Yesterday, we attended a literary event. It was hosted by the Faulkner Society and featured readings by four novelists. They had all been winners of the annual prize given by the Society; they had been invited to read their new works.
The event was held in the Cabildo, a structure dating back to 1799 when New Orleans was still a colony of Spain. It is now the home of the Louisiana State Museum, and we ascended a gracious marble staircase past historic portraits of long-forgotten dignitaries to a long, windowed gallery facing Jackson Square and running the length of the building.
The room, with its wood flooring and high ceiling, was enough of an acoustic challenge for a reading, where it's important to be able to hear every word. But I had to feel sorry for the second author to speak. The moment she opened her mouth, from the pavement below in Jackson Square, a brass band struck up, playing a lively second-line march, trombones blatting and the mighty sousaphone bump-bumping in rhythm.
Gamely, she carried on. I looked around at the audience faces, wondering if they were having as difficult a time as I did hearing her. But everyone seemed to be used to it.
The band played its set, obscuring her reading and then upstaging the Chairwoman's introduction of the third author. When it ended with applause, it was only the street noise of playing children, hawking vendors and honking car horns the fourth and final author had to compete with.
This is how New Orleans sabotages seriousness. Those with literary aspirations should take heed.