New Orleans is unlike any city in America. Its cultural diversity is woven into the food, the music, the architecture – even the local superstitions. It’s a sensory experience on all levels and there’s a story lurking around every corner. –Ruta Sepetys
New Orleans has always seemed like a mythical city to me, something along the lines of Shangri-La or Cibola. Perhaps that’s because of the many names the city is known by – Crescent City, the Big Easy, the Big Sleazy, NOLA, Nawlins…with so many names it’s possible to believe that they all refer to different places. But, no matter what you call it, given the joyous traditions of music, food, and celebrations it’s easy to understand why some people refuse to live anywhere else.
There’s definitely a dark side to New Orleans that somehow adds to the fascination of the city. With a history of discrimination, poverty, corruption and violence, New Orleans has not always been a fun place to live. In spite of the dark times, or perhaps because of them, the allure of New Orleans continues to captivate people. My New Orleans: ballads to the Big Easy by her sons, daughters and lovers is a collection of essays that explores all that there is to love about this legendary place.
For a more visual selection, Very New Orleans: a celebration of history, culture and Cajun country charm by Diana Hollingsworth Gessler is a gorgeously illustrated book that brings to life all of the lush greenery and historic architecture that is at the heart of New Orleans.
Right from the start, New Orleans has been a city in a constant state of change. As Ned Sublette recounts in his book The World that made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square. New Orleans began in a brawl between England, France and Spain. Over the centuries, New Orleans has seen more than its share of trouble and conflict between people, however, the darkest time in New Orleans was caused by Mother Nature.
Hurricane Katrina left a huge swath of devastation in her wake, which almost destroyed the city forever. Reading a book like Not just the levees Broke, a first hand account of surviving Katrina by Phyllis Montana-Leblanc or Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink gives a bit of insight as to just how bad things really were.
In spite of all the tragedies that New Orleans has endured, some things remain constant – good food and good music. New Orleans cookery take
s the best of all the many cultures the city is noted for, and mingles them together to produce flavors that can’t be found anywhere else. To bring a bit of Creole to your Canadian kitchen, check out Treme: Stories and Recipes from the heart of New Orleans.
Music has been a part of New Orleans since it was founded, but of all the music that the city has known, jazz could be called the city’s soundtrack. The DVD series Jazz by Ken Burns offers a taste of the sights and sounds spanning nearly 100 years in the birthplace of jazz.
Sookie Stackhouse, Dave Robicheaux and Lana Pulaski may not be actual people, but as book characters that live in or near New Orleans they embody the spirit of the city and bring it to life. If you prefer non-fiction to fiction, Sean Payton is an actual person whose biography on the return of pro football to New Orleans embodies the indomitable spirit of the city.
Let the good times roll!