Why New Orleans Matters
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Every place has its history. But what is it about New Orleans that makes it more than just the sum of the events that have happened there? What is it about the spirit of the people who live there that could produce a music, a cuisine, an architecture, a total environment, the mere mention of which can bring a smile to the face of someone who has never even set foot there?
What is the meaning of a place like that, and what is lost if it is lost?
The winds of Hurricane Katrina, and the national disaster that followed, brought with them a moment of shared cultural awareness: Thousands were killed and many more displaced; promises were made, forgotten, and renewed; the city of New Orleans was engulfed by floodwaters of biblical proportions—all in a wrenching drama that captured international attention. Yet the passing of that moment has left too many questions.
What will become of New Orleans in the months and years to come? What of its people, who fled the city on a rising tide of panic, trading all they knew and loved for a dim hope of shelter and rest? And, ultimately, what do those people and their city mean to America and the world?
In Why New Orleans Matters, award-winning author and New Orleans resident Tom Piazza illuminates the storied culture and uncertain future of this great and most neglected of American cities. With wisdom and affection, he explores the hidden contours of familiar traditions like Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, and evokes the sensory rapture of the city that gave us jazz music and Creole cooking. He writes, too, of the city's deep undercurrents of corruption, racism, and injustice, and of how its people endure and transcend those conditions. And, perhaps most important, he asks us all to consider the spirit of this place and all the things it has shared with the world—grace and beauty, resilience and soul. "That spirit is in terrible jeopardy right now," he writes. "If it dies, something precious and profound will go out of the world forever."
Why New Orleans Matters is a gift from one of our most talented writers to the beloved and important city he calls home—and to a nation to whom that city's survival has been entrusted.
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is a working model in three dimensions of the music, a synesthesic transformation of materials. And of course the band is also watching the dancers, and getting ideas from the dancers’ gestures. The relationship between band and audience is in that sense like the relationship between two lovers making love, where cause and effect becomes very hard to see, even impossible to call by its right name; one is literally getting down, as in particle physics, to some root stratum where one is freed from
kids moved out of Orleans Parish, or put their children in private schools, when the city’s schools were ordered to be integrated in 1960. Much of the city’s tax base collapsed right there. Then there is the police force. Police departments are always extraordinarily complex and highly charged social ecosystems, but the NOPD is in a league of its own. My partner, Mary, is a civil rights lawyer who spends much of her time representing citizens who have been messed over in one way or another by
such healing love and commitment, such generosity. We have no faith left in our leaders, and we live with a constant awareness that the promised repairs to the levee system may turn out to be as inept as the original construction, a fear that everything we have worked to rebuild these past three years might wash away with the next hurricane. And yet we hope. And above all we savor the precious day, the moment, each meeting with a friend, every bite of every meal. Mortality can be a great way of
‘Why this happen to me? Why me?’Well . . . why not you?” A lesson as old as the Book of Job, of course, only more wittily and succinctly put. In that one perfectly formed question lay a tool for dismantling depression and self-pity. The thing that made all those second-lines and funeral parades and all that house-rocking New Orleans music so profound was obviously not that they came from a mansion on Easy Street. They were defiant gestures of grace and humanity in the teeth of mortality and the