Sweet Home Wherever
and happy new year
If I’ve been quiet, it’s because I was on a road trip to Louisiana and back, for the last few weeks. We left for home the day after Christmas, elated by the change of scenery, and the relief that gentrification and the pandemic haven’t completely ruined New Orleans yet, though it seems a lot different than when I first visited. I’m repeating myself; I told y’all about my first trip there.
Some things have changed, and some have not. It’s a lot fancier. The roads are a disaster, which reminds me of the washed out streets from my 1995 trip, when I found the long-gone Eddie’s restaurant run from a house in the Seventh Ward. On Google Maps today, Law Street looks like a wasteland. It was snug houses when I was there, but it doesn’t look like they rebuilt after Katrina. Places like Eddie’s are gone. The closest you get is the nearby Willie Mae’s Scotch House, and Li’l Dizzy’s Cafe, run by Eddie’s son Wayne Baquet. I’ll have to visit that one.
In 1995, business owners put a sign up in the French Quarter on Decatur that compared the population New Orleans to Boston, where the murder rate was half. We didn’t know that we drove into a murder zone. I was used to Times Square hustlers; I gave a buck to a kid tap dancing with bottle caps on his sneakers, but I wasn’t robbed, panhandled, or otherwise mistreated in 1995, nor was I last week. There have been shootings in the French Quarter, one as recent as four days ago, and we did not go there at all. We stayed in the Garden District. It felt odd to not make a pilgrimage to see the statue of Ignatius Reilly under the clock at the Sonesta hotel, to have begneits and chicory coffee at the Cafe du Monde, to walk the French Market, and to slip into Faulkner House for a book and the Louisiana Music Factory to peruse the sleeves. I went for that airboat tour, instead. And Sarah went shopping in the Garden District. She wants to move there, but I have reservations about living where I need to flee hurricanes every few years. I’d rather visit.
I know we’ve changed, but it feels like New Orleans has, as well. It feels like all cities have. The investor class is doing well, so the paucity of jobs, the skyrocketing rents, and the cost of food prices are forgotten now that gasoline is back to three bucks a gallon. Like in 1995, when NOPD and others (I’m looking at you, Philly) were content to let shootings tear up Black neighborhoods as long as they left white people alone, the police seem to be waiting for the upper classes to Have Enough, and demand a return to the past when police killings of unarmed Black people were tacitly accepted by the white majority. But we aren’t going back to that.
I know, not the best attitude to begin a new year. But the last two years only feel better in comparison to what went before, when we took giant leaps backward, and we haven’t caught up to where we should be. In times like these, I turn to books and movies to rekindle my hope, but I’ve had little luck with that. I enjoyed Martin McDonagh’s The Banshees of Inisherin, about a dull man, played by Colin Farrell, who seems perfectly content to live on a small Irish island as the Troubles rage on the mainland; his best friend, played by Brendan Gleeson, tires of him one day and demands that he leave him be. But he can’t. It reminded me of how hard it can be to make friends in your later years, and how heartbreaking it would be to lose your only one. Unlike In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri, this one is less interested in crimes and violent men than people. If you are expecting gunplay and snappy banter, you will be disappointed, but it has a fierceness of its own. Away from the Irish Civil War, there is plenty of fire on this little island.
My mother-in-law sent me home with a sack of pecans, and the little barrels full of tasty, oily, carapaces have become my favorite nut. I still eat a few roasted peanuts before I throw a handful to the jays and the squirrels in the morning, and I won’t pass up a buttery cashew or a salty, crunchy macadamia, but damn if pecans don’t make walnuts and almonds taste like a bunch of nothing. A family story that expands into one of history and how we refuse to see the world outside our lens, The Council of the Pecans, by Robin Wall Kimmerer is a short, worthwhile read.
I’ve said before that our belief that nature is red in tooth and claw—and that all evolution is driven by fierce and ruthless competition—is more a tenet of the capitalist religion than the reality, but it is a hard habit for many of us to break. Like the man who can’t change his beliefs because his income depends on it, we have been told that humans are singular in deserving life, and ascribing emotions to any other living thing is “anthropomorphism,” and must be disdained if we are to be taken seriously, even if it means ignoring what we have seen with our own eyes since the beginning of human existence. The people who benefit from ruthless competition do not want it judged; it must be accepted as the one true way, lest they be made to make do with a little less than nearly all the wealth on Earth.
