On the day after Christmas, I wandered the French Quarter. Jazz and street performers and strollers and couples carrying beer down the narrow lanes. Christmas decorations and humidity and 80-degree heat. People from all over the country and all over the world, converging on a slice of NOLA like ants on bit of powdery-sugary beignet. As tourists, we needed to see this bit of New Orleans. The place people go to celebrate and revel and buy things. To gather.
Sitting in a cafe, with my daughter, eating a beignet and sipping a latte, I thought about a bit of history I read in New Orleans (Wildsam Field Guides).
From “Le Code Noir” 1714:
XIII: We forbid slaves belonging to different masters to gather in crowds either by day or night, under the pretext of a wedding, or for any other cause…under penalty of corporal punishment, which shall not be less than the whip. In the case of frequent offenses of the kind, the offenders shall be branded with the mark of the fleur-de-lis.
Now, of course, the fleur-de-lis has other meanings, too–of NOLA’s comeback after Katrina. Of strength in the worst times.
It symbolizes the lily, and French royalty.
And I always just thought it pretty—symbolizing light, and life, and perfection. Like Jean d’arc. And lilies. I do love lilies.
How you view history, and reality, depends on seeing past what you want to see. Point of view, I’ve learned from writing fiction, is critical.
Like the carefully made-up, carefully preserved older white lady who squeezed past our table at the café and remarked, with (somehow) a bright smile and a simultaneous expression of repressed distaste, “My! Such a…diverse crowd!”
Perhaps if she only wants to look in a mirror, she might just stay at home. I say that as a recovering mirror-gazer. I think I’ll try, hard as I can, to wonder as I wander, so I might just begin to see past the fiction in the history I was taught.