This is from Tennessee Williams' Streetcar Named Desire:
“Don't you just love those long rainy afternoons in New Orleans when an hour isn't just an hour - but a little piece of eternity dropped into your hands - and who knows what to do with it?”
You-know-who trills that phrase and almost all of the other great, hyper-poetic, drowsy, gorgeous lines in Streetcar: Blanche Dubois. Sweet sad decadent ridiculous beautiful Blanche, on her way from the Tarantula Arms to the nearest insane asylum by the end of her trip.
We went to News Orleans this past week. It was the third time I'd been there, and this time the charm came through, not in a touristy, gaudy way, but in a sort of febrile, smelly, yet still delicately poetic manner. The smells on all the streets in the French Quarter (and even beyond) had a definite rotten taint but they also held a beautiful dank perfume, a promise that death becomes something else once you get past the stink, past what it is. It was Blanche's thoughts I was smelling somehow, as if everything she'd ever said or imagined had gone olfactory, a New Orleans poetry of pheromones.
Time somehow went to sleep in New Orleans this visit for me.
Tennessee references that in the little quote above as well. It actually did feel like time was turning into something other than measurement as we ate and drank ourselves into a sort of miniature oblivion, walking all over the city. One afternoon, when it was pouring rain, and everything was hazy and gloomy, we went to the movies to get out of the mess. We saw Gravity in 3D, in which a lady astronaut played by Sandra Bullock is in peril, floating above the earth, trying to find passage home. It was so serendipitous as to be hypnotic, and a symbol of the whole trip. Watching Gravity covered in New Orleans rain, I saw Vivien Leigh's Blanche in my head, a sort of split-screen: Sandra Bullock trapped in outer-space in computer-generated grandeur and Vivien Leigh trapped inside a cramped, sad tenement in Elysian Fields in glamorous black and white... I don't know. The whole visit was like that, disjointed, meaningful, but I didn't really know what to do with the meaning other than simply live with it, enjoy it in a way that goes beyond "enjoying" something.
New Orleans truly is a work of art. It has a way of escaping what it is by being exactly what it is.
(Thanks to Terri for making it happen. And to Bill for taking some pictures.)