As the song says: “I’ve been one poor correspondent…” but after a week in New Orleans and two days catching up with my life at home, I am refreshed and ready to get back to work. New Orleans was one of the most interesting places I’ve ever been. I’m still processing everything we learned about this vibrant and complex city. As always, I find that it helps me to read to understand. Here’s the best tip I got in New Orleans – Tom Piazza’s book, Why New Orleans Matters. It’s worth pointing out that, not surprisingly, the tip came from a bookseller. If you’re in New Orleans, put the Garden District Book Shop on your list. It has an amazing selection of regional books, but I loved its thoughtful displays and the fact that it’s next door to an inviting coffee shop.
I began reading Piazza’s book on the plane back to Boston and the further I read, the more I wished the plane would turn around and return to New Orleans. As anyone who’s been there knows, New Orleans is far from a perfect place. Bourbon Street absolutely broke my heart. Far from being “fun” and celebratory, Bourbon Street is vulgar (Piazzas’s word) and depressing (my word.) But…down the side streets and away from the drunk, sad, and out-of-town crowd is a city that has figured something out through music and food. We took several walking tours, one with a tour guide who introduced us to a man who lived in a beautiful courtyard away from the crass Bourbon Street scene. This same wonderful tour guide also took us to a small museum in Treme where we learned about the Indian Mardi Gras and saw intricately beaded costumes that take a year to make. We sought out less touristy sites and were rewarded with stories that made us want to know more and visit New Orleans again.
Piazza’s book led to others. Since we’ve been home, I’ve checked out a few web sites that recommend books about New Orleans, and ordered a few already. Here are the books I’ve added to the top of my nightstand pile:
Nine Lives: Mystery, Magic, Death, and Life in New Orleans by Dan Baum
Liquor: A Novel by Poppy Z. Brite
The Keepers of the House by Shirley Ann Grau
City of Refuge by Tom Piazza
1 Dead in the Attic: After Katrina by Chris Rose
I read Zeitoun by Dave Eggers before the trip, but want to read it again now that I’ve seen Zeitoun’s house painting signs on several Garden District homes. Next up: adding a whole bunch of new music to my iPod!