Maybe that’s why I couldn’t enjoy Glass Onion: A Knives Out Mystery, despite loving the first movie. The only character in it is Benoit Blanc, played with delectable relish again by Daniel Craig, who’s having more fun post-Bond than Sean Connery did with Highlander and Zardoz. The rest of the cast are familiar caricatures, played well by the excellent cast, but nonetheless boring and utterly predictable. Dave Bautista is Joe Rogan, Ed Norton is Elon Musk, Janelle Monae is the angry vengeful Black woman, Leslie Odom, Jr and Kate Hudson are Instagram celebs and technorati. It’s Don’t Look Up all over again; no one approaches Chris Evans’s incredible douchebag performance from the first film, but at least there’s no vomiting central to the plot. Like the Glass Onion itself, it is a pretty bauble that is utterly transparent and gives us nothing to think about. But it’s nice to look at, and may hold you over if you need some righteous catharsis.
Much more enjoyable to me, was Nope, the latest by Jordan Peele. His most indulgent film yet, and I hope he continues to have bigger budgets and indulges his every desire. It was creepy, frightening, beautiful, and doesn’t answer all our questions. It satirizes the movie industry, and our photo-obsessed culture, where “the perfect shot” is something literally to die for, and nostalgia is something to both consume, and be consumed by. To sum it shortly, a family of horse trainers, related to the first man on film, the Black jockey in the first assembled modern moving picture, investigate a strange object that appears in the sky over their remote California ranch. The father is Keith David, one of my favorite actors, and the siblings are Daniel Kaluuya and Keke Palmer. Their nearest neighbor is Steven Yeun, a former child TV star who survived a bloody tragedy also related to Hollywood’s mistreatment of animals, and now profits off his own trauma.1 (Until the ‘70s, when a horse needed to fall, they often tripped it and shot it after its legs were broken, and animal abuse complaints are still rampant).
“What we will do for a picture” is one theme of the film. The siblings become obsessed with photographing their unidentified flying object, and less concerned with the dangers involved, and the horrors of its very existence. People fall off cliffs trying to get Instagram photos, but for a century we’ve endured animal torture, child rape, and abusive behavior by “people with a vision” to watch movies. My friend Alison Arngrim, best known for her role as Nellie Olson on “Little House on the Prairie,” compared child acting to The Hunger Games; child sacrifices for our entertainment. When Corey Feldman spoke out about Hollywood rapists, Barbara Walters accused him of “damaging an entire industry.2 Of course, Nope is a Hollywood production and I’m sure if we investigated Peele’s set, somebody may have been mistreated, but the film is never sanctimonious or claims to be righteous. It was one of the most interesting movies I’ve seen in a while—not without its flaws—but one that makes you think, and that’s more than I can say about most. I’ll do a lot for a picture, so who am I to judge? Today, I rode my bike around with a camera strapped to my head. I try not to hang off cliffs or approach bison if I can help it, but dignity is not my strong point.
We brought back several pounds of boudin and andouille, plus beer and groceries from Louisiana, and a car full of Christmas presents. I also brought back a case of Covid. My best guess is that I picked it up on the road or when I first arrived in Louisiana, because my symptoms—which thankfully were mild—peaked around Christmas. I thought I was just achey from driving and uncomfortable because my mother-in-law likes the heat set at 75°F. I had a little runny nose, but I had been out exploring the Mississippi River looking for the ruins of the S.S. Brookline Ferry when it was below freezing. Sarah and I took Covid tests the other day before planning to meet friends with young kids, and I came up positive. I let people I’d been in contact with know about it, but I have felt fine since. I went on the longest mountain bike ride I’ve done since I bought the bike, so I feel mostly recovered except for sniffles. I’m very lucky, and also thankful that I got every booster I could. I’ve had 5 jabs of Moderna, the first two doses, then the first booster, then Omicron, then the bivalent.3 My mother-in-law tested positive, but Sarah did not; maybe I caught it from her, I don’t know. I'll admit that since we've been going to restaurants, I was not masking unless in crowded areas, such as the car dealership or the grocery store. (Sarah blames the gun range; I blame Waffle House.)
So I am no longer one of the select few who can say they’ve avoided the ‘rona. I am still masking, of course, to protect other people. I’m trying to enjoy the unseasonably warm weather while it lasts, so I’ll be on a Pine Barrens hike tomorrow. And speaking of photos without dignity, this is what the Covid bug looks like when it attacks you:
Some are critical of this sort of thing, but as a writer, I withhold judgment. A writer I knew (who could have been said to profit off of others’ trauma) was very critical of victims who wrote about their trauma in ways he considered unseemly. Judge not, lest ye be judged.
She may have fought for her career, but like many powerful white women, she didn’t seem to give a shit who else suffered.
I’m 51 years old, so I was eligible for the Omicron booster before the bivalent one came out. I highly suggest getting a booster if you are going into restaurants or any place where you can’t mask.