|CentreTerm in New Orleans lets the good times roll
RELEASED: Feb. 10, 2005
DANVILLE, KYAs usual, January saw Centre College students disperse to every corner of the globe as they embarked on their three-week CentreTerm courses. From Ecuador to India, from Russia to Australia, students studied region-specific academic topics and absorbed the local color.
One group may not have traveled as far as some of the others, buthaving spent 10 days in New Orleanswas certainly a contender for having had the most fun. In the process, they learned about a city with as great a literary heritage as any in America.
For his course, "Literary New Orleans," English professor Mark Lucas and 24 Centre students traveled to the Big Easy, soaking up the distinctive ambience and making pilgrimages to literary sites, both real and imagined. Prior to leaving for New Orleans, Lucas says his students watched A Streetcar Named Desire and had to "frontload huge amounts of literature in order to be knowledgeable" about the locales they visited in the literary capital of the South.
Outside of New York, there is perhaps no more "storied" American city than New Orleans, which figured prominently in the work of many writers, including Tennessee Williams, William Faulkner, Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, John Kennedy Toole, Zora Neale Hurston, Truman Capote and Walker Percy.
Evoking the Beat style of Jack Kerouac, for whom New Orleans served as a prime destination in his classic novel On the Road, Lucas offers this catalog of Crescent City memories: "Students called on stage at Rampart Street jazz club, given mojo balls by voodooistes, sprayed by spit valves at Preservation Hall, certified as Cajun dancers on zydeco night, passing [the] bucket for Big Al the bluesman, invited to feed giraffes at Audubon Zoo, riding the Tennessee Williams streetcar, closing down Tipitina's, buying books in Faulkner's house, eating creole shrimp at Arnaud's and beignets at Café du Monde and muffelettas at Napoleon House, playing a scene from John Kennedy Toole's A Confederacy of Dunces in Pirates Alley, finding bones in Lafayette Cemetery, taking the river ferry to Algiers, going to Mass at St. Louis Cathedral, commandeering a hardhat from Kate Chopin's wrought-iron fence, staging an impromptu Mardi Gras masquerade, holding class in a bar, walking the ruins of Storyville, and joining the second line of a jazz funeral."
Apparently, sleep was not a big part of the agenda.
Will Rouse, a senior from Lexington, Ky., had been to New Orleans previously, but always on quick weekend trips that highlighted such tourist hotspots as Bourbon Street. He says he was happy for the chance to see the city as a whole, and "not just as this sleazy, drunken single street." Rouse says he loved the food and the music and was especially drawn to the Frenchman Street neighborhood, an area with a few small clubs where one of the Neville Brothers might sit in on an informal jam session. Rouse was grateful that Lucas had insisted on the class memorizing the streets of the French Quarter, and points out the disorienting nature of the city's layout. "Because the city curves along the river, there's really no north, south, east and westonly upriver and downriver," he says.
One student, Mary Jane Saunier, a sophomore from Winchester, Ky., had a brush with fame when she bumped into singer/actress Jessica Simpson, who was in town shooting a remake of The Dukes of Hazzard. After Saunier complimented Simpson's outfit, Simpson chatted with her about where to find the best shopping bargains on Magazine Street. "She was very sweet about it," says Saunier. Later that evening, Saunier and others from the Centre group hung out with Simpson and her entourage at the W Hotel.
Whitney Owen, a junior from Paducah, Ky., was impressed by the "atmosphere of extremes: the loud debauchery and wild antics of the tourists on Bourbon Street contrast so sharply with
the homeless begging for spare change, the wasted and unfortunate lurking in doorways." She says she reveled in this sense that "anything and everything has a place in New Orleans," adding "I left the city feeling that it had left its mark on me, that I'd absorbed some of that strange energy."
Karen Biscopink, a sophomore from Loveland, Ohio, adds that "at night, when Bourbon Street lights up, and there are parades winding down Dauphine Street for no apparent reason, and the musicians hit those first jazz chords ... something comes alive inside of you that you can't find anywhere else."
"Merely reading works by such gifted authors as Faulkner, Williams and Hurston is a luxury," says Chelsi Warner, a sophomore from Lexington, Ky., "but to be able to truly fathom the inspiration behind these works you have to visit their birthplace."
Hillary Eason, a sophomore from Johnson City, Tenn., agrees. "We walked on the same streets as the authors we read, ate the same foods they ate and woke up to the same distinctive French Quarter scent, which helped me gain a new appreciation for the way of life that could inspire such an extraordinary body of literature. And seeing that the historic places we visited were still vital parts of the community really underscored, in a way that class discussion never could, the sense of joie de vivre that was so integral to what we were studying. The class discussions were great, but it's hanging out at Tennessee Williams' old haunt that I'll never forget. Which is what, I think, the authors we studied would want."
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