Andrew…Peter…Katrina

22 Jul

New Orleans.  Late July.

I’m a stranger here.  Tired, sweaty and hungry.

I’ve been walking for hours: along the riverfront, up and down the streets of the French Quarter.

If I knock back an eight-dollar jumbo margarita in a styrofoam cup, it’s because I’m justifiably thirsty.  I take up residence on a bench outside the Café du Monde.

My tipsy imagination should now, by all rights, drift to Tennessee Williams–all ‘kindness of strangers’ and ‘gentlemen callers’–but it does not.

Across the street from the Café du Monde stands an impressive statue of Andrew Jackson, astride a rearing horse.

Would you believe that I sat under the gaze of General Jackson and contemplated the Battle of New Orleans?

I didn’t.

Monuments may aim to remind us of historical events, but art has a life of its own.  And for me, art conjures more art.

That’s how I was moved, association by association, from Mr. Jackson to Peter the Great.

And then (bear with me), forward to modern-day New Orleans.

As you may know, there is an equestrian statue of Peter the Great in St.Petersburg that quickly became (and has remained) an essential symbol of that city. It’s only fair; Petersburg was his fond creation: Window to the West, and all that jazz.

I present it here so you can make your own margarita-free comparison with the bronze Andrew Jackson:

Next, it’s less likely that you are familiar with The Bronze Horseman, Alexander Pushkin’s equally monumental narrative poem starring this very statue. You will have to trust me when I say that one cannot remember the statue of Peter without recalling Alexander’s poem.

Pushkin brought the statue to life. Literally:

Evgeny, a hapless clerk (and beloved type of the Russian literary tradition), falls victim to the notorious (and very real) 1824 flood that devastated the city.

As the waters recede, he rushes to the modest home of his beloved, Parasha.

It is utterly destroyed, and Parasha is nowhere to be found.

She is, no doubt, (here, I take a few liberties with the text) at the Superdome, or worse.

Evgeny never recovers from the blow. In the final episode of the poem, he angrily curses Peter’s bronze equestrian form, whereupon the statue comes to life and chases him to his death.

Here (from a translation by Waclaw Lednicki), we find Evgeny confronting his loss:

(Again, I mix it up a bit with my choice of photograph.)

All, to his horror, is demolished,
Leveled or ruined or abolished.
Houses are twisted all awry,
And some are altogether shattered,
Some shifted by the seas; and scattered
Are bodies, flung as bodies lie
On battlefields.

I’m having fun here, of course, swinging back and forth in time and place, but for a purpose.  These gorgeous, impractical cities were both built on swamps and barely above sea level.  It’s too late now to decide that we oughtn’t build in such places; the cities are treasures, both of them; we can’t abandon them.

Peter and Andrew will always be safe atop their horses.

The next time the winds blow and the waters rise, can’t we do better for Evgeny and Parasha?

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29 Responses to “Andrew…Peter…Katrina”

  1. Libby July 22, 2010 at 10:57 pm #

    See, Jenny, you just have to keep drinking, then you don’t think as much. Of course, then I wouldn’t have something so interesting to read.

    • jenny July 23, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

      Libby (aka Miss. Polly Peachum)! What a surprise! Thank you for reading. The wonders of the internet! I am rarely admonished to drink more, but I will try.

  2. Cheri July 23, 2010 at 8:26 am #

    Jenny,
    What a juxtaposition of horse and rider, city and catastrophe, past and present.

    I, like Libby above, want you to distract yourself from too much thought: go back to du Monde’s, have more bignets, ride to the top of that big building down by the Big River, and contemplate Huckleberry Finn and Jim (just as a barge tries to make the turn).

    Then, as the sunset cools the steamy environs, find one of those outdoor bars on Bourbon Street (where I celebrated my 40th birthday) and have a cool drink and do ponder Tennessee Williams, but do not let your husband yell, “Stellllllaaaa…..”

    Then, drive up to Natchez. Take a little tour in a horse-drawn carriage. The tour guide may have a gold tooth and be a white man. Have one of your children ask him where Richard Wright’s house is…

    • jenny July 23, 2010 at 3:49 pm #

      Dear Cheri,
      As you see, I share your penchant for daydreaming.

      Thank you for the suggestions. It is a wonderful thing when instruction is such a delight to follow!

      On your recommendation, I set aside time to consider Huck and Jim before setting out for the airport today, but Natchez was impossible as I was in NOLA for work, not vacation.

