My starting point for this book is an interesting one... While I certainly know of Hurricane Katrina and the death and destruction she wrought...I did not see or hear any of the news reporting. I took a year off from the news in late 2004/2005 - and missed all of that.
So I started "Where We Know: New Orleans as Home" with eyes unclouded by disaster footage, with ears clear of the voices of fear, anger, grief. This book is the closest I've come to hearing from the residents of New Orleans - and these voices will stay with me for a very long while.
The book feels like it's straight from the city itself. There's a mix of themes, of attitudes, of perspectives, of stories. There's no one real overlying message - except perhaps the emphasis of that very fact - that New Orleans is all things. The new and the old, the mystic and the modern, the laid back and the always ready for a party. The people of this city cannot be defined - nor can their feelings for this incredibly unique place.
"It is not an easy thing to describe one's first impression of New Orleans; for while it actually resembles no other city upon the face of the earth, yet it recalls memories of a hundred cities."
After I finished admiring the binding and care put into the creation of the book, I fell into these words. One of the most amazing elements of the book is the juxtaposition of words written about New Orleans centuries ago with those written or spoken in the very recent past. They all speak of the same city - they all bring forth a facet of her - yet they are divided by hundreds of years, by race, by gender, by class.
From a writer in 1887: "I suppose we are all wrongly made up and have a fallen nature; else why is it that while the most thrifty and neat and orderly city only wins our approval, and perhaps gratifies us intellectually, such a thriftless, battered and stained, and lazy old place as the French Quarter of New Orleans takes our hearts?"
To a present day writer: "So, now, here we all are, New Orleanians by birth or by choice, sitting on our stoops, watching the sun set and listening to the music of our city, a testimony to its endurance and vitality."
There is a spirit described in this book, whether of the city itself or of the people that are drawn to it, that draws the reader in. The varied voices create a beautiful music - a symphony of joy, pride, rage, despair, violence, fierce love...underscored by strength. It seems as if no matter the circumstances, New Orleans and her people will find a way to adapt, without changing the soul of the place.
"There are certainly times when the decision to save or replace the past is problematic. Here, however, there is more of a tendency not only to preserve the past, but to live alongside of it, to live in the midst of it. Our history is not for the museums. We still have a culture that comes from the city, from the neighborhoods; we still have a culture that connects to the past and parades in the streets."
Far more clearly (and probably more accurately) than any newscast I might have watched - this book gave me a vision of New Orleans that will not soon fade.
on December 2, 2010
Hurricanes, oil spills, nature seems dedicated to driving people out of New Orleans, but the people won't leave. "Where We Know: New Orleans as Home" is a collection of essays from authors of New Orleans, about New Orleans, compiled by David Rutledge. Along with these essays from a wide range of authors, there are also many photos that speak to the New Orleans spirit. "Where We Know" is a must for anyone who wants a more excellent understanding of the tenacity of the people of New Orleans.
on January 1, 2011
This anthology, edited by David Rutledge, collects essays and two short stories about the city of New Orleans. Most essays are contemporary and focus on the city in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, but a handful are historical, including essays by Barbara Bodichon and Dudley Warner, first published in 1867 and 1887, respectively.
As New Orleans rebuilds after Hurricane Katrina, some stay in the city, some return to the city, and some decide to leave the city forever. Where We Know captures all these various voices and reveals the diverse emotions surrounding this culturally complex American city. Essayist Anne Gisleson notes about post-Katrina New Orleans that "the city is alive in a new sort of way ... [with] a sense of hope, opportunity and purpose I never felt growing up here."
As I've come to expect from Chin Music Press, Where We Know is gorgeously designed. The book's front and end papers reproduce full-color sections of old maps of New Orleans. Quotes about the city from its famous citizens and visitors--dating from 1721 to 2009--are interspersed throughout. A map in the front of the book pinpoints the exact locations in the city that form the settings of the book's essays and stories, and a few essays are even accompanied by color photographs. Thanks to this thoughtful design, Where We Know is as rewarding to look at and to hold as it is to read.
on May 16, 2011
The Book Report: An anthology of writings, commissioned as well as previously published, on the topic of New Orleans as one's homeplace, whether corporeal or spiritual.
My Review: Produced by Chin Music Press's Broken Levee imprint, you know from just that much information that this is a **gorgeous** book to look at, a deeply gruntling book to hold, and a pleasure to read. Hmmm...that pleasure to read bit? If you're not tied emotionally to New Orleans, this book will quite likely bore the socks right off your feet, shoes or no shoes.
I am tied to New Orleans, though, however unwillingly and with whatever angry, grumpy, "my car needs alignment AGAIN?!?!" caveats, tied I am. Once upon a time, I possessed a carriage house on Carondelet Street. It was tiny, but perfect for one person on vacation, which was me a few times here and there. It's still there, but I can't be...can't make the climate work for me for more than a day or two. Still, there is *no*place* like New Orleans. That's either the thing that makes you go back, or makes you late for the airport.
And reading this book? It's a lot like being there. It's gonna work, you just know it is, up until the moment it doesn't anymore, and for no obvious reason (Barbara Bodichon's 1867 selection felt like a glass-cutting tool gone wrong to me, Jennifer Kuchta's piece "Jennie's Grocery: R.I.P" was...well...oddly shaped). But there are more successes than failures (Lolis Elie's piece "Still Live, With Voices", good as always, hey Lolis! Long time no hear, the extraordinarily underknown Tracey Tangerine's loud "In My Face", which alone is worth your $16 purchase), and of course the sheer physical beauty of the thing makes it a must-covet-and-retain for any serious lover of bibliophilic curiosa. The maps...the belly-band...the strange, impractical, not-for-the-marts-of-commerce unlaminated WHITE cover (!!)...all are just, well, wondrous. I adore this press's books. I wish I would win the MegaMillions or whatever so I could give them a big, fat grant to stay in business and even grow some.
But enough. Be warned: Not bit by the Nawlins Vodoun Viper? Don't buy unless you simply can't resist the look of the thing. Already bit? Your soul is gone anyway. Buy it, no regrets.