Sunday, June 1, 2008

Same Old Story...but a Better Ending

Just finished reading a book by Sara Roahen chronicling her exploration and devotion to the cuisine and culture of New Orleans called "Gumbo Tales: Finding My Place at the New Orleans Table." I really enjoyed this book for the first 9/1oths. Then I got sick to my stomach. The reason for my illness is that this book reminds me of one of the big problems with New Orleans. Allow me to explain.

Mrs. Roahen moves to New Orleans as her then boyfriend now husband begins Med School. They find a little house Uptown, discover Mardi Gras, po-boys, Vietnamese markets, crawfish, and well, New Orleans. She falls in love with it and soon becomes the food writer for Gambit. Her book chronicles her love affair with our city. Things look good, New Orleans will gain another culinary voice, and a young doctor to boot.

And then they depart for Philadelphia (although they still own a house in New Orleans, to be fair). I think we have all heard this story before. "We loved New Orleans, we met in College there, but we moved away to live in Typical American City, USA because of the better schools/jobs/infrastructure." Great thanks for playing, please remember to take your lovely parting gifts: a Cajun Culinary Cornucopia from Creole Delicacies, a Saints Fan/Bud Man bumper sticker, and a now useless crawfish pot.

Not to use Mrs. Roahen as a straw man; but if you love New Orleans so much (and enough to profit on a book about her) than stay. Or at least come back and not just as a visitourist. Maybe just maybe, New Orleans could have better schools/jobs/infrastructure if the bright, fluorescent lights of Atlanta did not draw away our best and brightest from the gas lit lamps of the French Quarter. But then again, maybe not.

That aside Mrs. Roahen's book divides into different chapters based on the food item she explores (po-boys, snowballs, red beans and rice). Sometimes her analogies leave you wondering "huh?" but she knows her topic well. And her ability to describe food makes me hungry.

Gumbo Tales will undoubtedly leave you wondering how you have never had Big Mama's gumbo before or why you don't eat Ya-Ka-Mien. I love a book that gives me a lead on something new that I should have known about all along. New Orleanians take a lot of things for granted about our city, every now and then we need an outsider's freshly brewed cafe-au-lait to remind us how lucky we are to live in New Orleans. So for that, thank you Mrs. Roahen. Now come back. New Orleans needs you.

EDIT: I have been informed that Mrs. Roahen has moved back to New Orleans. And I could not be happier. To be proven wrong is a great feeling sometimes. But the fact remains that story, although Mrs. Roahen's has the happy ending many do not, occurs all to often.


Frolic said...

As one of Sara's friends, I can assure you that you've got no clue what you're talking about. Her story is hardly the typical one of people spending a few years in the city and then moving on. It has everything to do with Katrina and the jobs and opportunities that disappeared in the aftermath of the storm. I won't go into details, because it's not my story to tell.

And you might want to check her blog before attacking her personally (see Sara and her husband moved back several months ago.

Sara said...

Thanks for the correction, Frolic. And thanks for the mostly positive book plug, Rene. I understand why you reacted as you did to our having (temporarily) left New Orleans, but if Katrina should have taught us one thing, it's how complicated this life can get. For everyone. We all had our own stories coming out of that mess of a storm, and mine took me to Philadelphia for a spell. I missed this place bodily every day. And I'm thrilled to no end to be home.