Right was right. . . and also very clear.rnMoney was never discussed, for to do sornwas the sure sign of poor breeding. Inrnfact, money was dirty. That thought sustainedrnthem in their genteel poverty; thatrnand who they thought themselves to be;rnand thus—in a way—they were.rnOf special appeal to me was the storyrnof that part of my family which did not allowrnmention of the Degas name in theirrnhome because, many years earlier, inrn1879, Rene Degas, Edgar’s brother, hadrndivorced his blind wife of ten years, EstellernMusson, and left her and their fourrnchildren and returned to France. As ifrnthat were not enough, Rene marriedrnMrs. Leonce Olivier, nee America Durrive,rnof New Orleans. Estelle changedrnher name back to Musson, and the Degasrnname became one of unhappy memory.rnAs a show of support, the friends ofrnthe Mussons refused thereafter to utterrnthe name Degas. What made the storyrnso interesting was that Edgar Degas hadrnpainted several portraits of members ofrnthe family which refused to utter hisrnname.rnAs best I can put the pieces together,rnthe Creole families, once influential andrnprominent, lived in the Old Quarter untilrnearly in the 20th centur)’. What theyrnlacked in money, they made up in refinement,rngood manners, and a sense ofrnOld World French culture. They werernvery Roman Catholic and very proud,rnwhich were not considered contradictory’.rnMy father’s family spoke French inrntheir home, although they had lived inrnAmerica 200 years at the time. Their libraryrnwas entirely in French. Theirs wasrna very small but elegant bit of France inrnAmerica; they had thought it would lastrnforever. In truth, it had ended with thernCivil War; they just wouldn’t accept thernfact for another 50 years. By then, it wasrntoo late to do anything about where theyrnwould fit into the brash, bustling, mercantilernsociety. For the most part, theyrnwouldn’t, because they couldn’t, and stillrnremain faithful to their ancestors andrntheir traditions. Those who would survivernin any kind of comfortable fashionrnhad to make their peace with those theyrnviewed as crude and crass Americanrnmerchants and moneylenders. The restrnfell out of touch. Even most of the lyricalrnold names are gone.rnTO SUBSCRIBE.rn1-800-877-5459rnOf course, such wedding events andrnall that they represented are no more.rnThat last vestige of Old P’rance in Americarnhas passed into the realm of memory,rnand the memory is faint.rnIn America, the more things change,rnthe more things change, not onlyrnthe times, but also the terms. One seeminglyrnsmall example has to do withrnthe term “Creole.” For reasons which Irndo not understand, black people in NewrnOrleans and their carpetbagger scholars/rnapologists have decided to expropriaternthe term and to give it a new meaning.rnNo, it was not always that way.rnProfessor William A. Read, in Louisiana-rnFrench, published by LouisianarnState University Press in 1931, definedrn”Creole” as “a white descendant of thernFrench or Spanish settlers in Louisianarnduring the Colonial Period (1699-rn1803).” ”Un negre Creole” was definedrnas “a negro who speaks Negro-French,rnand who was born in the New World.”rnAccording to Professor Read, “Creole”rnwas “a seventeenth-century loan fromrnSpanish criollo, a person of European descentrnborn in some other part of thernworld than Europe.”rnIn keeping with our present dayrn”thought” patterns, one might ask if it reallyrnmakes any difference. “So the termrnas originally applied during the ColonialrnPeriod in Louisiana meant a Frenchspeakingrnwhite person of French orrnSpanish descent,” he might say. “Sornnow the blacks want the term to mean eitherrna native-born negro or a negrornwhose ancestors include Europeans. Sornwhat’s the problem?” If histor’ itself canrnbe rewritten to suit current tastes andrnprejudices, then why can’t historicalrnterms be taken and turned into whateverrnthe expropriators wish? After all, this is arn”free country,” isn’t it?rnWell, one problem has to do withrnsomething as basic as communication.rnFor example, if a white descendant ofrnthe 18th-century French and Spanishrnsettlers in Louisiana is asked to writernabout his Creole ancestry, must he regretrnthe invitation because the term is nornlonger applicable to his cultural background?rnOr, must he accept on the conditionrnthat he will have to substitute arnterm for Creole so as not to confuse thernissue? Or is he obliged to give an explanationrnof how and why the meaning ofrnthe term has changed?rnAnd how does one do research usingrnoriginal sources or even quite recentrnsources? Must he have a reader’s guidernto the meaning of words and terms duringrncertain periods of time? What are wernto make of Lyle Saxon’s 1938 descriptionrnof colonial New Orleans?rnDuring the French and Spanishrnregimes (1718-1803) New Orleansrnremained little more than a town,rnthe population within the city wallrnnever greatly exceeding five thousand.rnExcept for officialdom and arnsmall circle of aristocracy, whichrnwas augmented after the FrenchrnRevolution by the coming of emigres,rnthe inhabitants consistedrnmainly of the bourgeoisie, soldiers,rnand the American frontiersmen,rnwho came in increasing numbersrnafter 1800. From the lowest to thernhighest social stiatum in this communityrnthere was a very definiterndistinction assumed by the Creolernelement (descendants of the originalrnFrench and Spanish settlers) ofrnthe population. Averse to all foreignrnintercourse but that with thernmother countiies, they maintainedrntheir social and cultural identity,rnregarding as unfortunate any increasernin the foreign population ofrnthe city. So marked was this attitudernthat after American annexationrnresulted in an influx of Anglo-rnSaxons, the newcomers found itrnadvisable to settle outside the confinesrnof the Creole section. Ultimatelyrnsurrounded by suburbanrnforeigners, the Vieux Carre becamerna city within a city, in whichrnCreole society maintained its ownrnhigh social standards.rnOnly upon that small, fertile islandrnwithin the larger, figurative island ofrnLouisiana could the unique Europeanrnculture which was New Orleans havernflourished for two hundred years (1718-rn1918). Many of the wonderful old buildingsrnremain, especially in the FrenchrnQuarter, which, of course, is no longerrnFrench. Once grand homes and tastefulrncommercial quarters are now occupiedrnby vendors of T-shirts, beer, and vulgarrnlingerie. The virility of those monumentsrnin brick and stucco is now exceededrnby the cultural sterility of those whornoccupy them and who walk beside them,rnhalf-naked, drunk, and singing dirtyrnsongs. Cest la guerre.rnBen C. Toledano writes from Pass Christian,rnMississippi.rn42/CHRONICLESrnrnrn