Between Piety and Desire

Ignatius J. Reilly and His World

Month: July, 2012

In The Toole Archives

In A Confederacy of Dunces, Toole’s Ignatius refers to a two-page thesis that resides in Tulane University’s Howard Tilton Memorial Library on the third floor in the rare books collections. The third floor there houses part of the regular university stacks, some private study offices, the office for information literacy, and some library personnel offices, but the special collections are not housed there–if they ever were.

Taking fiction for truth, I stumbled blindly out of the heat and humidity to the Tilton Library third floor first. I love sliding around the confusing streets of New Orleans. If my brain were a muscle, New Orleans is imprinted there in it’s muscle memory. Partly, I know my way around the streets and byways, and partly I inuit them. The campus of Tulane is one of the New Orleans places I both know and feel. I taught there for a year in 1995/1996, and going to the campus yesterday, I was on autopilot. I went immediately to Pine Street, slightly off campus, where I parked my car when I worked there. But, to go to the library, I wanted to pull into the street parking within the campus gates right next to Tilton Library–where I discovered that the collections and rare books are housed in Jones Hall, directly across the street, not where Ignatius claimed his two-page thesis resides in Tilton Library. So I re-hoisted my gear and tramped across the street.

I love being in library archives, and despite the respect and care I try to give what I go through there, I’m pretty sure I screw up the order every time I visit a collection. I don’t mean to, but it gets confusing. Half my time is spent figuring out what folders to return items to, despite all my care, mental notes, and attempts to follow the good practices the archivists share for the use of archival material.

And, like the lady in the old New Yorker cartoon who claimed she wanted her son to work in a bank because “It’s so nice and cool in a bank,” Special Collections was like being in a nice and cool bank. Outside, people were dying in the heat and humidity, but I was nearly alone in a big, cool room in a library I love.

I  briefly went through two of the boxes in the Toole Collection. Getting into those items is a joyous experience. I loved seeing the items that, at the time they became the property of Ken Toole, were just the ordinary things belonging to a schoolboy in the 1950s and 1960s, but now have a super-real quality. Everything is a clue to living the very particular life he lived. Everything, or almost everything, is something he touched without thinking they would become historical artifacts. A lot of Toole’s mother, Thelma Ducoing Toole, is everywhere in the collection.

The mere fact that she kept all these things, and kept them together enough to be donated for this collection, is nothing short of a miracle. What would be the detritus of most people’s lives, are special because of her mother’s devotion to the idea her son was a genius. But, whether he was or not, she kept, apparently, everything of his she could get her hands on. Mothers everywhere do this, and it is humbling to become conscious of just how much it means that any mother does such things. It’s miraculous, really. The Toole artifacts survived three hurricanes; Besty, Camille, and Katrina; numerous evacuations, and countless floods. The first year I lived in New Orleans, several feet of water flooded St. Charles Avenue, and I watched the children of the gentry excitedly catch catfish by hand out on the avenue. They survived the heat and humidity of this wet place, the vicissitudes of the comings and goings and purges of spring cleanings, changes of heart and fortune, the furies and temporary passions of family life, and now they reside in relative safety on the second floor of the Jones Building on Tulane campus. Archivists will protect them as well as they can before every evacuation. They’re as safe as they can be in the place they belong. And anyone can go there and touch Toole’s past.

It was apparent from my brief visit, that the archives still have much to yield. My project is limited, though, and the first thing I was struck by were the photographs of Toole in costumes. Any child’s upbringing in New Orleans is influenced by the distinct, local culture of Carnival, Momma, cooking, music, local theater, school theatrical productions. This influence is apparent in some of the photos of Toole as a child dressed in costumes. This was not typical of most children in America. For most American kids, a photo in costume for Halloween–that’s it. Here are a few of the photos of Toole as a child in costumes. The masker. In the last of these, Toole appears to be standing on Canal Street. One of the archivists identified a streetcar in the right side of the photo, and the Roosevelt Hotel is the tall, modern building in the background. Note the streamers on the ground, suggesting the photo was taken after a parade passed.

