Thursday, September 02, 2010

Five books on New Orleans

Tom Piazza writes for Treme, the new HBO show from The Wire creator David Simon. He is the author of nine books, including the novel City Of Refuge and the post-Katrina book Why New Orleans Matters.

He discussed books about New Orleans with Daisy Banks for FiveBooks. One book on his list:
Gumbo Ya Ya by Robert Tallant and Lyle Saxon

This is a collection of Louisiana folklore, assembled in the 1930s; to my knowledge it has been in print ever since. The word ‘gumbo’ is of African origin and it means, roughly, ‘mixed together’. The phrase ‘gumbo ya-ya’ is from the Creole and means ‘everyone talking at once’. So the book is a gathering of many voices.

Tallant and Saxon knew New Orleans very well. They travelled around Louisiana in the 1930s, gathering every conceivable kind of folklore about cooking, ghosts, families, the landscape and all the different Mardi Gras traditions, including the Mardi Gras Indians, the men who mask as Skeletons, and the Baby Dolls, women who dress up every year in fanciful childish costumes. It’s a big thing again now but for a while people didn’t mask as Skeletons or Baby Dolls. In the 1990s there began to be a revival of interest in some of those old-time rituals, I’m not sure why. Hurricane Katrina has, I think, only intensified people’s awareness of how unusual and precious these cultural expressions are.
Read about another book on Piazza's list.

--Marshal Zeringue