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Feet on the Street: Rambles around New Orleansby Roy Blount Jr.
Synopses & Reviews
Ramble One: Orientation
Mitch: I thought you were straight.
Blanche: What's straight? A road or a line can be straight. But the human heart?
--A Streetcar Named Desire
Since the Mississippi flows generally south from its origin in Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico, you expect a town on the river to be on the east bank or the west. But at New Orleans the river flows eastwardly, sort of, so New Orleans is on the north bank, sort of. On the other side of the river is an area known, to be sure, as West Bank, but most of it lies either south or east of the river. On a map you can see: if the river were straight, New Orleans would be almost horizontal, right to left, east to west, between the river to the south and Lake Pontchartrain (as big as Rhode Island) to the north. But the river is crooked. The best known parts of New Orleans form a sort of tipped-forward S along bends in the river, from Uptown and the Garden District through Downtown, the French Quarter, and on around eastward into Fauxborg Marigny and the Bywater. Within this S, Uptown is south (upriver) and Downtown north (downriver), because the river takes a northerly hitch. However, the part of the Quarter that is farthest downtown is referred to as the upper Quarter, though I have heard it called the lower.
So when I tell you that I am pretty damn sure that in 1998, during Hurricane Georges, I saw the river, at least the topmost layer of it, flowing backward (because the wind was blowing so hard southerly along that northerly hitch), you can see why I might not be absolutely sure.
It was late and I was by myself at the time, nobody else was around. And I was feeling let down, because although the wind was blowing hard, and half the population had been evacuated, and thousands who'd stayed had been herded into the Superdome for their safety, and my friend Greg Jaynes and I had taken refuge in the shuttered-up Burgundy Street home of my friend Curtis Wilkie, it was clear that this was not going to be the Big One: the full force of Georges was going to miss us.
We knew this from Nash Roberts. Nash Roberts is a veteran New Orleans TV weatherman who is low-tech, at least by way of presentation, and always right. Nash was broadcasting from his own house, it looked like, tracing the hurricane with a grease pencil on a sheet of Plexiglas or a pad of paper, I forget which, while the other channels' meteorologists were using all manner of laser pointers and rear-projected electronic schematic representations of the area. You couldn't tell what in the world Nash was scribbling with the grease pencil, but as usual he was the first to make the call, this one's going to miss us, and he was on the money.
So I felt I could venture outside and take a look at the river, and when I did, it was going backward. I'm pretty damn sure.
Ordinarily, at any rate, when you face the river from the French Quarter you'll see the river flowing from your right to your left. As recently as the late sixties, early seventies, when Kermit Ruffins was a kid in New Orleans--he's a fixture in the city now as a jazz musician--he'd catch crabs from the river, to eat. Get some string, tie a chicken leg on it, and when that string get real tight, pull in real slow--scoop 'em up and put 'em in
The humorist author of First Hubby offers a lighthearted odyssey on foot through one of America's most colorful and historic cities, presenting eight exuberant rambles through different sections of New Orleans, discovering the music, architecture, food, and colorful characters, past and present, that exemplify the city. 40,000 first printing.
“Betcha I can tell ya / Where ya / Got them shoooes. / Betchadollar, / Betchadollar, / Where ya / Got them shoooes. / Got your shoes on your feet, / Got your feet on the street, / And the street’s in Noo / Awlins, Loo- / Eez-ee-anna. Where I, for my part, first ate a live oyster and first saw a naked woman with the lights on. . . . Every time I go to New Orleans I am startled by something.”
So writes Roy Blount Jr. in this exuberant, character-filled saunter through a place he has loved almost his entire life—a city “like no other place in America, and yet (or therefore) the cradle of American culture.” Here we experience it all through his eyes, ears, and taste buds: the architecture, music, romance (yes, sex too), historical characters, and all that glorious food.
The book is divided into eight Rambles through different parts of the city. Each closes with lagniappe—a little bit extra, a special treat for the reader: here a brief riff on Gennifer Flowers, there a meditation on naked dancing. Roy Blount knows New Orleans like the inside of an oyster shell and is only too glad to take us to both the famous and the infamous sights. He captures all the wonderful and rich history—culinary, literary, and political—of a city that figured prominently in the lives of Jefferson Davis (who died there), Truman Capote (who was conceived there), Zora Neale Hurston (who studied voodoo there), and countless others, including Andrew Jackson, Lee Harvey Oswald, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Jelly Roll Morton, Napoléon, Walt Whitman, O. Henry, Thomas Wolfe, Earl Long, Randy Newman, Edgar Degas, Lillian Hellman, the Boswell Sisters, and the Dixie Cups.
Above all, though, Feet on the Street is a celebration of friendship and joie de vivre in one of America’s greatest and most colorful cities, written by one of America’s most beloved humorists.
Also available as a Random House AudioBook
About the Author
Roy Blunt, Jr. has written many books, including the memoir Be Sweet and the novel First Hubby. He appears regularly on NPR’s Wait, Wait . . . Don’t Tell Me and is a contributor to many national publications. He lives in Manhattan and western Massachusetts.
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