    

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The Harrigan of the 21st Century

When a few years ago I first heard Mick Moloney talk about Ned Harrigan, the half of the famous early 20th Century team of Harrigan and Hart, who lived to an old age, enjoyed a brilliant career as a showman, and the esteem of everyone who knew him, I thought of Rick Delaup. Delaup has become the Harrigan of the 21st Century. The original Harrigan was the Harrigan of the song:

H, A, double-R, I, G, A, N spells Harrigan

Proud of all the Irish blood that’s in me

Divil’ a man can say a word agin’ me

H, A, double-R, I, G, A, N you see

Is a name that a shame never has been connected with

Harrigan, that’s me!

Last night I saw Rick’s latest Bustout Burlesque show at the House of Blues on Decatur Street. It has become the most entertaining, the most genuinely New Orleans experience to be had in New Orleans. This show is the experience people go to New Orleans hoping to have, but they stumble drunk down Bourbon Street instead because most don’t know about the series of sold-out variety shows Rick produces in New Orleans. The show is an all-out hit with locals and the few visitors who know about it. Over the years, I’ve seen the show grow from rough to polished. It’s ready for Broadway. But it would never be on Broadway. Rick took the show to Las Vegas once, but if you want to see it, you pretty much have to go to New Orleans.

This sign sits beside the HOB box office on performance nights. Rick managing things in the line waiting for the doors to open, below.

Below, after the curtains open, the jazz band plays briefly to bring the audience to attention for the show to start.

The multi-talented Athena sings and dances.

Dr. Sick was the emcee and performed a variety act.


Go Go MacGregor.

Go Go on her bed of nails.

Ashley, the contortionist.

Stormy

Taking their bows.

Rick and friend Tabitha between shows.

“Nothing left but a grease spot.”

Dramatic image of the Hubig’s Pie factory fire.

Before he knew where in the building the Hubig Pie Factory fire started, Rick told me first thing when he got up Friday morning that, “Hubig Pies burned to the ground last night. Nothing left but a grease spot.” Later in the day, the news reported that the fire started in the fry area at about 4:30 AM–not making Rick prescient, but where else would a fire start in a fried pie factory? I was a block away from the Hubig factory just hours before the fire. If I had remembered that the factory was in the vicinity where I was photographing, I would have wandered over and gotten a shot. I would have wanted a photograph of that sign, anyway. I drove past it many times when I stayed in the Bywater one summer. At night, the spectral ghost of the blue neon against the pale brick building created quite a good effect. The factory was right in the middle of the working class Marigny neighborhood, surrounded by colorful, shuttered, and mostly rundown shotgun houses with tw0-step front stoops.

Hubig pies are important to Rick because they provided a good supply of them for the goody bags for the performers in the New Orleans Burlesque Festival. The supply of pies was so ample the first three years of the festival, that I got quite a few, too. Hubig’s was generous in providing pies to New Orleans events as promotion and diplomacy, despite the Hubig pie boy lapse in the K Doe effigy episode. Hubig’s certainly weren’t stingy–they believed in the baker’s dozen, plus some. That generosity contributed to the good will that has now left New Orleanians more grief-stricken, and perhaps even more fearful, because of the pie fire than the four murders that took place later on the day the factory burned down.

After the New Orleans Burlesque Festivals, most of my pies ended up in my suitcase and traveled back to the beyond of the Midwest, where they eventually got eaten, flattened as they were. The American diet has become a chemistry wizard’s concoction of ingredients that appeal to the palette and make non-processed food unpalatable by comparison, but Hubig’s used no science. They had everything any Southerner knows you need to make food taste good–fat and sugar. Hubig pies were fried and coated with white sugar icing. The only thing missing is bacon, and, who knows, with the current trend for combining bacon and chocolate and other sweets, maybe Hubig’s was about to come out with a bacon-chocolate pie. They vowed to come back, so maybe they still will.

This sign glowed eerily blue at night, and was about the only light on Dauphine Street, where it glowed comfortably throughout the night.

It’s interesting that Hubig’s, which has been in New Orleans since 1922, started in Texas. The New Orleans operation was an adjunct, but outperformed the Texas business, prompting Hubig’s to close the Texas enterprise and focus on New Orleans. Now, why did Hubig’s pies succeed in New Orleans, but not Texas, where people also like to eat? I heard one of the people on a news interview after the fire say that it was a good product, that you could hold it in your hand, making it perfect for lunch. For lunch?! Surely even in New Orleans it’s uncommon to have a Hubig’s pie for lunch. But you know the local news, and how imprecisely people talk when they’re eulogizing an institution they once took for granted.