      Hope you are still enjoying yourself in the southwest.

  3. Mr. Crotchety July 23, 2010 at 9:01 pm #

    I enjoy your posts, so don’t confuse my comments with any disatisfaction with the form. I find New Orleans to be repulsive in a Babylon sort of way. Maybe I should drink more when I’m there (will that take me closer to the ‘real’ NO?). My mother worked near New Orleans after Katrina and found racism thriving – in the face of ‘relief’ (that is, while handing out the Government’s money).

    • jenny July 24, 2010 at 8:44 am #

      Well, Mr. C, I appreciate New Orleans for its distinctive character in a (more and more) homogenized America. Additional Hurricanes (the drink, that is) will not, I think, bring you over to my way of thinking. But, do you like jazz?

      Your comments about what your mother observed in the wake of Katrina are VERY interesting to me. I hope you will elaborate.

  4. Paul Costopoulos July 24, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    This morning, before I came to your place, my wife and I were thinking about going to Louisiana at the beginning of September. Your post comes at the right time.
    We are planning to fly in and rent a car out there. Is it advisable for over 70 people, in age not number.?

    • jenny July 25, 2010 at 6:26 am #

      Sounds lovely. Though (as I’m sure you’re aware), it will be very warm in early September. For me (weary of our long Northern winters), that is a plus.

      As for renting a car and driving, I imagine it will be fine. Before one of my children jumps in to mock me, I should add, however, that I, myself, learned to drive well into adulthood and have never dared to get behind the wheel in unfamiliar territory. I just have a feeling that you and your wife don’t suffer from the same meshugas.

      If you do make the trip, I hope your blog will reflect it!

      • Paul Costopoulos July 25, 2010 at 9:12 am #

        Québec winters also make for southern climes lovers. AS for driving in foreign territories, we are familiar with that. The only place I felt insecure was in Washington, D.C., those guys drive like mad.
        We are at the soon to visit a travel agency phase.
        I sure will blog about it when we come back. Trip planned after 9th September but have to be back before 20th.
        Thanks for the answer.

  5. Andreas Kluth July 24, 2010 at 10:44 am #

    In direct contradiction to @Libby and @Cheri, I take the Hitchens view of drinking, in New Orleans or anywhere:

    You might end up thinking MORE, and more INTERESTINGLY. Philosophizing about rider statues is just the sort of thing we need more of.

    On the subject of rider statues: As an amateur artist myself, who once studied horses in movement so I could draw them better, the postures almost invariably violate natural horse movement. (Mainly in gallop statues, but also in rearing statues.)

    Which is beside the point: This hero-on-rearing steed thing seems to be a Jungian archetype. (Power between your legs? Something like that.)

    If I might draw you attention to a picture by Delacroix that is of special interest to me:

    Napoleon crossing the Alps on, of course, a rearing steed.

    (The reason it’s of interest to me is that Delacroix painted two names etched into a rock in the corner: Hannibal and Charlemagne. Ie, the other heroes who crossed the Alps, and whom N was trying to copy.)

    • jenny July 25, 2010 at 6:52 am #

      Now you (and Delacroix) have got me thinking (not too interestingly, as the hour is still early):

      Not far from Andrew Jackson in New Orleans is an equestrian statue of everyone’s beloved Joan of Arc (http://www.doyletics.com/arj/jeandarc.jpg).

      Her horse plods forward stolidly, one front hoof and one rear hoof raised, but (evidently) lacking the necessary spirit to assume a rearing posture. No heroines on rearing steeds–that would violate more than natural horse movement.

      I’m beginning to feel that tired gender-inequity crankiness again. Maybe Phil has some ideas for setting things right…. 😉

    • Cheri July 25, 2010 at 10:01 am #

      Oh good god, Andreas. It’s OK to have a cool drink while on vacation and ponder statues and statutes.

      I too, am an amateur artist and spent many days drawing and painting horses, riding and cleaning up after horses. One thing I have observed in many oil paintings is the disproportion of rider to horse. The riders often look too big.

      In Santa Fe, the horse is perhaps the most often painted image. In Native American scenes, the horses were usually ponies, so the riders seemed unusually large.

  6. Thomas Stazyk July 24, 2010 at 5:38 pm #

    I’m glad I’m not the only one who finds parallels with literature in modern events–I’m glad you shared this one. Usually I just get weird looks!

