Miscellaneous Mental Musings of an Emerging Artist
Daring is a versatile word, capable of being a noun, an adjective, and a verb all at once:
The performer did something that was daring.
The performer had daring to do that.
The performer was now daring somebody else to try.
I’ve been in New Orleans for a little over 24 hours; it’s my first visit to this city. In the hours I’ve now spent wandering I’ve settled on this rascal bit of English as the word that best characterizes what I’ve seen and heard. There is a sense of daring, noun, to be found in the aesthetics and the local population of New Orleans; in the demand for attention, the flamboyance of color and noise. And there is also a sense of daring, verb, that pervades. You find yourself surprised by something you encounter and somehow it looks back at you, with indignation or with coyness, looks back and it says you’re damn right I am, why aren’t you?
There is so much art here.
There is so much art here and a large piece of the art is people hustling, hellbent for leather, to convince you that the art they are making is art worth paying them for. There is art in the architecture and art in the bursts of jazz bands that you hear around the corners, art in the stacks of painted canvases and sleight-of-hand practitioners and the crew of acrobatic dancers that put on a 30-minute show consisting of 25 minutes of hype and audience antics and only the remainder of which is dancing or acrobatics, and you give them some cash anyway for the sideways swindle because you can tell exactly how hard they’ve worked to create it. There is art in the food and in the selling of the food, in the myriad ways you can present yourself as the foremost purveyor of a po’boy, in the attempts to entice with oysters.
New Orleans, like its desert cousin Las Vegas, is infamous in its embrace of sin, and when you step outside of the luxury hotel you have taken less than a hundred steps before you see Larry Flynt’s name and brand emblazoned across a storefront, nestled between the bar famous for its daiquiris and the bar famous for its shark bowls.
Yet you take another hundred steps and there is the Louisiana Law Library in its alabaster palace; you take another hundred and there is the St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square, with its proud bronze plaque commemorating the date in 1987 that Pope John Paul II prayed with the congregation, which then overlooks the hagiographic statue of Andrew Jackson on horseback from which this iconic public space takes its name. A steamer passes by the artillery cannons facing out across the Mississippi River. Two human statues stand, one covered in bronze paint and the other in marble white, atop their handmade pedestals.
You grab a streetcar to the end of its line and you find a stomping little cabaret hosting a traditional nine-piece outfit, with a woman on vocals who sounds like she stepped right off of the phonograph and a man on clarinet who all but summons Benny Goodman for the first half of their set. Across the street somebody is yelling boldly into a microphone and a woman passing you by gently asks if you need THC.
And this is all on Sunday.
So while Vegas bills itself as the city that never says no, and then swears to keep secret every crime you decide to commit, New Orleans feels like the city that hesitates for a moment before agreeing to try it, and then makes suggestions to enhance the experience. While Vegas can at times feel like its bright lights are overcompensating to hide its weaknesses, the brashness of New Orleans feels deliberate, confident, and matter-of-fact.
I’m here for a work conference so I’m not going to explore quite as much as I’d liked, but I intend to find at least a little more time to see a cemetery or take a stroll through a public park. I have a handful of local delicacies still to try and a few more people to observe. I wish my wife and my son were here on this adventure with me. The impression I have right now is that I’ll absolutely need to try again when they can be.