I won’t be able to see how Savory Simon is represented now, and by now I mean the day before yesterday, because I never found time to run to the store to buy a Hubig’s pie before the fire. Now there’s not a Hubig’s pie to be found for hundreds of miles. I will endeavor, however, to drive over to the location and photograph the grease spot.

The True Wasteland

“Outside of the city limits the heart of darkness, the true wasteland begins,” Ignatius tells his mother, Irene Reilly, for the umpteenth time, as they wait in the safety of the Night of Joy bar on Bourbon Street. They’d tucked in there to avoid Patrolman Mancuso, and drank a couple of Dixie 45s while waiting. In one simple sentence with one subordinate clause, Toole, in the voice of Ignatius, referred to the titles of the most famous literary works of two of the most brilliant writers in the English language: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness, and T. S. Elliot’s apocalyptic poem, The Wasteland.

After my last cup of coffee Wednesday night I hurled myself in the 2000 pound missile that is otherwise my car, into the black void of the Causeway toward the north shore. Taking off in the black of night across the Causeway always feels like an act of sheer faith, because you have to believe that the 23 mile bridge will continue to be ahead of you. Aside from occasional taillights ahead, or headlights on the parallel bridge coming toward you, there is little to console you alone in your car in the black night except faith or habit. When I first lived on the North Shore in the 1990s, I had neither, and I often panicked, long after midnight, going north on the causeway, which would be devoid of the signs of humanity, except for the engineering it took to build the structure that you can usually see about 40 feet of on a clear, dark night. On foggy nights, you can’t see taillights ten feet in front of you, and the authorities often close the Causeway to wait for the fogs to lift.

Toole’s exquisite little sentence evokes this modernity-caused angst. The engineers built the Causeway, but Lake Pontchartrain is just deep enough to conjure the kind of wonder in its travelers that brings up images of an automobile graveyard below the Causeway. It would tell future archaeologists all about the Causeway–when it was first opened to traffic, socio-economic profiles of its travelers, and since you can drive with alcohol in your car, the plastic daiquiri cups, probably down there forming their own plasticene layer in the Lake anyway, would tell on that, too. Only about ten feet of water washes across this probable graveyard, which is about the only one below the surface of the ground, or water, in the New Orleans area.

This sentence also orients the reader to the mindset of the New Orleans locals. The rest of the world may see New Orleans as a center of sin and licentiousness, but there is a hardy, Catholic-centered strain of morality here, too. Many New Orleanians, who wouldn’t seriously consider living anywhere else, do see the world outside the city limits as potential cesspits of corruption, terror, and moral iniquity–and worse, endless boredom. Dorian Greene’s fear of the prospect of having to return to Nebraska to live, is an expression of the New Orleans-centric way the rest of the world lives.

Toole goes into some development in describing the two century-old, 3-story  French Quarter mansion, complete with a third floor for spinster tantes and slave quarters, that Greene’s Nebraska farmer family bought for him sounds exquisite, although it was an abomination and an offense to taste and decency in Ignatius’s mind. In the 1950s, such a house in the dilapidated condition most French Quarter buildings were in in the 1950s could have been bought for a song. Toole says the house had 3 foot thick walls. It was the kind of building built by the French with means in the 18th and 19th Centuries. The structures with thick walls, high ceilings, and shutters were built to maximize the movement of air, keep the air as cool as possible in the New Orleans summers, and as warm as possible in the mild, but often humid, New Orleans winters.

Greene could have decorated it for a song in the 1950s and early 1960s, and ended up with an elegant New Orleans pied a terre. Ignatius thought the house was an abomination, but it sounds beautiful to me. It sounds something like the kind of French Quarter house that Lindy Boggs owns, only more elegant. It also sounds a bit like the Pontalba, the place where Irene Reilly crashed into the iron post holding up a balcony at St. Ann and Chartres Streets, which is certainly part of the Pontalba. The Pontalba, however, was originally built as townhouses, with places for shops on the first floor. In general, this might have provided Toole the inspiration for French Quarter buildings in general, but not be a building that actually exists in the French Quarter. However, I’m not certain. I plan to walk the area tonight.

