Sunday, December 18, 2011

Monday Munchies: Dunces and Lucky Dogs

Although you might already know this about me, I was born and raised in New Orleans, a city celebrated around the world for its cuisine, among other attributes. While working on the third edition of Moon New Orleans, a guidebook published by Avalon Travel, I've had the privilege of reliving a lot of my fondest memories about this one-of-a-kind place – many of which, not surprisingly, revolve around food. Here's just one example, a callout from my as-yet-unpublished guide:

As a child of New Orleans, I found it hard to avoid reading John Kennedy Toole's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, A Confederacy of Dunces (1980). Posthumously published by LSU Press more than a decade after the author's tragic suicide, this zany depiction of life in the Big Easy during the early 1960s (not to mention a skillful exploration of the city's unique dialects) has since become a cult classic – and a canonical work of modern Southern literature. This picaresque novel centers on Ignatius J. Reilly – a lazy, overweight, quixotic, yet well-educated 30-year-old man who, while living with his mother and searching for gainful employment, meets a host of colorful French Quarter denizens, from kind-hearted strippers to belligerent lesbians.

Though some of the New Orleans landmarks referenced in this madcap novel, such as the old D. H. Holmes department store on Canal Street, no longer exist, some, like the Prytania Theatre, still do. Perhaps the most famous references, though, are the “Paradise Hot Dogs” vending carts that figure prominently into Reilly's angst-filled search for a permanent job. Clearly, Toole was influenced by the ubiquitous, red-and-yellow, wiener-shaped Lucky Dogs vending carts that have prowled the streets of New Orleans, particularly the French Quarter, for more than five decades. Especially popular among late-night partygoers, these street-corner hot dogs may just be mouth-watering to some, but for me, they'll always be a reminder of the first time I read – and fell in love with – A Confederacy of Dunces, a book that, as many writers and scholars believe, aptly captures the indomitable spirit of New Orleans.

True, hot dogs aren't exactly a New Orleans staple on par with gumbo and jambalaya, but for those, like me, who live in the French Quarter, the Lucky Dogs carts can be a welcoming sight, especially after a long night of partying on Bourbon Street.

So, are there any novels that make you think of specific foods?


Becky said...

LOVE "Confederacy of Dunces"... probably the only book I've ever read more than once (I don't like TV or movie reruns either). Hmmm the only fiction novel that I can think of that reminds me of food right now is "Like Water for Chocolate".

Laura Martone said...

I love it, too, Becky. I only wish the various movie versions of it had gotten off the ground... though, honestly, I'm not sure who could've done Ignatius justice.

Ooh, yes, LIKE WATER FOR CHOCOLATE does make me hungry - as does CHOCOLAT and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, for that matter. I think I'm beginning to see a theme...