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Why New Orleans Matters Hardcover – November 22, 2005
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“Insightful… a sensory paradise... Why New Orleans Matters is a celebration of the spirit of New Orleans.” (BookInfo.net)
“An enjoyable meander through what used to be called ‘the city that care forgot.’” (Houston Chronicle)
“Powerful, rich with anger, longing, and barely expressible loss.” (Providence Phoenix)
“Hot and real and from the heart… An emotionally wrenching experience—at times hilarious, at times heartbreaking.” (New Orleans Times-Picayune)
“Pensive and elegiac… sharp [and] steely. …A mournful dirge and a vivacious ode to the city.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
“A minor miracle unto itself… a heartfelt, 180-page manifesto… There’s a little something for everyone.” (Gambit Weekly)
Humanities Book of the Year Award, Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities (No Source)
Best Book Award, New Orleans Gulf South Booksellers Association (No Source)
PRAISE FOR MY COLD WAR: “Tom Piazza’s writing pulsates with nervous electrical tension--reveals the emotions that we can’t define.” (Bob Dylan)
About the Author
Tom Piazza is the author of the novels City of Refuge and My Cold War, the post-Katrina manifesto Why New Orleans Matters, the essay collection Devil Sent the Rain, and many other works. He was a principal writer for the HBO drama series Treme and the winner of a Grammy Award for his album notes to Martin Scorsese Presents: The Blues: A Musical Journey. He lives in New Orleans.
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The bulk of the book recounts places, events, customs and people that made Piazza's hometown of 11 years so special for him. What he describes will be familiar to anyone whose knowledge of New Orleans extends beyond what is covered in a Gray Line tour.
Writing just weeks after Katrina blew away it was too soon to correct, so Piazza repeats, false or overblown media stories that proved to be false. Piazza's life, house and possessions were as ruined as the city he loves and he recounts a brief trip to salvage his and a friend's remnant belongings. He correctly, appropriately and too briefly describes it and grieves for that loss. That's the book's second theme.
The third theme is Piazza's demand that New Orleans be magically rebuilt to recreate the rare habitat he believes will draw back musicians, street dancers, workers and the underclass whose fragile spirit animates the true (i.e., Piazza's version of) New Orleans. Unfortunately Piazza does not provide a single specific idea as to how this can be done. But he clearly tells us it can NOT be done by property development types. So who does Piazza think is up to the task? Would it be the same local and state officials who, along with federal agencies failed the city before, during and after Katrina hit? Piazza better hope so because New Orleans' mayor during the hurricane, Ray Nagin, was elected to another term in office after this book was written.
In his introduction Piazza asserts that New Orleans "inspires the kind of love very few other cities do. Paris, maybe Venice, maybe San Francisco, New York... the list is not much longer." While overlooking Piazza's Western Eurocentric view as to what kinds of cities inspire love among the world's inhabitants, somebody should tell Piazza that dozens of well-loved cities have essentially vanished without a trace throughout history, although their residents' unique spirits didn't necessarily die. Likewise, New Orleans' spirit will animate other cities just as people who initially came from Africa, Greece, Italy, the Middle East, France, Spain and England, Ireland and elsewhere brought the spirit of those places and combined them to create New Orleans at the particular moment Piazza stumbled into the mix and pronounced it "good". Already some New Orleans musicians are putting roots down elsewhere - several reportedly decided to stay, of all places, in Portland, OR - and no doubt writers, artists and other creative souls are doing the same. And many of its disbursed former residents are discovering that the price they paid for New Orleans' colorful folk life was enduring schools, police, government services and economic opportunities that were far inferior to those available to them in other American cities.
Tom Piazza needs to wake up and smell the beignets. Old New Orleans is forever gone. New New Orleans will arise. Laissez le bon temps roulette.
That is what Piazza does in this book. He captures "it" - all of it. I read it and it was as if I found the sermon that spoke to me, the person who said, with open arms, I get it, I feel that way too, here's how I describe it. NOLA continues to be a major piece of my life. A city I love "as you do a person" (for me she's like that crazy auntie we all have & love more than life itself). A city as I live where I was raised in Hoboken, NJ that parallels my physical hometown as a cultural one (J Kennedy Toole called NOLA "Hoboken on the Gulf"). Tom manages to address much of the best, and the worst, & the worth fighting for in both of those places. Thank you Mr. Piazza for writing my "manifesto" & putting on paper the thoughts, emotions, & feelings that have haunted, lifted, & saddened me for years.
his honesty about how he missed his beautiful city NOLA!