Stewart's Reviews > New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writings from the City

New Orleans, Mon Amour by Andrei Codrescu
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May 17, 2011

really liked it
Read in May, 2011

My fondness for New Orleans is great. I lived in southeast Louisiana for six years in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and I visited the Crescent City, ate at its great restaurants, and listened to its music many times. Despite moving away from the state in 1981, I almost yearly visit my mother, brother, and sister in Baton Rouge with side trips to New Orleans, an hour away.
Thus I looked forward to reading the impressions of the city by the Romanian-born writer and NPR commentator Andrei Codrescu from 1985 to post-Katrina. I tremendously enjoyed this compilation of short and long essays on the city. I especially liked the longer pieces; the two-page transcriptions from his NPR commentaries were a little too slight.
His descriptions and observations are acute. This about the above-ground cemeteries: "New Orleans cemeteries look like vast bakeries quietly holding the ancestral loaves." On Louisiana's relentless hot and humid summers: "The first summer I spent here, in 1985, I was sure that my brains were boiling, and it it weren't for the cool barrooms where I scribbled nonsense, I would have surely evaporated."
In the late 1980s, Codrescu went from being in the crowd during a Mardi Gras parade to being on a float with the Mystic Korpse of Komatose, part of the Krewe de Vieux Carre. He describes throwing beads, doubloons, and medallions to carnival crowds in the French Quarter but running out of throwaways before the conclusion of the parade.
Codrescu does not present merely a Tourist Bureau view of New Orleans. He writes about the high crime rate, the corruption of its city government and especially of its police department, and the prejudices and gun-toting of many of its residents. He criticizes the city government and its residents for their failures to prepare the city adequately for a major hurricane.
But he also affectionately describes the city's many virtues, its "exaltation of the flesh," and being a unique city in the United States: "It's an environment for a specific life-form, a dreamy, lazy, sentimental, musical one, prey to hallucinations (not visions), tolerant, indolent, and gifted at storytelling. This goes against the very grain of American civilization as we know it. We lie incongruously in the way of the thrifty, Puritan America ..."
For someone who is familiar with New Orleans, these essays will bring back memories and recognition. For those unlucky few who have never been there, this book may finally push them to go.
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