Jacked Up On Jo And No Place To Go

ImageA soy latte, my second for the day, this one for supper on the drive across the Causeway–and straight to Union Station in New Orleans–the place from which Ignatius launched himself on a ScenicCruiser across the dark and dangerous beyonds outside New Orleans, over primordial swamps, to The Medieval Department at LSU. It’s hard to imagine universities even having such departments these days–even the Classics departments have been given cement shoes for the last couple of decades. The station today looks much as it would have in the 1950s.

ImageAn Oprah Winfrey period piece production added a mote of verisimilitude to my photo excursion. Cars from the period Ignatius roamed the city were parked in the old turnaround, waiting for shooting to begin.

Inside the terminal, which was built as a hub for bus and train traffic, I looked for the “coloreds only” signs for the restrooms that were still visible  when i first saw the station about 1989. I found a man who’d worked there for 32 years. He told me there were never racially separated restroom facilities, and that the Oprah crew were re-creating separated drinking fountains. I remember restrooms marked for “colored” chiseled into the concrete of the place, but our memories play tricks on us. Image

The Union Terminal is a grand old place, with huge black marble slabs, and while the streets around the place is undergoing renovations, the building is much the same as it was when I first saw it, and still much of it is as Ignatius would have seen it when he began his treacherous 60 mile journey to Baton Rouge. When I first drove over the swamps, I was afraid, too. It never seemed that structures, such as pylons supporting causeways poked into the swamp would be overtaken by nature, perhaps before I reached dry land, and cooked into the general slew.

More on my evening of shooting–even the things I dread the most: Bourbon Street, and the other Quarter locations mentioned in Toole’s book–tomorrow. Monday I plan to go to the Tilton Library to look at the Toole collection. I am mostly interested in the photographs because the focus of my ruminations is the culture of the 1950s and 1960s, not Toole. Tomorrow, a cogitation on the representation of Ignatius under the Holmes clock. Here, thanks to Oprah, are some cars to put you in the mood.

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My day ended at Morning Call, where I had the de rigeur chicory cafe au lait, and, heaven forefend–beignets–in Metairie before getting on the Causeway to drive back to Covington. They don’t even serve anything else there. And coffee means cafe au lait. You can put sugar in it at the table, but if you order it black, thinking it’s like the restaurant coffee you get in the midwest, you can’t be prepared for the tar-colored and consistency chicory/coffee blend they will, with warning, bring to the table.

The faces of the employees and customers haven’t changed in this place since I started going there on Saturdays at midnight in 1990 to get a Sunday Times Picayune, a cafe au lait and greasy paper bag of beignets to eat at home while looking through the paper. One cup at midnight didn’t keep me awake, and while I waited for them to prepare it, I watched the old ladies and gents come in after an evening at the Jefferson Ballroom. They’d be wearing something like old people’s versions of prom outfits, ladies in full skirts blooming out from the waist, and gents in oddly colored and tailored dress jackets. They’d primly dust the powdered sugar from their finery, unwilling to give up the custom of coffee and beignets at midnight after the dance, however sugary and sticky it might make their later good night kisses.

Tomorrow, Ignatius’s Paws, or perhaps more on the Morning Call, which is really, to me, the Midnight Siren. And then, fat people abound. Ramblings on those might appear anytime.

Paul Proud Man

Rounding out my taxonomy of NOLA fatties is Paul Prudhomme. Prudhomme gave America a cuisine. Before he made Louisiana cookery famous, and the techniques available to anyone, American cuisine was hamburgers, hot dogs, French fries, and some kind of Sunday dinner of fried chicken or chicken fried steak, a Swiftian, contradictory term for a “dinner” offering I only ate once, mashed potatoes, boiled to a tenderness near rot, and a sweet dessert.

The many parvenus who’ve come since Chef Paul owe much to him, and his wonderful first book, Chef Paul Prudhomme’s Louisiana Kitchen (1984). He developed that rapid-fire method for cooking a roux, demanding concentrated vigilance, organization and preparation, and the ability to detect the state at which a roux reaches that perfect state to gird the sauce for the meat it is meant to accompany. Chef Paul’s book provides a feast of fine photographs of the different stages of roux. Traditionalists may turn up their noses at this departure from the traditional long-cooking roux making, but damn me, when I get that roux going in my whole Iowa neighborhood, if you close your eyes, you’d think you died and went to South Louisiana. Not that most Iowans, bred on German fare that, first and foremost, must have no flavor, would touch the stuff. On the rare occasions I cook, the smells bring back memories of walking through New Orleans neighborhoods at 5 in the afternoon, inhaling the exhiliarating odors of meals being prepared, and wondering just what they were having for supper that made me want to knock at the back doors and beg for food. I learned to cook Louisiana food out of self interest, and maybe self preservation.

