Thursday, September 01, 2005

There is a reason why we are shocked at the magnitude of what happened in New Orleans. The neglect of our cities, the stripping of the federal government’s tax base, the politics of racism, the refusal to accept global warming...all of these have created a scenario we have grown accustomed to not expecting in the United States.

But we’ll leave it to Paul Krugman, who does it best over at the “New York Times” to handle the politics:

the scribe, for his part, would like to relieve you of the crisis of faith in humanity, in government, in the fates and furies you may be suffering as you watch all the suffering, with a little love letter to New Orleans.

It is an excerpt from a collection of traveler’s impressions written by Truman Capote called “Local Color” and published by Random House in 1947. The photo, by the recently departed Henri Cartier-Bresson, is part of the thin and lovely volume that stands as a classic example of highwayscribery.

“In the courtyard there was an angel of black stone, and its angel head rose above giant elephant leaves; the stark glass angel eyes, bright as the bleached blue of sailor eyes, stared upward. One observed the angel from an intricate green balcony – mine, this balcony, for I lived beyond in three old white rooms, rooms with elaborate wedding-cake ceilings, wide sliding doors, tall French windows. On warm evenings, with these windows open, conversation was pleasant there, tuneful, for wind rustled the interior like fan-breeze made by ancient ladies. And on such warm evenings the town is quiet. Only voices: family talk weaving on an ivy-curtained porch; a barefoot woman humming as she rocks a sidewalk chair, lulling to sleep a baby she nurses quite publicly; the complaining foreign tongue of an irritated lady who, sitting on her balcony, plucks a fryer, the loosened feathers floating from her hands, slipping into air, sliding lazily downward.

One morning – it was December, I think, a cold Sunday with a sad gray sun – I went up through the Quarter to the old market where, at that time of year, there are exquisite winter fruits, sweet satsumas, twenty cents a dozen, and winter flowers. Christmas poinsettia and snow japonica. New Orleans streets have long, lonesome perspectives; in empty hours their atmosphere is like Chirico, and things innocent, ordinarily (a face behind the slanted light of shutters, nuns moving in the distance, a fat dark arm lolling lopsidedly out some window, a lonely black boy squatting in an alley, blowing soap bubbles and watching sadly as they rise to burst), acquire qualities of violence. Now, on that morning, I stopped still in the middle of a block, for I’d caught out of the corner of my eye a tunnel-passage, an overgrown courtyard. A crazy-looking white hound stood stiffly in the green fern light shining at the tunnel’s end, and compulsively I went toward it. Inside there was a fountain; water spilled delicately from a monkey-statue’s bronze mouth and made on pool pebbles desolate bell-like sounds. He was hanging from a willow, a bandit-faced man with kinky platinum hair; he hung so limply, like the willow itself. There was terror in that silent suffocated garden. Closed windows looked on blindly; snail tracks glittered silver on elephant ears; nothing moved except his shadow. It swung a little, back and forth, yet there was no wind. A rhinestone ring he wore winked in the sun, and on his arm was tattooed a name, “Francy.” The hound lowered its head to drink in the fountain, and I ran. Francy – was it for her he’d killed himself? I do not know. N.O. is a secret place.”

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