Bringing Back The Culture

One of the many lingering tragedies of Katrina in New Orleans is that it is still seen as a humanitarian and physical catastrophe, and not also as a profound cultural catastrophe for America and the world.

In ruining lives and neighborhoods, the flood also took away the neighborhoods as spawning grounds for the singular public art that made New Orleans so important - brass bands, Mardi Gras Indian groups, second-line parades, food, Social Aid and Pleasure Clubs, Carnival marching groups, the bounce strain of hip-hop. All of these were constantly renewing and energizing themselves, spinning off fresh art in a widespread and indigenous creative culture.

A proper city vision would deal with how to bring back the neighborhoods so they could bring back their culture so that their culture can bring back the physical city. The culture depends on affordable housing for low-income renters, who include trombone players and restaurant workers. City and state have yet to come up with comprehensive plans to deal with housing for renters.

The impact of community and neighborhood on the New Orleans contribution to world culture is clear in a remarkable book that may be the best of the large crop of post-Katrina New Orleans books. "Song for My Fathers" by Tom Sancton, a Paris-based writer, is his memoir of a white teenage clarinetist who managed to play traditional New Orleans jazz with the great old "mens" of Preservation Hall in the 1960s, and who came to understand their lives and their neighborhoods. I can't think of a better book to explain the mysteries and peculiarities of New Orleans, and why it still matters.

Copyright 2006, Hartford Courant  

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