ImageI am beginning to feel like I’m doing the theory for a before and after weight loss gimmick because I am going to post a photo of Chef Paul before and after he lost weight. Here is Chef Paul before in a photo from his first book, presenting for you the standards from the Louisiana kitchen–boudin, pickled meat, shrimp, crawfish, berries, nightshade vegetables, potatoes, yams, shrimp, crawfish, and fish. The only thing missing is the butter, lard, and sugar.

But now Chef Paul has shed the weight. He looks much more healthy, and thinner–it is possible to read even more of Louisiana in his face–the dark skin, the knowing smile that also conveys benign good will, and the coarse, once dark hair. He just has that “look” that is so typical of many native New Orleanians (Prudhomme is from Opalousas), and other people from South Louisiana. Image

One last word about Chef Paul, or New Orleans culture, is that the title “Chef” is like an earned doctorate. People append the honorarium here when speaking of any of the entitled chefs–Chef Susan Spicer, Chef Emeril Legasse, Chef Leah Chase. Among the few New Orleans celebrity chefs. And in almost every native household, there is a cook in the kitchen whose productions rival those of the chefs. It is said that a–well, I’ve only heard the word “man”–that “a man can’t be elected to public office if he can’t cook.” That accounts for the ubiquitous jambalaya at every outdoor event of every kind, political or not.

The celebrity chefs came after Chef Paul, but the everyday cooks were a fixture in household in New Orleans when Ignatius was stuffing himself with foot-long hot dogs. A Confederacy of Dunces doesn’t mention much about what was produced in the Reilly kitchen other than Irene’s bottles of muscatel, and the ever-present French drip chicory coffee on the stove next to a pot of “berling” milk. MacLaughlin mentions that the person Ignatius was based on had a lifelong yearning for hot dogs because he was denied them as a boy, and something like this is the only explanation, other than propinquity, to explain why, in New Orleans, anyone would crave hot dogs rather than shrimp po-boys, red beans and rice, crawfish pie, or any other new Orleans staple, including a Hubig’s pie.

ImageThis is the French drip coffee maker that has been in use in homes in South Louisiana since the 19th Century. It isn’t a French press, or an Italian drip style coffee maker. Boiling water is poured into the top chamber over the grounds, and the coffee drips rather quickly over a steel plate with holes. I have no idea what dented up old pot Irene Reilly “berled” her milk in, but she would have made the chicory coffee in one of these. The coffee and “berled” milk are poured at the same time into a single stream in equal proportions into the cup it is  served from. This is the coffee you buy with beignets at Cafe du Monde, or better yet, at the remnants of the old Morning Call next to the news stand in Metairie, just south of the entrance to the 23 mile bridge across Lake Pontchartrain to Mandeville and the North Shore.

Tropes of the Fat Boy

Tropes of the Fat Boy.

Hubigs

Hubig Pies

Savory Simon, a representative of considerable girth.

Tropes of the Fat Boy

When I asked Sander Gilman if he would review my book on the culture of New Orleans at the time Ignatius roamed the earth–even though he’s a fictional character, partly–and even though the book is only notes so far, he agreed immediately, saying, “It’s about time we NOLA fatties had a photospread.”

So, giving him the benefit of the doubt about whether he might be including me in his coterie of NOLA fatties, I took a moment to consider other fat New Orleans characters. Including himself isn’t quite right. He may look well fed, but he’s far from fat, and often looks pretty natty. Sander, that is.

The corridor west of New Orleans that goes from Harahan out to where the bayous become swamps is known around here as “Cancer Alley.” In 2002 the death rate from cancer in Louisiana was the second highest in the nation, and a toxicology report released in 2000 showed that seven of the ten largest plants releasing deadly toxins was in Cancer Alley–and this was before the offshore oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010!

