Saturday, August 22, 2015

Pleasure and Joy, Post-Katrina



Our trip to the French Quarter of New Orleans last week for a family wedding coincided with the 10th anniversary of Katrina. Aside from chatting with cabbies about it, our experience wasn't about that. It was about celebration. In other words, we experienced the city that the filmmaker Les Blank dubbed as Always for Pleasure. Is that a bad thing?

When we returned home on Wednesday, the latest New Yorker was in our mailbox. It's devoted to post-Katrina analysis, with a heavy emphasis on the lack of economic progress for the poorest residents (mostly black), the evils of gentrification, and the fact that so many former residents now live in places like Houston, never to return. Reading this, I felt that while it's hard to argue with those bleak facts, it seems reductionist to focus just on this part of life. Were the upbeat locals we met, like Wesley the Chief, decked out as he was in his fabulous festival costume, fooling themselves? I doubt it. I think they are smart enough to know what injustices exist within their community, and committed to doing something about them, but wise enough to not give up on enjoying life, when possible anyway.*

And, after all, the New Orleans tradition is in so many ways about joy, isn't it? Loving food, music, dancing, and companionship is a way of loving life itself. People down there have known hardship for a long time, way before Katrina. Why give up on joy now? Before we went down I psyched myself up by listening to Louis Armstrong Plays W. C. Handy. I would have to say that joy is the dominant vibe of this classic 1950s recording (as well as his whole body of work). Of course, Louis was accused of "Tomming," but I think it's condescending to suggest that he didn't know what the score is. And if he was ever insincere in his entertaining, which is speculation, I doubt he was any more insincere than we all our in our public personas. Above I have posted the YouTube of the performance of "Loveless Love" from Plays W. C. Handy. It's a blues that displays the kind of joy that can bring you to tears, especially beginning at 3:01.

More reflections on the particulars of our experience to come. But I felt I should address the joy and injustice thing first. I'm especially eager to talk about the post-wedding "second line" parade through the Quarter!

* Actually, come to think of it, the Mardi Gras and parade groups are called "social aid and pleasure" clubs. So that's pretty explicit.

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