'Why New Orleans Matters' by Tom Piazza
Beg, Borrow, Buy this book!!!! I feel this should be compulsory reading for every 300 millionth American, and for every human being who has soul and heart. This city gave the world more than can ever be repaid.
The jazz that Buddy Bolden helped plant in this city grew beyond its borders into blues, funk, rock and roll. The question could be asked would the Beatles have happened without New Orleans; would the world have mourned Buddy Holly's untimely death without New Orleans; would the King have ever found his crown without New Orleans; would the 60s swing, 70s punk, 80s emo, 90s electronica all have happened without New Orleans? New Orleans gave the world music and also a means of defining the generations.
New Orleans also gave the world some wonderful food. The wonderful seafood created into gumbo, jumbalaya, soft shell crab, barbeque shrimp and much more. The dazzling cajun spices flavouring many dishes and the red beans and rice. And the po' boys - those big sandwiches made with proper french bagettes, that are dressed (with salad in them) or undressed. All this food has developed out of a love for hospitality, for entertaining people, for making everyone feel welcome.
And of course New Orleans defined for the world how Mardi Gras should be celebrated with parades upon parades for a couple of weeks before the actual day when the floats explode on the scene and the Indians come marching in their dazzling finery. Mari Gras is much more than the drunked scenes in Bourbon street in the French Quarter, and if that is your desire than New Orleans will not object to you celebrating in that manner. Mari Gras is a celebration of life.
What New Orleans has given the world is priceless. Tom Piazza writes eloquently about all these wonderful traditions and with every word you will find yourself slowly falling in love with a place and its way of life.
The second half of the book describes what New Orleans has also become famous for - the Hurricane. His view of what happened made me want to shout from the rooftops "come back New Orleans, come back" and drive to Washington and wake up the sonumbulant politicians that have forgotten too soon the people that were thrown out like garbage. This is some of what Tom Piazza says:
The Majority of these people are black, and poor. They are the people, and the descendents and families of people, who gave jazz music to the world, who dance at parades during the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, who play in the marching bands. They are the people who drive you in from the airport and make you feel at home instantly, the people who wash out your shower and change your sheets at the quaint hotel you stay at, the ones who clear your table and wash the dishes you eat from at the new favourite restuarant that you tell all your friends about when you get back home, and who gather all the garbage outside all the hotels and restuarants and bars that make up New Orleans for the people who visit it.
They are the ones who figure out a way to buy thier children food and diapers and some kind of small birthday presents out of incomes smaller than many college kids' allowances. they sometimes spend two hours on three different buses in the morning getting to a minimum wage job, and do the same thing in reverse at night, and figure out a way to buy blood pressure medicine and diabetes medicine and God knows what else out of their tiny, tiny slice of the great American pie. And when a parade passes ... they dance behind it, and laugh and take a little drink, because they know better than anyone else that life is short and hard and often bitter but it is at least life.
Those are the people who have been uprooted from the only houses, neighborhoods, customs, landscape, and friendships they have ever know, and they will be experiencing the terrible practical deprivation and spiritual pain of the memories they carry, the age-old pain of exile and homelessness. They and the community they embody have given love and beauty to the world, a precious spiritual resilience in the form of music, cuisine, and spirit that is recognized around the world.
These were those people at the superdome (more about that in another post) and the convention center. Those are the people that I have heard many a priviledged (and generally white) person say are probably "better off" in their new situation after the storm. These are the people that make New Orleans what it is. Mayor Nagin must be blind and deaf to suggest that New Orleans be the next Las Vegas - Las Vegas has no heart only money - New Orleans had little money but lots of heart.
BUY! BEG! BORROW! this book!!!
"One Dead in the Attic" by Chris Rose
This is a collection of pieces written of the days and months after Katrina, by Chirs Rose, a columnist for the Times Picayne, the New Orleans local paper. These are great gems of personal insight into the tragedy, from the refrigerator take over of the city, to the despair of a broken city, and the tales of the plucky few who kept the soul of New Orleans alive as the city gasped for breath.