Knowing what it means to miss New Orleans isn’t about the tourist stuff.
Knowing what it means…
It’s not always about Bourbon Street and Jackson Square. In so many ways, knowing what it means to miss New Orleans isn’t all that different from how others miss home. Bostonians don’t miss their “dirty water” as much as they miss a cannoli from a bakery in the North End, or sitting out on the sidewalk at a cafe in the Back Bay. You can make a list of similar experiences all over.
What struck me after two trips to Colorado over the last two weeks was conversation. I’ve been a denizen of coffee shops since the early aughts. After two-three weeks on the road, I sat down in a local place. I listened. I wrote. I regenerated my NOLA. A friend of mine would say, my New Orleans/Gentilly/Yat speech pattern neutralized when I was away for a couple of weeks, then returned within a couple of days at home.
It’s the best way to pick up a neighborhood vibe. Go to coffee shops in different neighborhoods for contrast. The PJ’s Coffee on Canal Blvd. attracts a different crowd than the CC’s on Esplanade. The former is a nexus of whyte people from Lakeview and cops. The latter is a gathering place for black movers, shakers, and influencers. Both teach you what it means.
Coffee shops in #themetrys also contribute to the whole. Those places are angrier now. With The Former Guy out of office, his voters in Jefferson Parish aren’t happy people. That leaves a dark aura over the coffee shops. While it’s helpful for writers to experience and understand the anger, those vibes also contribute to downward mood swings.
Lakeview and Faubourg St. John are quite different from the Quarter, Marigny, and the “sliver along the river.” Many black writers bring out the less-familiar parts of the city, as they relate experiences from growing up outside the white, middle-class areas that ignored and rejected them. Go sit out at the PJ’s Coffee by Lakefront Arena. Eavesdrop on SUNO faculty and UNO students while there. You’ll find a totally different world than hanging out on Oak Street, Uptown.
Soldier litanies are common timing and coping mechanisms
Timing mechanisms are useful for folks in many professions. Invoking the deity is quite common as well, particularly among military personnel in stressful situations. That’s why it wasn’t surprising to me when an ex-military character on “FBI Most Wanted” used “Mother of Sorrow” as a litany.
If you were raised in a religious household, you may know one or more litanies connected to your family’s faith. Catholics in particular are able to recite numerous parts of the Mass that they said over and over and over as children, weekly, if not more often. That’s why following the Star Wars line, “May the Force be with you,” with, “And with Your Spirit,” strikes the Catholic funny bone.
Then there’s the Rosary. While kids attending Catholic school don’t pray the rosary as often as older generations, those that did have it stuck in their heads forever. A Catholic child got their first rosary beads when they made their First Communion in second grade or so. They prayed a decade (ten Hail Marys) before class in many schools. Say the Hail Mary that often, well, you get the idea. The rosary has potential for numerous soldier litanies.
The most memorable example of using a religious litany as a timing mechanism is in the book/movie, “A Bridge Too Far.” In the push by the US 82nd Airborne Divison to take the Waal River Bridge at Nijemegen, Netherlands, then-Captain Julian Cook led an assault to the far side of the bridge by boat. To keep timing while paddling, he said, over and over, “Hail Mary, full of grace…” Soldier litanies help focus and keep those reciting them alive.
Prayer as timing assistant happens to this day.
Mother of Sorrows
One of the ways folks pray the rosary is to reflect on the “Mysteries” of Mary, Joyful, Sorrowful, and Glorious. They’re a great way to take a long, meditative prayer even longer. So, when a former Army sniper with mental health issues invoked “Mother of Sorrows” on the FBI show, it wasn’t a big surprise. He repeats “Mother of Sorrow” over and over, while loading rounds into a magazine. It’s a particularly dark reference. While non-religious and/or non-Catholic folks may roll their eyes, if you recited the rosary as a kid, it’s less odd than you think.
Of course, it doesn’t fit for a guy loading up a weapon of human destruction to reference the Joyful or Glorious items. Sorrows strike the dark chord. I got it immediately, but my memories of this particular visualization of Mary was fuzzy. I was always more of a positive/happy Catholic than a suffering Catholic. So, I needed to look back on Our Lady of Sorrows. This image is the first thing that hits you on Wikipedia:
This is “Seven Swords Piercing the Sorrowful Heart of Mary” in the Church of the Holy Cross, Salamanca, Spain. It’s a particularly violent and dark image. When you stop and think about it, though, it’s reflective of the grief of a mother. Four of the seven sorrowful mysteries touch upon the Crucifixion of Christ, from his mother’s perspective. Women will tell you, many would rather suffer and die than see their children come to harm. All of a sudden, an incredibly violent statue of a woman being pierced by swords hits home.
I’m not sure how this will all fit into a story, but it may well. Catholic themes pop up at odd times for me as a writer.
Rail travel inspiration offers fertile ground for writing ideas
Rail travel inspiration
I wrote an article for NOLA History Guy last week on “Hickory Creek,” a 1948-vintage railcar built for the New York Central’s “20th Century Limited” train. The car operates in charter service, pulled behind Amtrak trains. I saw it leaving New Orleans, behind the Amtrak Crescent. The Crescent travels from New Orleans to New York City. I included the poster above, as a bit of a flashback. It flashed to me, even if nobody else follows along!
