Monday, May 25, 2015

Back to New Orleans.

This blog's de facto Lenten hiatus has effectively also become an Easter vacation, with this post being the first since Easter Sunday itself. As a very partial explanation for my absence, this post recalls a trip taken exactly one month ago, soon after the end of the academic term in Toronto. My friend Matt and I spent a week driving from New Orleans to Savannah, with a particular but nonexclusive focus on sites related to three Southern Catholic literary figures: Flannery O'Connor, John Kennedy Toole, and Walker Percy. Matt and I had both been to New Orleans in the past - as some readers will recall, I went there in 2011 and again in 2012 - but we agreed that it was time to return to the Crescent City; after my third visit there, I can't wait to go back.

Some houses along Audubon Park, one of my favorite places to walk in New Orleans.

Audubon Park Lagoon.

This is the interior of Holy Name of Jesus Church, on the campus of Loyola University New Orleans. Among other things, Holy Name of Jesus is notable as the venue for the March 1969 funeral of Judge Leander Perez, who was famously excommunicated by New Orleans Archbishop Joseph Rummel in April 1962 for his public efforts to thwart the Archbishop's plan to desegregate New Orleans parochial schools; Perez was quietly reconciled to the Church before his death, but I'm told that the decision to have his funeral at Holy Name of Jesus still raised some eyebrows at the time. Fitting the theme of our trip, Holy Name of Jesus also has significant literary associations: it was the home parish of John Kennedy Toole, author of A Confederacy of Dunces, and it was also the place where Walker Percy and his wife were received into the Catholic Church in 1947.

Speaking of Walker Percy, the Maple Street Book Shop a few blocks west of Loyola was a favored haunt of his; as a sign of his affection for the place, the generally shy and publicity-averse Percy would willingly attend signings at this shop even as he refused to participate in similar events elsewhere.

The Maple Street Book Shop still devotes prominent shelf space to Walker Percy, John Kennedy Toole, and other local authors - though my decision to purchase a copy of A Confederacy of Dunces there nonetheless marked me as a likely tourist, prompting the clerk to ask where I was from as he rang up the sale.

Giving another nod to John Kennedy Toole, here is a statue of Ignatius J. Reilly, the protagonist of A Confederacy of Dunces, standing in front of the former D. H. Holmes Department Store, where the novel's opening scene takes place.

Matt reads the inscription accompanying the statue, taken from the aforementioned scene in A Confederacy of Dunces: "In the shadow under the green visor of the cap, Ignatius J. Reilly's supercilious blue and yellow eyes looked down upon the other people waiting under the clock at the D. H. Holmes department store, studying the crowd of people for signs of bad taste in dress."

The Old and New South in close proximity: Confederate Memorial Hall (est. 1891) sits next door to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (est. 2003), and we visited the two places one after the other.

A surprising exhibit at Confederate Memorial Hall is this crown of thorns reputedly woven by Pope Pius IX and sent to Confederate President Jefferson Davis during his postwar imprisonment at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia. Though the Confederate Memorial Hall sticks to the traditional story that the crown of thorns was woven by Pio Nono himself, a scholar who has done recent research on the topic suggests that the object may actually have been produced by Davis' wife Varina.

Though the story of Pius IX and the crown of thorns might be apocryphal, it is undisputed that the pope sent this photograph to the imprisoned President Davis, accompanied by the handwritten inscription: "Venite ad me omnes qui laboratis, et ego reficiam vos, dicit Dominus" (Mt 11:28) ["Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest"].

Though I had visited the Ogden Museum of Southern Art during my first trip to New Orleans four years ago, on my return last month I noticed many works which had not been on display when I made my first visit to the Ogden. Among this year's new discoveries were several canvases by New Orleans artist John McCrady, including The Parade (1950), which depicts the artist himself at lower left working in his study as a Mardi Gras float featuring giant watermelons passes by outside.

The son of an Episcopal priest, John McCrady spent much of his childhood in small towns in Mississippi and Louisiana as his father moved from parish to parish. McCrady's upbringing had an influence on his art, some of which was devoted to explicitly religious subjects. McCrady's 1951 painting Crucifixion was long displayed at New Orleans' Grace Episcopal Church, for which McCrady also designed two large murals depicting the institution of the Eucharist and the Ascension of Christ. Grace Episcopal Church closed its doors in January 2012, and I've been unable to determine the fate of McCrady's murals.

Another new discovery for me on this visit to the Ogden was the work of Clementine Hunter (1886-1988). Hunter grew up on a plantation in northwest Louisiana, never learned to read or write, and was entirely self-taught as an artist. Panorama of Baptism on Cane River (1945) is representative of the work Hunter produced over the course of a long career devoted to documenting the rural culture of her youth.

One of several delicious meals enjoyed in New Orleans: Cajun-style eggs benedict served with grits at the Warehouse Grille.

The Cathedral-Basilica of St. Louis, King of France, dedicated in 1794 and reportedly the oldest cathedral in continuous use in the United States.

St. Louis Cathedral viewed from across Jackson Square at twilight.

Jackson Square storefronts, captured at a rare moment when the pavement wasn't packed with people.

Speaking of 'packed with people,' here is sybaritic Bourbon Street at one of its quieter moments.

Another delicious New Orleans meal: a bowl of Creole courtbouillon served at Tableau just off Jackson Square.

Preservation Hall, a venue for traditional New Orleans jazz since 1961 - nothing innovative, but old standards performed with great gusto.

At Preservation Hall, waiting for the performance to start.

Later in the week, I should have some more photos from the Southern trip posted. In the meantime, best wishes to all, particularly those celebrating the Memorial Day holiday in the United States. AMDG.


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