Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honor.—-Ernest Hemingway
“America has only three cities: New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans.
Everywhere else is Cleveland.”
― Tennessee Williams
View out of my son’s apartment window, New Orleans.
“On the prow of the wagon, in an attempt to attract business among the Quarterites, Ignatius taped a sheet of Big Chief paper on which he had printed in crayon: TWELVE INCHES (12) OF PARADISE. So far no one had responded to its message.”
― John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces
I’m getting packed, getting ready to drive to New Orleans for a week of this year’s Writing Marathon.
I’m on a mexican radio
I wish I was in Tiajuana
Eating barbequed iguana
I’d take requests on the telephone
I’m on a wavelength far from home
I feel a hot wind on my shoulder
I dial it in from south of the border
I hear the talking of the dj
Can’t understand just what does he say?
—- Wall of Voodoo, Mexican Radio
I wrote about this on my Facebook page back in February – but I don’t think a lot of people followed the link.
At any rate, this story started back in 2012, on a trip to New Orleans. I ran into a group at the St. Vincent’s Guest House and soon was involved in a one-day writing marathon – walking around with a handful of folks, scribbling away.
I was inspired by the experience to the point I organized a Writing Marathon or two of my own, here in Dallas.
One day, the group I had gone with that day stopped for the fixed-price lunch at Antoine’s (highly recommended if you are in New Orleans in the summer). I remembered an incident that had happened in that very restaurant thirty five years earlier. I pulled out my pen and notebook wrote up my memories in the bar.
At the end of each day, there was the option for a few folks to stand up and read from what they had written earlier. I put my name on the list and read the story from Antoine’s. The readings were recorded.
Then, in February, a selection of the recordings were played on KSLU radio.
You can listen to the 2017 readings AT THIS LINK – If you want to skip ahead, my reading is at about the 14:10 point.
If that link doesn’t work – go here – http://www.kslu.org/awards_recognition/index.html and click on “2017 Writing Marathon.”
People have asked me about the siren at the end of my reading. That isn’t a sound effect – the fire engine actually went by on the street outside, siren blaring, as I finished.
Now I need to get going and register for the 2018 Retreat. So much fun.
Day Two, Tuesday, July 11, 2017
One snippet of what I wrote that day.
The first time Jambalaya Joe cooked for us he made – of course – jambalaya. A great black cast iron kettle, suspended over a ring of roaring blue gas jets fed by a rusty steel bottle mounted on his trailer, bubbled furiously and steamed like a witch’s cauldron into the humid Louisiana air.
Rice, mysterious lumps of meat, and bags of vegetables went in – to roil and cook.
Then Jambalaya Joe looked around as if to make sure nobody was watching (though we all were – ravenous after a long, hard working day) extracted a large tin box from a stained canvas bag, lifted it over the boiling pot, and opened the lid with the creak of old hinges.
A cloud of red spice tumbled out to disappear into the boil below. It changed the color of the stew from a flat brown to a fiery red.
“That’s his famous secret spice mix,” said some random stranger next to me, complete with a wink and a subtle elbow to the ribs.
Jambalaya Joe cooked the evening meal for us every night, hired by The Company to feed the work crew until the job was finished.
He made something different each night. Jambalaya became gumbo, then red beans and rice, Irish stew, chili, then spaghetti and meatballs… on and on – visiting every cuisine of the world. I never imagined a cast-iron kettle could be so versatile.
But every meal he dumped the exact same tin box filled with the same secret spice mix into the pot.
Goodbye Joe me gotta go me oh my oh
Me gotta go pole the pirogue down the bayou
My Yvonne the sweetest one me oh my oh
Son of a gun we’ll have big fun on the bayou
Jambalaya and a crawfish pie and fillet gumbo
Cause tonight I’m gonna see my ma cher amio
Pick guitar fill fruit jar and be gay-o
Son of a gun we’ll have big fun on the bayou
—-Jambalaya (On The Bayou), Hank Williams
Bayou St. John
New Orleans, Louisiana
During the Bayou Boogaloo festival
A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.
Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.
Today’s story, for day three – is Regret, by Kate Chopin.
Read it online, here:
I read Kate Chopin’s best known work – the novel The Awakening in college, like most people do. It left a strong impression on me – both the story itself, and the strong character of its doomed protagonist.
I must not have been paying too much attention, however. In my defence, I was studying chemistry and literature and didn’t have enough time to do my reading all proper in between the marathon laboratory stints.
You see, the thing is, if you would have asked me about The Awakening I would have told you it was a European story, a French story, and the beach where so much takes place must have been on the Riviera somewhere.
What was I thinking? How could I have been so mistaken? A quick read, and a foggy memory, I guess.
As an adult, I reread The Awakening and realized that it wasn’t European at all – it took place in New Orleans – and the beach was Belle Isle. Now, I suppose in some way I wasn’t too far off – New Orleans is the most European of American cities – the French Influence is hard to miss.
Now today’s story, Regret… there is no doubt where this is taking place. Nowhere else will you find names like: Mamzelle Aurlie, Ti Nomme, little Lodie, Marcline and Marclette.
In a short story there is plot, and setting (this one has a little plot and an implied setting) and there is characterization. The reward of Regret is in its characterization.
It’s tough to find room in a work this brief for a protagonist to learn and to change – but Chopin pulls it off.
Not only does the protagonist learn and change… but she realizes that it is all in vain, that it is too late.
Isn’t it always?
She turned into the house. There was much work awaiting her, for the children had left a sad disorder behind them; but she did not at once set about the task of righting it. Mamzelle Aurlie seated herself beside the table. She gave one slow glance through the room, into which the evening shadows were creeping and deepening around her solitary figure. She let her head fall down upon her bended arm, and began to cry. Oh, but she cried! Not softly, as women often do. She cried like a man, with sobs that seemed to tear her very soul. She did not notice Ponto licking her hand.