A little Southern Comfort from Raines and Bragg

The destruction and tragedy of Katrina has of course inspired writers to remember New Orleans, a unique American city with, yes, a unique American nightlife (I did wonder how Joe Francis had taken the news). But is it just me, or is it a bit unseemly just yet to wax so effusively about the lost earthly delights of the city? While I of course appreciate the sentiments behind any heartfelt lament, I also feel it’s a little early to hear about how Rick Bragg mistily remembers getting laid in the quarter or Howell Raines will miss getting an eyeful in exchange for some beads – especially when rendered so purply:

Oh, wondrous city of music that floats from the horn and poems drowned in drink! Oh, cheesy clip-clop metropolis of phony coach-and-fours hauling drunken Dodge salesmen, of gaunt-eyed transvestite hookers, of Baptist girls suddenly inspired to show their breasts on Chartres Street in return for a string of beads flung from the balcony of the Soniat House — will we lose even these dubious glories of the only American city that’s never been psychoanalyzed?

Yikes. Looks like the Whiskey Man’s maybe had a few. It’s actually a shame because for the most part the article is heartfelt and makes some good points; the timeline in the second-last paragraph speaks for itself. I just wish Raines had let the rest of the piece do the same.

Ditto his pal Rick Bragg. Yes, Rick, we know you’re from the South. You’re the folksy chronicler and they’re your quirky, charming kin. We get it. But was Friday, September 2nd when the National Guard had barely touched down really the right time to celebrate New Orleans as place “that can make you laugh at coffins and believe in magic?” Ugh. Bragg serves up a typically richly-detailed and self-consciously literary piece, which would have been an enjoyable read at any other time but seems inappropriate now; it’s hard to celebrate how “in the poorest cemeteries the poorest men and women build tin-foil monuments to lost children in a potter’s field,” and, amid pictures of people dehydrating to death in the Superdome and Convention Center, hard to celebrate the heat “because that is what the devil sends.” Anne Rice’s piece was moving for the simplicity of how she let the city speak for itself; Bragg’s is distracting and a bit unsettling because it forces the reader to pay attention to him. But still, Rick, we’re glad to hear you scored with that sophomore.

(NB this is not at all meant to detract from the sincerity of either, nor their memories.)