for both A Streetcar Named Desire and The Rose Tattoo. William Faulkner also found New Orleans a congenial place for his creative labors. And in both cities, the bacchanals are religious, celebrating both sin and the hope of redemption thereafter, as if a sinner were more attractive to the Almighty than a virtuous soul, at least on that day...

Doomed cities with an intimate relationship with the dead are special places, incubators of exceptional qualities of spirit and thus of extraordinary inventiveness. If we have lost one of those cities to the forces of nature, it will impoverish our world far beyond the enormous human tragedy. Even if it was long foreseen. "

To read the rest go here.

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