golen pens and ink on notebook

New Orleans

Karin Kallmaker Craft of Writing, Tunnel of Light


This afternoon I was thinking of all the characters we know and love who will never walk the same streets of New Orleans again.

As assessments of “months, years, decades” begin to flow in I have to ask myself where Mickey Knight will go to live? And what will JM Redmann do, not just about her own home but about something probably nearly as dear – her creative wellspring? What will all the writers do who have used the mystique of New Orleans for creative fodder? And what about the musicians for whom those streets were like no other?

And coming in on the party barge on the land of Denial, it was only this afternoon that there is no “present day New Orleans” any longer, and even when the city resurrects itself again, as it has several times in 300 years, it will not be the same Bourbon Street, the same bayous.

The effect on my outline for Forge of Virgins is profound. One of two Ursaline Convents in the U.S. is under about fifteen feet of water. Granted, it’s one of the better built structures in the Quarter, but the Quarter isn’t there anymore. Looking at the aerial shots of the city and knowing how precarious its hold on structural integrity already was, I can’t believe most of the structures in the Quarter (let alone the rest of the city) won’t be condemned and eventually demolished.

Perhaps I am being pessimistic. At a minimum, when things are rebuilt they will not be rebuilt the same way. They’re be structurally more sound, artistically less interesting, and vacant of that undeniable mystique of a haunted place. Even the new ghosts will lose ground when steel and glass replace wood and brick.

After taking in the enormous loss of life and property, it just occurred to me this afternoon that there are yet more layers of loss because New Orleans was not just any city. Any work of fiction featuring the city as it was 3 days ago is instantly dated, and I can’t fathom yet how a novel not yet written could feel undated to a reader who knows the place where the novel is set no longer exists. New Orleans has no parallel for music, sin, magic, counter culture and historical pastiche.

Maybe, as the water finally recedes in a couple of months, things won’t look so bleak – maybe we haven’t lost a major American city for decades. At a minimum we’ve lost the character of the old New Orleans and one of the richest sources of creative inspiration on the planet. This afternoon, as I thought about it all, the pen suddenly seemed very hard to pick up.