Brighter Skys, Property Value
The following data is extracted from The Creoles of Louisiana.
In New Orleans, sad shrinkages in the value of downtown property have played havoc with the old Creole rentier. Court officers and lawyers are full of after-dinner stories illustrating the pathetic romance of his fate. He keeps at home, on the front veranda. His wife and daughter take in sewing and make orange marmalade and fig preserves on small private contracts. His son is a lounger in the court-rooms. The young, man buttons his worn coat tightly about his small waist, walks with a brisk affectation of being pressed for time, stops yon silently in Royal Street or Pére Antoine's Alley, on the stairway of the old Cabildo, to light his cigarette from your cigar-symbolic action, always lighting his cigarette from somebody's cigar-gives you a silent, call-it-square sort of bow as full of grace as a Bourbon prince's, and hurries on, hoping soon to become fifth assistant to some deputy sheriff or public surveyor, or, if he have influential relatives, runner for a bank. He “plays the lottery,” that curse of his town.
"Well, of co'se," he says, blowing the tobacco smoke through his nose, "thaz the way with evveybody, those time'-sinz ladely." Really he would ask you around to "The Gem," but--his poor, flat pocket! nothing in it but his "memo'andum book," and not even a “memo'andum” in that.
But he has kinsmen, in goodly number, who blush for him; he will tell you so with a strange mixture of pride and humility; and who are an honor and a comfort to their beloved city. They sit on the most important committees in the great Cotton Exchange, and the Produce Exchange, and in reform movements. They are cashiers and vice-presidents and presidents of street railway companies, of insurance companies, of banks. They stand in the front ranks at the bar. They gain fame and reverence on the bench. They have held every office within the gift of the State. And they have been great beyond their own boundaries-out in the great world. A Louisiana Creole was once, for a short time, Minister of War in France, under the Directory. Another sat in the Spanish Cortes. Another became a Spanish Lieutenant General. Another was a general of patriot forces when the South American provinces threw off the yoke of Spain. Jean Jacques Audubon was a Creole of Louisiana. Louis Gottschalk was a -New Orleans Creole. General Beauregard is a Creole of an old Creole line.
They are not "dying out." Why by should they? "Doze climade sood dem" better than it suits any alien who has ever tried the drowsy superabundance of its summer sun- light, and they are becoming ever more, and more worthy to survive. Their pride grows less fierce, their courage is no weaker for it, their courtesy is more cordial, they are more willing to understand and be understood, and their tastes for moral and intellectual refinements are growing.
Even in their headlong gayeties-the spectacular pageants of the carnival-they have stricken hands with the "American," borrowed his largeness of pretension and the barbaric ambition of the South's retarded artistic impulse. The unorganized rout of masks peculiar to the old Latin cities has been turned into gorgeous, not to say gaudy, tableaux drawn through the streets under the glare of blazing petroleum and frequent lime-lights, on tinselled cars, by draped teams, to the blare of brass music and the roar of popular acclamation, in representation of one or another of the world's great myths, epics, or episodes. Many thousands of people are drawn from contiguous or distant parts, with the approach of each Mardi-gras, to see -may the good town forgive the term-these striding puerilities. Some come to gaze in wonder on these miracles in papier-machae and plaster-of-Paris, and some, it is feared, to smile behind their hats at make-believe art, frivolous taste, and short-sighted outlay. The expenditure of time, money, and labor on these affairs is greatworthy of more lasting achievements. One Carnival day and night some years ago the crowds were more enormous than ever, the displays were gorgeous, the whole city was one wide revel. All through the hours of a glorious day the long, dazzling procession passed with their jewelled king sparkling in their midst, in street-full after street-full of multitudes that made the warm air quiver with acclamations. Night fell, and Comus and his Krewe came forth in a blaze of torches and made everything seem tame that had gone before; and when at midnight, with the tinkle of a little bell, all disappeared, the people said that there had never been such a carnival. But when the sun rose again they prayed there might never be just such another. For on his neglected couch, sought too tardily, the victim of overfatigue, the royal Comus, lay dead. The "American," as well as the Creole, owns an undivided half of this folly, and the Creole, as well as the "American," is beginning to deprecate it. Already better aspirations are distinctly shown, and the city's efforts are reaching forth in many directions to adorn herself with attractions that do not vanish at cockcrow, but, inviting the stranger to become a visitor, also tempt him to remain, a resident.
