Academic journal article African American Review

Two Views of New Orleans

Academic journal article African American Review

Two Views of New Orleans

Article excerpt

My first knowledge of the great Mississippi came as a child when my father packed us into the family car on Sunday nights for the ritual drive down to Canal Street. This was a big thrill, for Canal Street was a spectacular delight of decorative lights, dazzling store windows, people waiting at streetcar and bus stops for rides out to their isolated neighborhoods.

Then Dad would head for the foot of Canal Street, which was the Mississippi River. Here, at the docks, right beside the L&N train station, he would park and we would get out. I always raced to the edge of the dock to stare at the strange, muddy currents of the river, which was wide enough to be a lake. I would look up - and downriver, to the very edge of its sharp bends, as if I might fathom the past hidden beyond the curve downriver, the future upriver. To me, the river was the oldest living person in New Orleans. It was the great highway out into the world beyond streetcars; its opening began with the ferry to Algiers. I always wanted to ride that ferry, but we never did. The sound of austere ships' horns was enough to trigger my imaginary trips into the out there, for I knew the river in New Orleans led to anywhere and everywhere.

Even now in deep dream I am walking always at night, the Canal Street of my childhood, headed for the river and its ferry. I suppose it will always be there, deeply ridged into the earth of my subconscious, containing hidden understandings of wherever I've been and wherever I might go. …

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