Sunday, 27 September 2009

High tide mark (day forty five and forty six)

We came to hear the jazz. It's not here in the Maison Bourbon, on old Bourbon Street, in the old French Quarter, in old N'Orlans. The signs tell you not to videotape, not to smoke cigars, that every person needs one drink per set. The quintet sits separate and listless, staring into the middle distance. Only Jamal Sharif talks, nattering to the manager. Their performance hasn't raised a sweat- it never could- they're too cold- they don't care. Blank staring ahead- it's all so rudimentary. They've done this show a hundred times. They hate the songs and they hate the way the tourists snap them and they don't clap at the end of the solos. My $6.75 soda tastes pretty sour.

The drum rattle and the brass snap and rasping slur is burbling down the muggy street. Strolling faster, we pace towards the cacophony. Black youths with borrowed delaquered trombones, duetting with goldenglitz trumpets and drum strapped chests pounding. This is jazz. The real stuff. Hobos are dancing, raising a sweat and mopping the brow with a handkerchief under the fishnet hat. A brother in a wheelchair is rocking back and forth, boosting himself out of the seat, swinging his legs. He is lost in the moment. We're all lost in the moment. The soul of New Orleans is found. We are floating.

People wander around here, shellshocked. A man blending his skin with his clothes, all a burnt red tan; monotone. The musical statues change spots, their silver skin running in this sweaty weather. I can still see your moustache. And your boobs are made of sponge. Some of the buildings still bear the damage, graffitied government marks emblazoned on the side. Others are recovering, or the same as they ever were- Fritzl's full of memories and paintings of old musicians. The street outside is filling up with tourists; strippers and hustlers trying to motion you into their bars; standing their in lingerie, ogled by passing eyes. They look tragic and desperate and their eyes sparkle with sadness. Or is this patronising... are thye happy to make their money this way? Are they proud? A buck is a buck is a buck.

In Treme the kids look out from the stoop across the street. School buses drop children- invariably black- the whites fled long ago to leafy Garden District, tree lined streets shielding the pillared and balconied mansions from everything. This is Nicolas Cage's hideaway. The Voodoo Musuem celebrates the post modern religion- reconstituting Catholicism and African beliefs into something new, creating zombies. No central organisation, or text. An orginator. Wooden carvings and skulls and offerings, and an altar covered in possessions given up to enact some good, somehow; hotel keys and food wrappers and hundreds of one cent pieces. It has as mich truth as anything does. Music and voodoo fuel this dark swampland- where the tallest buildings are empty hotels, and they still cry for Katrina and rub weak balm into its scars.

Or maybe the scars are healing up.... Maybe. The lower 9th is filled with cicatrices, keloid scars covered in scrub, the lots cleared. Concrete steps still stand, but they no longer lead to a porch. Abandoned boarded up hovels still bear the government marks. The neighbourhood really opened up when the waves came in. It's so airy... So many lives gone. The stories moved away; the family photo albums, the kitchen table, the threadbare sofa; they went to another state, or they never went away, or they didn't... The spray can diagonal slashes would be so much more poignant if we could understand what them, we simple tourists ogling the catastrophe, snapping the heartbreak, feasting the recovery. Hammer blows are echoing around, exposed frames becoming slowly clad, pipes and wires and a roof and windows- a house and a rebirth.... and a home one day. It's a 10 year pregnancy barely in its second trimester.

The causeway bisects Lake Pontchartrain, the longest bridge over water, 9,500 pillars. N'Orlans recedes and fades back into haze before Mandeville emerges ahead on the north shore. The scenery is like one of those cheap repeatinf backgrounds cartoons use to save production time. Grass leads to green leafed trees. All the settlements look the same, the same Walmart blueprint, the same petrol forecourts, the same motels. Are we caught in a time loop? Only the mileage going up and the petrol meter going down suggest otherwise.

Oh, so this is why Britney is the way she is? Kentwood is a railroad town where the trains don't stop anymore. Bungalows are largely falling down, paint peeling lost hope homes. Britney gives hope of escape, maybe.... Stores are closed down, or soul sucking corporates that take the money elsewhere, away and gone, and Kentwood dies a little more. No one knows why Britney left. Some say it was ambition, shopping mall singsong competitions precocious brat show off celebrations where only the parents clap with any gusto. They're probably wrong. It was desperation.

In Grenada they question whether there are black people in England. I have no idea why they're working in Burger King. They are truly wasting their potential. Mississippi is a fearful state for the foreign born. A sludgy accent and a distrustful temperament. We speed out of the gas station; beer buying pick up drivers, ragtag black hobo talking about court dates and mumbling. I can't deal with all these stereotypes.

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