“Betcha I can tell ya / Where ya / Got them shoooes. / Betchadollar, / Betchadollar, / Where ya / Got them shoooes. / Got your shoes on your feet, / Got your feet on the street, / And the street’s in Noo / Awlins, Loo- / Eez-ee-anna. Where I, for my part, first ate a live oyster and first saw a naked woman with the lights on. . . . Every time I go to New Orleans I am startled by something.”
So writes Roy Blount Jr. in this exuberant, character-filled saunter through a place he has loved almost his entire life—a city “like no other place in America, and yet (or therefore) the cradle of American culture.” Here we experience it all through his eyes, ears, and taste buds: the architecture, music, romance (yes, sex too), historical characters, and all that glorious food.
The book is divided into eight Rambles through different parts of the city. Each closes with lagniappe—a little bit extra, a special treat for the reader: here a brief riff on Gennifer Flowers, there a meditation on naked dancing. Roy Blount knows New Orleans like the inside of an oyster shell and is only too glad to take us to both the famous and the infamous sights. He captures all the wonderful and rich history—culinary, literary, and political—of a city that figured prominently in the lives of Jefferson Davis (who died there), Truman Capote (who was conceived there), Zora Neale Hurston (who studied voodoo there), and countless others, including Andrew Jackson, Lee Harvey Oswald, William Faulkner, Tennessee Williams, Jelly Roll Morton, Napoléon, Walt Whitman, O. Henry, Thomas Wolfe, Earl Long, Randy Newman, Edgar Degas, Lillian Hellman, the Boswell Sisters, and the Dixie Cups.
Above all, though, Feet on the Street is a celebration of friendship and joie de vivre in one of America’s greatest and most colorful cities, written by one of America’s most beloved humorists.
This book, a walking tour of the Big Easy, is another installment in the publishers' Crown Journeys. For me, it was a trip back to a city that I love and that means so much to me.
It's all here, from beignets at Cafe du Monde to the street kid who approaches the obvious out-of-towner with this line: "Betcha' I can tell you where you got your shoes?" In between we stroll through the sex and sin of Bourbon Street and the verdant splendor of Audubon Park and the Garden District.
This book will suffer, of course, due to some unbelievably bad timing for the author and the publisher. Still, I found this read to be like visiting with an old friend. The New Orleans depicted in this slim volume is the one I remember and love, the one I believe will soon be again. In spite of the destruction and death of Hurricane Katrina there is fresh hope: Cafe du Monde began serving coffee and chickory again after the longest delay of business in their 150 history. Also, the American Library Association announced days ago that they will go ahead with plans to shop the Crescent City for their annual meeting.
The opening and ending of the book, with its ominous foretelling of the Big One and what it would do to the city wasn't enough to chase me away from the laughs to be found within. I'd tell most anyone to pick this book up.
I love New Orleans, but only know it as an infrequent visitor. I love to read books about New Orleans for more in depth, inside information. That is just what the author offers in this compact book. He offers up the flavor, the mixed history, the impressions you'd get walking down street of one of the most well-known, least understood cities. The author doesn't offer justification or explanation, he just tells it like he has experienced it. I like it that way.
Roy Blount, Jr. chose a slightly different approach in this latest addition to Crown Journeys' travelogue series. Instead of a straight forward description of New Orleans' attractions, Blount takes the reader on an "emotional" journey by tying various locations to memories of his time spent in the city. When it works, it is very evocative in portraying New Orleans' distinctive character. In those successful passages, one can almost feel the humidity dripping off the page and smell New Orleans' unique scent. However, when it doesn't work (like in the chapter about some of the "friends" Blount remembers), it comes off as self-indulgent drivel. The result is a very uneven book.
For those whose recollections of New Orleans weren't influenced too strongly by alcohol, Feet on the Street will bring back good memories of arguably the most distinct city in the United States. Still, even those who have a familiarity with New Orleans may have trouble relating to some of Blount's musings. Those who have no familiarity with the city will probably not enjoy the book, simply because they won't be able to put a frame of reference to the places Blount mentions. Consequently, readers trying to discover New Orleans' special qualities via the written word should probably pass up Feet on the Street.
I was willing to ignore glaring errors in this book such as Voodoo not being capitalized as with any religion, the statement that Marie Laveau the second was the famous Voodoo queen (when it was actually the first, her mother), calling a sno-ball a snow-cone... so many details. I was willing to ignore all of these pretty huge mistakes until I read what he had to say about my former employer and place of employment on pages 80 and 140.
If he'd bother to ask a few questions, he may have discovered that these highschool band kids often run into "cheesy clubs" such as the Tropical Isle and steal money off the bar. He may have discovered that the "fat white man" who ran out of the bar to "shoo" (trust me when I say Mr. Earl does not shoo anyone) these poor unfortunates away is a champion of local music and culture. That when he found out that the Chicken Man's (local character who used to sell incense to the bartenders and tourists and who earned his moniker by biting the heads off live chickens in a 1950's nightclub act) ashes were sitting on a shelf in a local funeral home because his daughter couldn't afford to pay for the cremation, he paid not only for the ashes, but a full funeral complete with a second line that had Bourbon street immobilized for the entire day. That the Handgrenade man is usually someone that he's rescued from homelessness by giving him a job that pays well, the opportunity for promotion and often an apartment. That his employees stay with him for years and not only because of the high pay, medical, dental, 401k and life insurance he pays a great deal of money for. That the Tropical Isle has hosted as regular performers the likes of Timothea, Jon Gros and Al Miller.
Instead, he chose to imagine a sterotypical greedy white Southern man victimizing the downtrodden youth of color.
Oh and the Handgrenade is not "an icky concoction of rum and sweet syrups." It is quite tasty and hasn't a drop of rum in it.
I never thought a 'travel book' could make me laugh and nod in agreement. Maybe this isn't really a travel book after all.
Blount captures what the city is really like in an almost poetic way from the architecture to the food to the people to the smell. It's all one big intertwined experience; Blount's writing style reflects this making "Rambles Around New Orleans" the perfect subtitle.
The read is a very reflective and visual one and if you haven't been to New Orleans, you may miss the beauty of some of Blounts descriptions. For instance, much of one's experience in New Orleans derides from the group of friends brought along or made there. Chapter ("Ramble") 7 entitled Friends is something of a recount of how different individuals impacted the author while in New Orleans. If you hadn't been to New Orleans and realized that how much you like the city depends on who you were with; you may miss the point of this chapter because it is deliberately only implied.
This book is the best description of New Orleans I know. With that in mind, it's not for everyone. Blount speaks to the reader as a New Orleans veteran. Having some memories of New Orleans makes this read come alive.