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Map of New Orleans

Mondo New Orleans: An Alternative Perspective

Mark Aldenderfer


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You've read the preliminary program, maybe you've taken a look at tour information and guide books, or perhaps you've asked your friends and colleagues just what's the story with New Orleans. You've probably been told plenty of interesting things about the town known variously as the Big Easy or the City that Care Forgot. Get the picture? Each of you that has previously attended a New Orleans annual meeting has at least one unforgettable memory. One of mine is not particularly impressive, but it recurs every February or so while anticipating the April meeting in the Big Easy:I was strolling along Bourbon Street one night, not too late, when odd movement caught the corner of my eye. Adjusting my blurred vision to the change in light (of course it was the light--what else could it have been?), I looked through a doorway up a steep flight of stairs, which I swear was as steep as the stairs of Temple 1 at Tikal, and watched a man crawling up the stairs on his hands and knees. One step up, two steps back, sliding on his belly. He was persistent, but pathetic. I watched for what seemed like hours, but he never reached the "House of the Rising Sun" while I was there. What it was, or why it was so compelling for him, I'll never know.

Following is an idiosyncratic sampling of information on possible alternative, as well as mainstream, entertainments in New Orleans. While I don't recommend crawling up the stairs of the House of the Rising Sun, you might try some of them when meeting fatigue sets in. Much of this research can be done at home before heading for New Orleans. You'll be prepared for whatever your tastes dictate.

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Literature: By all means read A Streetcar Named Desire, by Tennessee Williams, or watch the video with Marlon Brando as Stanley Kowalski. Still hot today, it really scorched the 50s. Into 70s-style black humor? Try A Confederacy of Dunces, by John Kennedy Toole. Set in the New Orleans of the 60s, you'll meet Ignatius J. Reilly, a 30-year-old genius described in the book's introduction as "a slob extraordinary, a mad Oliver Hardy, a fat Don Quixote, a perverse Thomas Aquinas..." You really will enjoy the book, and even learn about New Orleans in the process. Have a sense of the macabre? Anne Rice is your ticket to the truly dark side of town, this time in the antebellum Garden District, with The Witching Hour, her story of the infamous Mayfair witches.

Setting: I couldn't track down a truly modern history of New Orleans, but an older one did catch my eye--The French Quarter: An Informal History of the New Orelans Underworld, published in 1937 by Herbert Asbury. Dedicated to "Helen," the book looks and reads like it should have been published in 1880, and contains chapters entitled "An Epoch of Degeneration," "Hell on Earth," and "Criminals Paradise." (Note: the Library of Congress subject listing describes the book not as history per se, but as "New Orleans, LA--Moral Conditions.") It is very amusing, and you'll learn all about the characters of the early French Quarter, such as Bricktop Jackson, the toughest person in all New Orleans. If something a bit more sedate is your taste, like architecture, try Southern Comfort, an excellent historical review of the New Orleans architecture. While Mark Twain once said "New Orleans has no architecture except that found in its cemeteries," he probably hadn't spent much time in town. Speaking of cemeteries, a fine review of the extraordinary New Orleans mortuary art (always a favorite with the archaeologist) is The St. Louis Cemeteries of New Orleans, by Samuel Wilson, Jr., and Leonard Huber. Twain at least got that right.

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Information sources and other tidbits: Those of you who have access to the World Wide Web have some real advantages over your colleagues without it. To encourage its use among the membership without making folks actually do archaeology, I have assembled a sampling of Web sites and home pages about New Orleans for your perusal. They touch on just about everything, but in my defense, these are hardly the only ones out there. Although I've visited all of them, I can't vouch for their accuracy or veracity.

No SAA meeting is complete without beer; New Orleans is home to the Dixie Brewing Company, and while they don't have a web page, there is one about Louisiana microbreweries at http://www.csn.net/~scotto/la.html. Among the brews listed are some curious names by Dixie--Blackened Voodoo Lager, Crimson Voodoo Ale, Holy Smoke, and Graffi-tea(?). Try them at your own risk.

No trip to New Orleans is complete without a nod to voodoo, and maybe even a deeper sampling. While it was undoubtedly introduced to the city during French colonial times, New Orleans became a haven for voodoo at the beginning of the 19th century as refugees from Santo Domingo flooded the city. There are a number of voodoo sites on the web, but those about New Orleans are very slow to load. If you must see something of voodoo before arrival, try http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/LGilbert/voodoo.htm. The associated home page also has some good photos of cemeteries. For the digitally challengened, try reading Voodoo in New Orleans, by Robert Tallant, or Voodoo and Hoodoo, by Jim Haskins.

Yum, yum--red beans and rice. I know, this, when I could be sampling some of the finest cuisine in all America? I like them, and you should eat them at least once while there. Can't wait? Try The Gumbo Pages at http://www.webcom.com/~gumbo/no-home.html. In addition to recipes for Creole and Cajun cooking, you can learn about what's hot and happening for music, culture, and cuisine in town. Two other sites (thanks and a tip of the trowel to Ken Cannon of NPS who made this suggestion) that provide good reviews of club and restaurant listings are Gambit Magazine at http://www.gambit-no-com/ and Offbeat Magazine at http://www.neosoft.com/~offbeat.

Finally, for those of you who are interested in something a bit more mainstream, try the quasi-official pages at http://www.frenchquarter.com/default.html, the New Orleans Connection at http://www.noconnect.com/noconnec.htm, or Infolink New Orleans at http://www.infolink.com/infono.htm. Just one more offbeat source: for a real insider's view of their town, check out New Orleans à la Net, by Pamela Pipes, a self-described 7th-generation daughter of New Orleans, at http://www.alanet.com.

Enjoy your trip to New Orleans! Maybe I'll see you at the House of the Rising Sun or Felix's (you'll have to find that one for yourselves!)

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Mark Aldenderfer is at the University of California--Santa Barbara and is editor of the SAA Bulletin


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