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The Joys of Art

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Told you they wanted our culture

JAMES GILL: No sympathy across the pond
The notion that New Orleans does not deserve to be saved is gaining currency in some quarters, but nowhere is the animus against us more virulent then among our British cousins, if the newspapers are any guide.

Perhaps it is unfair to judge a people by its columnists, for whom an ignorance of the facts is frequently no impediment to the _expression of strong opinions. But nobody who reads such prestigious national newspapers as the Times and the Independent will be encouraged to view our plight with sympathy or good will.

They hate us not just for our shortcomings but for what we have thought were our contributions to civilization. According to a happy soul named Bruce Anderson in the Independent, for instance, "Creole cuisine is grossly overrated while the sole merit of jazz is to be less cacophonous than blues."

New Orleans brought its woes on itself because it is "founded on laziness, irresponsibility and lawlessness," according to Anderson, from whose bile not even Bienville is safe.

Founding the city was the first in a long series of mistakes that led to the devastation of Katrina, Anderson writes.

"Where did the money go?" he asks, suggesting, without bothering with such tedious detail as evidence, that corrupt state and local officials are responsible for the inadequacy of the levees.

Louisiana politicians may be famously light-fingered, but surely the feds would have noticed if they had allocated money for a Category Five levee and wound up with a Category Three.

Anderson's column might be dismissed as just a sloppy piece of work from a nasty piece of work were its sentiments not shared in the Times, no less, where one Martin Samuel concludes, "All that remains of the city is the legacy of benign neglect. Perhaps better it stays washed away than rises once more with sickness at its failing heart."

Samuel, who berates other journalists for failing to see New Orleans as it really is, assures his readers that it is a no-go area, save for a "tiny, claustrophobic tourist trap," There is no minimum wage in New Orleans, according to Samuel, who must be under the impression that federal laws do not apply in Louisiana.

If anyone in England could be forgiven for being down on New Orleans, it might be Ray Davies, the distinguished songwriter and leader of the Kinks. Davies, on one of his frequent trips to New Orleans, was shot by a mugger last year and taken to Big Charity. New Orleans is the best place to be shot, Davies writes in a guest column in the Times, because the doctors have had a lot of practice.

Davies knows a great deal more about New Orleans than the regular scribes, and has more kindness in his soul, although he is frank about crime and our other shortcomings, recalling his sense last year that "something disastrous was on the cards" because "the whole infrastructure was very fragile."

"The reality is that without its music, New Orleans would have been forgotten long ago," Davies avers. Well, we are not entirely irrelevant to the economy of the United States, having been a major port since long before the Civil War, but let us by all means admit that the fame of the city has largely rested on music since the dawn of the jazz age. How many other cities have had such an impact on the culture of the planet?

This is not just harking back to King Oliver and Louis Armstrong, for the scene remains vibrant today. That is why Davies declines to join the chorus that would send us to perdition. "If New Orleans is allowed to die, a crucial part of the world's musical heritage will disappear," he writes.

Samuel does not agree, and makes the astounding claim that the English county of Essex produces "more good bands than New Orleans."

Bravo to Essex, but we are not ready for the scrap heap yet. Our detractors are right to suggest that society is in a parlous condition here, with such a large underclass mired in desperation and violence. But this is not a city without grace and elegance, and we are surely entitled, even in the United Kingdom, to have our common humanity acknowledged.

You are NOT going to take our culture away from us you fucking bastards!!!!!


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