Deadly toxins surely contribute to the high cancer mortality rates in Cancer Alley, but the toxins, once in the human body, thrive in a festival of cancer-related conditions created by the Louisiana diet. High fat, high fried, white flour, Mahatma rice, spice, and plenty of butter, bacon, and bean battle with the heartiest constitution in a death march toward cancer, heart disease, and obesity.

They say a girl can’t get married in New Orleans unless she can answer the following three questions right: 1) are you Catholic?, 2) who’s ya momma?, and 3) can you make a roux? And in LaFayette, what is the main topic of conversation at lunch? What you’re going to have for dinner. I’ve already gotten these terms all mixed up, because lunch and dinner are the meals of urban Northerners, dinner and supper are the meals of the South and rural people. But, you get the picture.

Louisiana cookery may be as deadly as the toxins of Cancer Alley, but it is also heaven. When I lived in New Orleans, I took walks around 5 in the afternoon and smelled what everyone was cooking for supper. If the exercise wouldn’t do the trick, smelling what everyone was having for supper made me hungry. I learned to cook Louisiana food just so I could share in some of the strange, wonderful things they have. The restaurants are nonpareil, but the home cooking is what brought me to the stove. The potato salads, jambalayas, red beans and rice, and gumbos turn up at every outdoor gathering as predictably as the ants. And they show the German, Irish, and other Northern European-invluenced diets of the northern Midwest for the heavy, bland, uninspired American cookery they are. The food, perhaps, gets a little better from the source of the Mississippi in Minnesota to its gush in Louisiana, but in South Louisiana it reaches its apotheosis. Now, when I make Louisiana food, a chicken etouffe, stuffed mirliton or eggplant, or maque choux, my Iowa neighborhood smells like the heaven you would ascend to if you died and went to South Louisiana, but without the cancer alley or consequences of the Louisiana diet.

Who are the NOLA fatties in Sander’s constellation, aside from Ignatius? I can think of two notables with rich histories: Paul Prudhomme and Savory Simon, the Hubig Pie Boy. Chocolate, lemon, apple, cherry, pineapple–I’ve heard that one Hubig pie is better than the next, but I have never heard of a savory Hubig pie–a meat pie with beef or chicken, although there are certainly some amazing savory pie fillings in the Louisiana cuisine. I won’t really take up the issue of Hubig’s calling their pie boy “Savory” Simon, other than to make this comment that a savory pie is not sweet. So, right out of the gate, there was something a little “wrong” about Savory Simon. But, for most of the decades since 1922, his obesity was considered no more noteworthy than the imprecision of his name. I suppose the higher ups at the pie company thought something like “Sweet” Simon wouldn’t have been outstanding, like “Savory” Simon is. Anyway, it’s one of those New Orleans  eccentricities that natives think is not worth commenting upon. Eventually, Savory Simon’s size became a cause for concern, to the people at Hubig Pies, anyway. After all, even Paul Prudhomme shed pounds.

Hubig pies have been everywhere around New Orleans since 1922, and a very fat Savory Simon has been pictured on the bags until recently. The older Savory Simon was even more obese. In an effort to update its image to appeal to the more health conscious trend even among New Orleanians, Hubig Pies put Savory Simon on a diet, and the relatively svelte figure in yellow at the left now represents the new face of Hubig’s Pies. I don’t even know if Hubig’s got on the bandwagon to abolish transfats from manufactured foods, but the people in charge of promotion at Hubig’s decided the best way to catch up to date was to change Simon, and perhaps the impression that pies could make you fat rather than change the product. Most New Orleanians didn’t like the idea of changing either, and I was just told that they did for a while slim him down, but now the morbidly obese Hubig Pie boy is supposedly back on the pie bags. “You’ll hafta check in the sto to find out,” I was told. And, I intend to do that.

Among the better marketing decisions of the Hubig Pie people was the idea to hire a real life Savory Simon. A friendly, but not-to-be-taken-for-anybody’s fool, real life Savory Simon will appear at your event and bestow pies on you in quantities beyond your imagining. The real life Simon is a little portly, but not so much so that he couldn’t try to beat the effigy of Ernie K Doe’s effigy out the door after a Christmas party ended in a bar across from the U.S. Mint a few years ago. K Doe’s widow, Antoinette, took offense at Savory Simon’s lack of respect toward K Doe’s effigy, and a heated argument ensued, leaving both Savory Simon and Antoinette K Doe with hard feelings. A few minutes later, driving north on Esplanade, I saw K Doe’s entourage rolling the effigy up the street to its home in the Mother-in-Law Lounge. Antoinette was a very devoted wife and K Doe champion.

