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Father and Son Reflect on Childhood in New Orleans


Our commentator Andrei Codrescu is with us all week here. His two boys grew up in New Orleans. And today Andrei is joined by his 25-year-old son Tristan, who's an actor.


We moved here in 1984 and I started teaching at L.S.U. in Baton Rouge, and Tristan very briefly went to school in Baton Rouge. And then we moved to New Orleans. My son over here, just grew up in this cosmopolitan city.

Mr. TRISTAN CODRESCU (Son of Adrei Codrescu): I remember dancing on Frenchman Street at 14, 15 to the brass music. I remember the second lines, you know, all the things that I still do to this day, you know, that still keep me alive and vital and connected. Sort of the formative years began when you entered teenage years. I mean, when you're a kid anywhere you are is beautiful, you know. I mean, if you've got a tree to climb on and if you've got friends to run around with, it's ok, you know.

But when you start, I think, exploring social culture and culture in general out in the world it depends whether you're going to be hanging out with your friends in the corner of Popeye's or, you know, McDonald's somewhere, or if you actually have places to go and music to listen to, and wonderful mysterious niches to discover, you know. And there's a lot of that here. And, and it's something that's thick in the air, you know, that you kind of breathe.

I mean, it's, I think, when people first come here in the summertime they find it very hard to breathe. It's kind of like a fish adjusting to air, a human adjusting to the water. Once your, sort of, lungs feel it and can absorb it, it becomes very addictive, you know. And there is a kind of drug-like quality to the city, that when you leave for a while you mourn it, and you need to get back here, you know. You need to be embraced by her again, you know.

CODRESCU: It was fun to watch my kids grow here. I worried about them staying out too late because it's a night town and it's a tough town to grow up in, actually.

Mr. TRISTAN CODRESCU: I was very fortunate in having liberal parents that let me run around and experience the world, but it was also a danger. I mean, we lived in a pretty good block uptown, mixed race, but very comfortable. Within three blocks of our house, though, there were gunshots every night. Although there is a wonderful little coffee house that I loved to sneak out to and go to right on that block.

CODRESCU: When Tristan became very interested in theater, and I think that one of the ways in which the kids in this city express their feelings and do other things than drink and do drugs, is to play music and do performances of various kinds, because there's so many talented kids here. And it, this city expresses itself very vividly. And it's one way to get out whatever discomforts you have with the world.

Mr. TRISTAN CODRESCU: I always said that the two energies that kind of are the parenthesis that fill this city is beauty and death, you know. And inside of that is the realm of creativity, you know, of remaking yourself. And, you know, growing up we kind of had a pack of artist friends on bicycles that we would take to the streets and make sculptures and, by the river, and in various parts and torment the neighbors and, you know, do what kids do, but it was usually very art-oriented.

CODRESCU: The place where I grew up, it was an old medieval city and in some ways when I came to New Orleans I thought I found the place that I grew up because the streets were walkable and there were people on them, and they were interesting and you could watch. And things happened on the streets, because it's the right scale, some of them built before cars. And so it's a permanent stage and it's the last place in America like that.

Mr. TRISTAN CODRESCU: I agree. I mean, I'm definitely Transylvanian and more than half New Orleanian. I mean, I have Cypress roots here, you know. I have Spanish moss in my hair. There's just something, it's hard to explain. It's in the light quality. It's in the fact that everything syncs here, you know, and so there's a certain kind of gravity you have to have while walking, you know, while walking down to know how to go with the sync and yet stay out of the mud, sort of. It's hard to explain in easy terms. And the humidity, I mean, you are part fish moving through here, you know, it gets so thick.

CODRESCU: I didn't raise a surrealist. I just brought a human being to a surrealist place.

SIEGEL: Commentator Andrei Codrescu is author of New Orleans Mon Amour, Twenty Years of Writings From the City. His son Tristan Codrescu is an actor, shaman, circus performer, and soon to be student of Chinese medicine. There's more of Andrei's writing and the ALL THINGS CONSIDERED New Orleans blog at Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.