    • jenny July 25, 2010 at 7:04 am #

      Yes, indeed! I saw a kinship as soon as I read your Gogolian story. Weird looks and rolling eyes are the cross we bear. What can you do?

      If we do not perform this important public service, the world may not recognize its many literary layers.

      And, so, it is forever forward! On our tireless (sometimes rearing) steeds…over the Alps, and beyond! 😉

  7. Margo July 25, 2010 at 2:55 pm #

    Elegant post. And what a talented translation of EO! How did you happen to come across it?
    PS Had no idea that you and Alexander Sergeevich were on a first-name basis.

    • jenny July 25, 2010 at 8:53 pm #

      M: At Arzamas we’re all on a first-name basis. Vasya Zhukovsky sends his best, says you’re late with membership dues.

  8. lyndabirde July 25, 2010 at 8:52 pm #

    Love your collage, Jenny, of your margarita moments! Where oh where has Parasha gone? As P-kin’s old man in the Gypsies says, “What has been cannot be again.” I like Thomas’s comment, for I wonder which comes first–the history (whoever’s version) or the art.

    Perhaps it’s in a different vein, but my monumentally best friend, Roman, was in NO, cleaning up in one of those suits of can’t-touch-that, pulling out bodies of folks, the scrawny and the hefty, dogs, cats, and cows. Ugly, for sure. He said the trick was to try to get the body into a bag without all of its innards falling all over because of disintegration. Later, when the workers (brown people who spoke Spanish) cleaned up and went to a fast food joint for chicken, they were refused service. Some things we try to bury decently, but contamination resurfaces.

    Jenny, you always bring light, even if it’s to see what we don’t want to see; if we’re offended by seeing the rearing horse’s testicles, we can always move to different bench to contemplate how we’ll do better next time.

  9. jenny July 26, 2010 at 6:58 am #

    Lynda, last night I read your comments about Roman’s experiences in NOLA and I was stopped in my tracks. I couldn’t think of what to say in response. I still can’t. It’s horrific.

    Thank you for reading and writing.

  10. Jena July 26, 2010 at 10:23 pm #

    This is my favorite method of “doing” history: rhizomatic associations, following the clash of coincidences between past and present. Thanks Jenny!

    • jenny July 27, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

      Jena, rhizomatic is now my new favorite word. Thanks!

  11. Cheri August 1, 2010 at 11:13 pm #

    Hi Jenny,
    Your presence is requested at Richard’s place to comment on the latest Jane Austen parody.

    We are all waiting for your kind reply.

  12. dafna August 3, 2010 at 12:14 pm #

    hi jenney,

    the title of your blog is perfect! it seems to fit both your creative process and writing style.

    cheri and jenny – the mutual admiration club must continue, even expand.it has brought me much enjoyment to see cheri so animated and jenny start her own blog.

    instead of a contest, boo, hiss, i would like to suggest a mutual homage in blog form. would it be possible for you each to write one entry in the others style?

    this would be a challenge and amazing to read!

  13. jenny August 3, 2010 at 1:05 pm #

    Thanks, Daphna. The sweat is reality; the sprezzatura is aspirational.

    I wait, wait, wait for you to begin a blog. 🙂

  14. dafna August 4, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    in blogs as in life, a non-response IS a response…

    but i’m going to push it!

    jenny, cheri, “would you be willing to write one entry in the others style” as an homage?

    • jenny August 4, 2010 at 5:16 pm #

      Dafna, you are a dear to persist. I wasn’t silent out of lack of interest; just overwhelmed lately. Let me talk to Cheri about it. It’s a great idea. 🙂

    • jenny August 4, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

      And, actually, allow me to push a bit too: Where is your blog???

      • dafna August 6, 2010 at 8:22 pm #

        thank you for nudging… but you are nudging in the wrong direction.

        i am far too busy being a pin cushion for doctors and a test dummy for pharmaceuticals.

        would you be interested in the very part-time position of “official nudger”? there’s an opening.

  15. jenny August 7, 2010 at 6:53 am #

    @daphna–I am happy to nudge in any direction at any time. Hang in there.

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Gaze Capturing and Contractual Expectations « sweat and sprezzatura - August 5, 2010

    […] and Amze’s visit, just after I had written about an equestrian statue in New Orleans, reminded me that it was she who really got me thinking […]

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