Thursday, March 02, 2006

Mardi Gras Readings (copy)

Mardi Gras continued as planned this year even after hurricane Katrina ruined some traditional floats and costumes, just six months earlier. Yet reports from the newspapers indicate crowds, although smaller, were still reveling with the old pre-disaster glee.

The oldest of krewes, Rex, was forced this year to make anew or make do. For example, their royal accoutrements were damaged beyond repair, and the mud-baked and mold-caked floats received fresh paint. This monarchy has remained “chin-up” with King Rex advocating marshland conservation and his Queen “working-out” so as to manipulate the new heavier gown.

Some critics felt the celebrations should have been postponed this year, others suggested Mardi Gras venues like Mobile and Biloxi as replacements. Fat Tuesday isn’t really “fat” unless it occurs in the original den of debauchery. There is no substitute for the purple, green and gold streets of N'awlans.After Katrina hit, the publishing world went to work on producing collections of stories about the Big Easy. Don’t think of these books as rush jobs, most were written during an extended period of time and just compiled after Katrina. Four of these books are quite stellar and bring the New Orleans experience to life.

New Orleans, Mon Amour by Andrei Codrescu chronicles the authors twenty years in the city. You may recognize his name from NRP’s All Things Considered. Codrescu moved to New Orleans from Transylvania, trading one seemingly creepy home for another. These short, easy to read vignettes, begin with his initial acclimations to the south and end with his day by day thoughts of Katrina. His honest reporting leaves you feeling his pain.

Roy Blount Jr. will have you whistling tunes as you ramble through his New Orleans with Feet on the Street. Blount visits eight different areas in the city where, “He captures all the wonderful and rich history - culinary, literary, and political - of a city that figured prominently in the lives of Jefferson Davis (who died there), Truman Capote (who was conceived there), and Zora Neale Hurston (who studied voodoo there).”

Author Rob Walker is successful at explaining the oddities of the city through his Letters from New Orleans. In his first letter he begins, “Random bullets are a problem in New Orleans, especially on New Year’s Eve. Apparently it’s something of a tradition among certain locals to step outside and pop off a few rounds.” Walker is fun to follow as he avoids these falling bullets and other urban troubles.

Lastly, Why New Orleans Matters by Tom Piazza will inspire you to help in the city’s recuperation efforts. We all know the city had a spirit found in no other place. Piazza says, “That spirit is in terrible jeopardy right now. If it dies, something precious and profound will go out of the world forever.”

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