Faith and Fornication
Soaked in neon and fizzing with sex, drugs and drink-fuelled debauchery, Bourbon Street should be a no-go thoroughfare for religious conservatives. Thankfully, God's messengers on earth refuse to be perturbed by a bit of partial nudity and were out in force on Bourbon tonight. With its motley collection of strip clubs, bars and shops flogging t-shirts with slogans like "Katrina gave me the best blow-job I ever had", walking through the French Quarter's main street at night is a peculiar experience at the best of times - particularly at the moment when the Southern Decadence gay festival is in town and there are hordes of topless male couples thronging sweatily on the sidewalk.
But it gets all the stranger when, in the midst of all this gleeful depravity, an 8ft-high white cross appears in the middle of the road. Clearly mindful of the biblical recommendation to join your enemies if you cannot beat them (it crops up somewhere in Leviticus, I'm told), one local Christian group has taken it upon themselves not only to construct the aforementioned cross but to actually tack a rolling electronic LED screen onto it as well. The screen, which scrolls through a number of helpful pieces of advice to late-night revellers including 'Salvation will be yours' and 'Surrender to the Saviour', dominates the block in which it is situated - no mean feat considering it was competing (at the time I saw it) with a bevy of multicoloured placards advertising 'Huge Ass Beers' below it, and a pair of girls up on a balcony above it, flashing their breasts to cheering drinkers on the road.
A small army of church volunteers were working the crowd, handing out small booklets entitled 'Help from Above' (interestingly there was also a warning that these booklets were free and not to be sold, presumably to avoid any bad sheep in the flock making a fast buck by getting inebriated punters to part with some cash for them). In an age of entrepreneurialism, the efforts of some believers to get their message across is surely to be applauded, despite the glaring contradiction between the substance of that message and the environment and style in which it is being promoted. One thing's for certain - this crack combination of devout conservatism and unabashed capitalism must win George Bush's approval.