Grand Central Terminal in the 1950s
My thoughts go back to 1950, but not necessarily to the New York Central. While Grand Central Terminal was A Big Deal to the railroad, their trains connected Chicago to New York, not the South. So, for the South, it’s Southern Railway and Louisville and Nashville. They brought the Crescent and other trains up from New Orleans. Replace the 20th Century Limited in that poster with the Crescent and it’s a New Orleans story! Additionally, a story doesn’t have to be limited to a single train trip.
The romance of train travel
This New York Central poster shows a 4-6-4 “Hudson” steam engine, pulling the 20th Century Limited. While most steam locomotives presented a lot of exposed rods, gears, and machinery, the railroad covered all that up for their signature train. So, the streamline look of those engines increased the romance aspect of a trip to Chicago.
Switching to diesel continues rail travel inspiration
The railroad switched the 20th Century Limited to diesel locomotives in 1945. The Electro-Motive Division of General Motors sold “E” units to the New York Central. The railroad ordered new cars, “trainsets” as well. Those entered service in 1948. That’s where Hickory Creek comes in.
Imagine a regular traveler on the 20th Century Limited, settling into a sleeping compartment in one of those new cars. Or, maybe a couple from Jersey, taking a trip to the Lake Michigan shore. While those visuals aren’t Southern, they’re still inspiring! So many possibilities!
Jesuits in New Orleans
Jesuits in New Orleans have a rich history
While there are a number of my friends who attended Brother Martin High School who don’t see the need to recognize Jesuits in any way, there are times when they make good characters. You can’t deny the mystique of the Society of Jesus. The current pope is a Jesuit, and the order has a fascinating past. In fiction, the Jesuits are sometimes depicted as revolutionaries, colonizers, politicians, and diplomats. The order is holy, spiritual, committed to education, and shadowy. In his novel The Sum of All Fears, Tom Clancy’s leading man, Jack Ryan, has a Jesuit for a mentor. Do the Jesuits use one-time cypher pads and encryption software? Do they communicate back to Rome in Ancient Greek? It sounds out there, but it didn’t blow up my willing suspension of disbelief.
In fiction set in New Orleans, it makes sense to include Jesuit-educated characters. Many of my fellow Crusaders express disdain for “that school on Carrollton and Banks,” as Brother Jean Sobert, SC, branded Jesuit High School. Still, they went on to university at Jesuit institutions, such as Loyola University New Orleans. Loyola’s School of Law produces a large portion of our local legal community. Yes, you can write a local story that excludes the Jesuits, that leaves out a lot of local color/flavor.
Jesuits with Talents?
So, my Talents universe needed some Jesuits. Thing is, how do you tell a Jesuit priest from, say, your typical diocesan priest, tending his flock in a parish in metro New Orleans? They all wear black with the Roman collar. The Brothers of the Sacred Heart used to wear large, pectoral crosses back in the 1970s. They now have a unique cross that includes a simple heart in the design. The Jesuits use stylized versions of the letters IHS as a symbol of the order. IHS = “Iesus Hominum Salvator” – Jesus, the savior of men.
This version of the IHS badge is attributed to the Society’s founder, St. Ignatius Loyola, dating back to 1541.
I Googled around for variations on this theme, and came across an Etsy shop selling a version of the IHS badge they say dates back to the Second French Empire (top). An original is a great item for a young Jesuit to wear.
Sainthood – Championing the cause
The political intricacies of the Roman Catholic Church are easy fodder for writers. One specific segment of church politics is sainthood. Putting forward a potential saint’s “cause” is complicated. It requires professionals, canon lawyers who understand the rules and regulations. That’s just the actual process. The outside influences offer a wide range of story possibilities. Who benefits from the canonization of a saint? Who is harmed by the completion of the cause?
Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM
So, for YatPundit, I wrote an article this morning about the cause of Fr. Mychal Judge, OFM. He was a chaplain of the New York Fire Department who died during the rescue efforts on September 11, 2001. Go read about his cause and the man. He was an incredible human. If he is canonized, Judge becomes the first “Gay Saint.” Sure, there is no doubt there were homosexuals canonized by the church. Judge, however, was a man who was “out” but celibate. He admitted he was a sexual being who kept his priestly vows. His cause makes for uncomfortable conversations within the confines of the church.
The intrigue here has so much potential. Causes for canonization usually originate in the prospective saint’s home town. So, the intrigue happens at different levels. Perhaps a local groups supports the cause, but a local pastor or bishop rejecs the notion. If the cause gets to Rome, perhaps there’s more friction at the church’s nexus? So many opportunities for technical scenes, arguing over Canon Law. Meetings with bishops and cardinals. Introduce direct papal influence?
Or maybe just keep the whole thing local. An activist rejects the notion that a guy he knew in high school is a saint, and resorts to criminal activity to scuttle a proposal to construct a shrine to the potential saint in the parish church.