Like the obese case in literature, I am worn out after my day’s exertions, and will have to write my comments on another trope of the fat boy, Paul Prudhomme, tomorrow.

This is the trimmed down version of the Hubig pie boy. While he may still look more fat than the cultural standard of today, remember that a loss of even ten pounds has a positive impact on one’s blood sugar and blood pressure. 

Just how fat IS Ignatius?

Today’s little riff or rant, I realize, fails to live up to its title. I’m still working on that. In the meantime, what I think today is:

Sander Gilman’s chief argument in Obesity is that obesity has meant different things through history, and he breaks history into the Western intellectual history scheme we’re accustomed to: ancient before the Greeks and Romans, the Greeks and Romans, the Medieval, Enlightenment and Renaissance, industrial and present times, I suppose–I haven’t gotten that far. Gilman read religious scholars, physicians, health fanatics, and cites cases from literature that have endured in medical literature and the educated minds of people who have thought about obesity.

Some of the histories made a distinction between corpulence and obesity, with corpulence being viewed as a sign of health. The thing that interests me most in reading this book is the point made by many of the people Gilman cites that the young body bears the burden of excessive weight, whether corpulence or obesity, better than an old body does. With age, the weight the body once hoisted about without experiencing limitations in mobility, energy, or other general discomforts, becomes unmanageable.

In his discussion of Medieval cases and authors/scholars, Gilman doesn’t mention Gargantua. He doesn’t mention Ignatius, either, although he is well aware of him. Rabelais’s breathless descriptions of what it took to clothe, feed, amuse, and just generally provide for Gargantua extra-human appetites, is a hilarious catechism that demands the appreciation of exaggeration gone wild. Ignatius has a lot in common with Gargantua. Gargantua was a giant and a king, and his enormity was redoubtable, respectable, extravagant, and wild. Most of what I know about Gargantua and Panagruel I know through Mikhael Bakhtin’s explanation of the Medieval world through Rabelais. Book 1 of Gargantual and Pantagruel is among the books I’m reading simultaneously. I’m confused about what the titles of the books are, and exactly how many of them there are. The books I downloaded to my iPad and just called Gargantua and Pantagruel, and there are, I think, 5 of them.

I resolve right now to stop being fuzzy about the things I don’t remember in detail–at least in these notes. It’s just going to make an editing nightmare at the end of the project if I don’t. I’m going to look up what I’m not sure of. Starting now. I just looked. I do have 5 illustrated books called Gargantua and Pantagruel on my iPad, plus another book just called Gargantua and Pantagruel.

Anyway, what started me to thinking about this is Toole’s description of Ignatius as huge–and yet he’s not really huge in the representations of him I’m familiar with. Some of the funniest parts of A Confederacy of Dunces are the descriptions of Ignatius’s body lumbering through the hall in his nightshirt in the shotgun house in the Irish Channel, and being hoisted on a worktable in the Levy pants factory, and then being left on his own to gingerly struggle off of it. Ignatius’s respect for his body–the seriousness with which he takes his personal safety and assumes that everyone else shares–is funny because Toole describes him as fat, and evergrowing in the book. We don’t revere  what Ignatius saw as his redoubtable dimensions.

I find Toole’s description of Ignatius a bit like Rabelais’s description of Gargantua–to be understood as exaggeration. This is so delicate. The characters in the book are as real as a New Orleanian can get. Utter verisimilitude, and yet Toole uses exaggeration to describe them. This device is part of what creates the understanding of New Orleans and the people who live there. This is the essence of Toole’s project. Can your mind accept the contradiction of exaggeration and truth at the same time? Without wanting to iron out the gnarly contradiction? Joel Fletcher quips in Ken & Thelma; The Story of A Confederacy of Dunces, that “almost everybody in New Orleans is eccentric. Eccentricity loses its meaning there” (p. 48). Yes. The city that care forgot is also the city that time forgot, and the city that eccentricity forgot. And all this forgetting is not for real, because in fact in New Orleans, the city where the dead are always with us because their bodies are buried in cities within the city above the ground, much is forgiven, but little is ever truly forgotten.

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