We have said that the air which the Creole breathes with unvarying satisfaction and exhales in praises of its superior merits is never very hot or very cold, by the mercury. Even in July and August the column lingers, for the most part, under 95°, and in mid-winter seldom sinks more than four or five degrees below the freezing-point. But since it is the evaporation from the surrounding swamps, marshes, and other shallow waters that makes this, moderation, the effects upon the person are those of decidedly greater extremes of heat and cold. Yet the long and dazzlingly beautiful summers are generally salubrious, and it would be difficult to exaggerate the charms of the exuberant spring which sets in before January is gone, and rises gently in fervor until May ushers in the summer. As to the summer, it goes, unwillingly, in November.
Its languid airs have induced in the Creole's speech great softness of utterance. The relaxed energies of a luxurious climate find publication, as it were, when he turns final k into g; changes th, and t when not initial, to d; final p to b, drops initial 1i., final le, and t after k ; often, also, the final d of past tenses ; omits or distorts his r, and makes a languorous z of all s's and soft c's except initials. On the other hand, the old Gallic alertness and wire-edge still asserts itself in the confusing and inter-changing of long e and short i-sheep for ship, and ship for sheep-in the flattening of long i, as if it were coming through cane-crushers, in the prolonging of long a, the intrusion of uncalled-for initial h's, and the shortening and narrowing of nearly all long and broad vowels.
The African slave in Louisiana-or, it may be more correct to say, in St. Domingo, before coming to Louisiana-corrupted the French tongue as grossly, or even more so, than he did the English in the rice plantations of South Carolina. No knowledge of scholarly French is a guarantee that the stranger will understand the "Creole" negro's gombo. To the Creole sang pur this dialect is an inexhaustible fountain of amusement. In the rural parishes the harsh archaisms of the Acadian perform the same office and divide the Creole's attention. But in "the City" they Acadian dialect is hardly known, and for a century or more the melodious drollery and grotesqueness of the negro patois has made it the favorite vehicle of humorous song and satirical prose and verse.
It would make a long chapter to untangle its confused mass of abbreviations, suppressions of inflections, liasons, nazalizations, omissions, inversions, startling redundancies, and original idioms. The Creole does not tolerate its use in polite conversation, and he is probably seldom aware that his English sparkles and crackles with the same pretty corruptions. For example, or as the Creole himself would say, “faw egzamp,” let us take the liberty of inventing a sentence and setting it in his lips
"I am going to do my utmost to take my uncle there, but he is slightly paralyzed and I do not think he will feel like going." -he would say
"I goin' do my possib' fedge ma hunc' yond', bud, 'owevva, 'e's a lit' bit pa'alyze an' I thing 'e don' goin' fill ligue.”
Examples need not be multiplied. One innocent assertion that found its way to a page of the present writer's scanty notes from the lips of a Creole country physician will stand for a hundred. The doctor, like many of his race, would have known at once that the foregoing illustration was bad English; but he is not aware, to this day, that there was any inaccuracy in his own simple assertion: “I've juz been pulling some teeth to your neighbor.”
There are reasons-who can deny it? -why we should be glad that the schoolmaster is abroad in Louisiana, teaching English. But the danger is, that somewhere in the future lurks a day when the Creole will leave these loveable drolleries behind him, and speak our tongue with the same dull correctness with which it is delivered in the British House of Lords. May he live long, and that time, be very, very far away!
Source: The Creoles of Louisiana