Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Bal Masques and Hand Balls

So my Dutch team AJAX did not keep their lead earlier today. Internazionale came back to hit two, one from Stankovic and the other from Cruz, who by all accounts should have seen red for a tackle on Trabelsi. Anyway I can't say I am too disappointed considering I predicted a loss earlier today. AJAX was just missing too much. In many ways their squad was like Hill Street Blues without Phil Esterhaus... it just wasn't the same. Especially with Sneijder missing. In other matches Chelsea lost (thank God) to Barca, Rangers and Villareal drew, and Werder Bremen beat Juve in a 3-2 thriller. The Barca match was controversial considering the sending-off of Asier Del Horno but it seemed justified to me. Plus a few minutes later the refs missed a Chelsea handball in the box that should have been a penalty for Barcelona. Hopefully AJAX can pull out a win or a 3-3 draw in two weeks.

In keeping with the theme of this week (that of New Orleans and Mardi Gras) I am going to introduce you to my three favorite books in the next three days. Thus all of my favorite books are centered around Louisiana culture correct? Yes sir. Though I will say Louisiana is not the limit of my literary tastes. I also enjoy various types of British literature including some Dickens and especially the works of Sir Walter Scott (Waverley is definitely top 10). I've tried some Joyce but I will have to attempt that again sometime. I also plan on conquering some Wodehouse, more Dickens, Kipling, and various other works of fame. I also have a deep appreciation for Civil War stuff. I have managed to meander my way through several Civil War books over the past few years.

Anyway back to what is at hand. My number 3 book of all time that I have read in my 18 years, as you can see above, is THE GRANDISSIMES by George Washington Cable. Cable was a foreigner (a yankee) who moved down to New Orleans and wrote about New Orleans culture, specifically Creole culture. Many of the Creoles did not like what he had to say. Being a regionalistic writer Cable is often compared to Mark Twain but I have never really had much of a taste for Twain. But the comparison does strike true in that both like to employ a heavy usage of local dialect. The English of many of the Creole characters in THE GRANDISSIMES is very Creole-inflected and that romantic botched-English accent leads you to a sort of affection for some of the Creole characters, especially the two main female characters.

The story itself centers around a young German-American: Frowenfel (sp? I loaned my book out!) who has just moved from a foreign country (hint: starts with P and ends with ennsylvania) and is new in New Orleans. He gets hit with a terrible fever right as he gets to town and almost dies. He recovers though and he gradually integrates into the Creole society and even opens up his own pharmacy. The story also centers around a pair of men named Honore Grandissime. They are related but very different, one is very charismatic and the head of the family. The other is shackled by being colored (in the Louisiana creole style) and having no "niche" in the family. Both Honores must deal with their own pressures and struggles. Naturally the stories of the three men and the stories of the mother-and-daughter which I referenced earlier for having beautiful accents become entangled and intertwined.

Where the book really shines however is its looks into Creole life. The book opens with a bal masque that is wonderfully entertaining to the reader since it is a largely out-of-date practice (except for a few Mardi Gras krewes who still put them on). Also there is a vivid story of an African prince who is brought to Louisiana as a slave and how he struggles with suddenly being a subordinate. Also the looks into the lives of the colored Creoles is very interesting considering their culture was one that only existed in S Louisiana. They were truly unique.

I recommend THE GRANDISSIMES to anyone interested in learning about southern, especially New Orleans culture. Cable gives you a fascinating look into the lives of the flamboyant and passionate Creoles which once had the run of the state.

The Creoles and Cajuns helped establish the state as being firmly Catholic, especially in south Louisiana. The influx of Protestant whites into the northern and central parts of the state especially has helped to make Louisiana a state of fascinating culture divides. Once you journey north of the Baton Rouge area its mostly Protestant country. This has created a fundamental divide between north and south Louisiana ever since Louisiana became part of the Union. The divide isn't just about south Louisianians following the doctrines of the Council of Trent... its not necessarily about religion at all. There is just a *difference* between north and south Louisiana. To people from outside of the state it may not appear to be so. Louisianians are Louisianians after all. Like what is the difference between Kerwin and Kentrell Bell (are they related)? But this fundamental cultural divide has driven Louisiana politics for the past two centuries. It is more than just New Orleanians using the term "neutral ground" and north Louisianians saying "median". Case in point: in some south Louisiana parishes you can go to a drive through daquiri shop and get a daquiri for the road. In some north Louisiana parishes you can't
even buy beer on Sunday! How does this relate to Mardi Gras or THE GRANSISSIMES? Well the book gives you some of those insights into the foundations of Louisiana culture.... the same culture that produces our wonderful celebration of Mardi Gras.

As in most southern states the subject of race has been a very interesting one in Louisiana. In many ways Louisiana was much more tolerant than other states. For instance you can see in THE GRANDISSIMES that there was a whole section of society in which the colored creoles moved. But at the same time Louisiana is the state notorious for such incidents as when Plessey boarded the train from New Orleans to Covington (where I went to high school) which led to Plessey vs. Ferguson and "seperate but equal".

The political dynasty of our state: the Long family always took an interesting position on race. For instance when Charity Hospital was built in New Orleans several black leaders in Louisiana went to Huey and complained there wasn't enough black nurses in the hospital. So Huey agreed to help them and change this but indicated that they would not like the way he did it. So whenever he visited Charity Hospital he flew into a rage and ranted and raved that under no circumstances should white women be waiting on and nursing black men.

Earl Long was similar to his brother Huey. Towards the end of his life in 1959 and 1960 when he was about to campaign for what would have been his fourth term he battled vehemently against taking black votes off the rolls. It wasn't because he necessarily thought it was wrong... the black vote helped him significantly in every election. He argued so hard against taking black names off that he eventually went off his rocker for a while and was sent to Texas to recover. He made his way back via the state mental hospital in my hometown of Mandeville and eventually resumed his gubernatorial duties. In any event after he passed away the state legislation to take black votes off the rolls was struck down and it was declared a victory for civil rights. Not once was it mentioned that Earl Long had fought as hard as he did to have the legislation struck down.

Louisiana's race relations have often been very confusing. I will leave you by encouraging you to check out Cable's book because it certainly gives insight into such matters. I will also leave you with a bit of irony: Louisiana is a state that has often been a hotbed for the Klan. Indeed the notorious David Duke attended LSU for a while and was almost elected Governor (in possibly the worst runoff in the history of the world: slimy corrupt and now imprisoned Edwin Edwards vs. racist bigot David Duke!). Yet one of the state's greatest men: Judah P. Benjamin was Jewish. Ironically he was also one of the most able men to serve the Confederate government... the same government the Klan likes to idolize while performing their anti-black anti-semitic anti-Catholic acts. So in that vein I will offer up a wonderful quote from the venerable Judah P. Benjamin: "It is true that I am a Jew, and when my ancestors were receiving their Ten Commandments from the immediate Deity, amidst the thundering and lightnings of Mt. Sinai, the ancestors of my opponent (the racist Senator Benjamin Wade of Ohio) were herding swine in the forests of Great Britain."


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