NEW ORLEANS: What Can't Be Lost
By Jan Ramsey - offbeat, September 1, 2010
It’s not that often that I fall in love with a book, but after reading through New Orleans, What Can’t Be Lost: 88 Stories and Traditions from the Sacred City, I’m raving about it.
I purchased my copy at the event where Sweet Home New Orleans published its report on the state of the music community last week. Christopher Porché West, whose photographs you’ve probably seen in New Orleans (I have one of his in my office), contributed all the photos in the book. Porché West has been a documentarian of the “Sacred City” for over 30 years now, and his photographs, coupled with short jewel-like written vignettes about what makes New Orleans such a special place, create a book to be treasured for anyone who loves New Orleans.
It’s almost impossible for any media—television show, film, poem, photograph, visual art, essay, book—to capture the essence of New Orleans, but I’d say this book comes pretty damned close.
There are entries from everyone from Poppy Z. Brite (“The defining characteristic of New Orleans is surely a live-and-let-live credo, a near-universal belief that as long as that fat man wearing his pirate costume and pushing the hot dog cart [referring to Ignatius Reilly] isn’t hurting anybody, he’s not crazy, he’s just interesting.”) to Anders Osborne (“The music of New Orleans is as rich as the smoke of fifteen kitchens cooking at the same time on one block; it is as deep as ten thousand years of culture merging on one square; it is as joyous as the birth of a child and can be as mournful as life without any hope or faith.”) to Simonette Berry (“Performance is a part of daily life here. The famous costuming tradition is translated into a different ceremony through the decoration of homes and businesses.”) to Michael Sartisky (“New Orleans was, is and will be—even more so if we perish—the shrine and seedbed of American culture.”).
These are certainly not the most incisive, pithy or profound statements from this book, but it’s so chock-a-block with ideas and realities about what makes New Orleans so special, that’s it’s difficult to quote what’s best.
The photos by Porché West aren’t necessarily tied to the essays within, but they certainly demonstrate what the city is about; its beauty, pathos, fun, decay, music and all the rest.
One of the best things about the books is that its proceeds will benefit Sweet Home New Orleans, an organization that’s done so much to help local musicians and culture standard-bearers recover after Hurricane Katrina.
If you love New Orleans and find that why you love it so is difficult for you to express in words (as I often am), then get this book, read it, and buy one for your friends…
EYES OF EAGLES
By Christopher Porché West
Preview and purchase at blurb.com.