Isn’t it time for Mardi Gras already, please

I miss New Orleans. It’s been ten years since I saw it. Missing New Orleans is not a particularly admirable emotion in me. I’m the kind of pure tourist who misses what is vanished: the magic, the ancient, the fear.

The Princess and the Frog was a terrific movie for saps like me. Listen to the villain song in French, which sounds for all the world like the original language, and tell me you don’t want to go the hell down there right now. There are better constructed and better loved Disney princess movies, but I will always have a special place in my heart for the only one that contains the line, “Go ‘long! Y’all from Shreveport?”

A far better choice for anyone who loves New Orleans as it was is now free on the internet. Gumbo Ya-Ya, a compilation of folk tales, life stories, and gris-gris, was assembled by the Louisiana Writers’ Program and published in 1945, by which time much of the folk memory on which the book was based had already died out. I got ahold a copy of it in sixth grade, at a time when I was suffering from bullies. Vividly I remember the time I spent pausing and trembling over one of the curses in the Appendix:

To harm a person in any way you may wish, write his name three times on a piece of paper and burn a black candle on it on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Whatever you wish will happen to him.

I got everything together that I needed, and yet at the last I could not bear to call down the Devil on Jimmy Thomas in room 6C, for I had also heard that whatever you invoked would return to you times nine.

Strangely, now, I miss the Devil – or rather, I miss how it was when I believed in the Manichean dualism of a world with the forces of God and of the Devil. It would be a warmer world with his great coils writhing beneath the surface.

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