Spirits of Place: New Orleans

By James Sallis

Whenever I think of it, I think of line upon line of ghosts stretching far into the past.  The ghostly shush of boats ferrying slaves across the river from the holding pens to the Quarter, the calls of auctioneers, the sound of African music in Congo Square.  Buddy Bolden’s trumpet that you could hear, they said, a mile away.  Juleps on the veranda in seersucker suits uptown and block after block of strip clubs down.

I think of rain falling through trees, the smell of magnolia blossoms, the shredded lettuce on po-boys, the presence of that river you’re never far from.  Rules and language from the world beyond have little purchase.  Here, there are no compass points; only uptown, downtown, riverside, lakeside.

I think of palm trees down like barricades across St. Charles and Carrollton following a hurricane, of our Miata going under in one of the brief floods, its headlight covers opening and closing as though appealing for help.

I think of ghosts of self, too.  That 17-year-old freshly escaped from the dreary fertile Delta land of Arkansas, who arrived one hot summer to study at Tulane.  That impossibly callow young man sitting in a dorm room plinking out his first, impossible notes on a Sears guitar.  Or another young man who looked much like those two returning just after his first book was published.

And now, I suppose, I think also of my own horde of ghosts: ghosts of the New Orleans I knew.  But whenever I think of it, I think of New Orleans – still, after all the ravages of self and of city – as home.

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Breaking WavesJames Sallis is one of the contributors to Breaking Waves. His new novel, The Killer Is Dying, will be out in May from Walker.  Filming of his novel Drive begins this month in L.A.,with a great script, Nicolas Winding Refn aboard as director, and an astonishing cast: Ryan Gosling, Bryan Cranston, Carey Mulligan, Albert Brooks, Oscar Isaac, Christina Hendricks.  The six Lew Griffin novels are in development as well, most likely for a miniseries, with plans to shoot in New Orleans.

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