To think, all I wanted to buy was one book. Just one. And not even some special artsy-fartsy coffee table glossy extravaganza of a book. It was simply one of those "Best of 2006" writing anthology deals - the "Nonrequired Reading " one edited by Dave Eggers.
I went to one local bookstore where I had seen a copy of it a few days before. I came across the article Michael Lewis wrote for the New York Times on Katrina in the book, and decided to pick up the book when I was more in the mood (since, as I wrote previously, I have sworn off Katrina lit for the time being). The first bookstore didn't have it, so after I did a couple of other things, I went to this store instead and came across the book there.
The trouble with me and any bookstore or library, however, is that I still have to browse, even if I find exactly what I'm looking for. I traipsed around in the shop and spied a photography book by Robert Polidori, entitled Metropolis, and I was captivated. The lighting and some of the juxtapositions of old and new structures in some of the pictures was striking. Partway through looking at the book, I realized I was in the way of an employee's setting up a display of signed copies of Polidori's latest book.
And that is when I got sucked back into grief. And more than a touch of anger. And remembrance.
Polidori's new one, After The Flood, needs to be sent to every politician on the planet. It is an overwhelming book, and not just because of its physical size (nearly 13" x 17" and approx. 11 pounds in weight). Polidori took pictures of everything, it seems. He went into loads of flooded houses armed with nothing but an SLR camera and ISO 32 film. He manually controlled the opening and closing of the camera's shutter, counting in French as he did so. What he captured on film captured my devastation at seeing a ruined Lakeview house my first day back in New Orleans. Except Polidori's camera eye didn't flinch. The book goes on. And on. And on.
I couldn't stop looking. I couldn't stop talking with the bookstore employee about the stuff we'd all been through. I held back tears - a major effort on my part. One of the bookstore owners walked by wanting to get the price on a small folio of Polidori's earlier work, a series of photos the man had made of Chernobyl in the present day. That's when I made it a point to pay for the book I came for and get the hell out of the store.
The employee had told me that Polidori had talked of the difference between photographing Chernobyl and post-levee breach New Orleans: Chernobyl was more of a company town, whereas New Orleans has a soul, one that got seriously hurt through what happened. Polidori's next assignment is supposedly in Beirut or thereabouts. The man is reluctant to go after all he has seen here in this city. He has enough pictures to fill two more books of the same length and size as After The Flood.
If he ever decides to compile those, I will have to avoid them like the plague. As it is, I will probably avoid the Michael Lewis essay for a while, though it is much lighter in tone and is not illustrated in any way in the anthology.
My son already has "FEMA trailer" in his lexicon. I don't need this honking big book of nothing but tragedy and pain sitting where he can take it in, or where I can take it in. It costs too damn much - and I don't just mean monetarily. Most neighborhoods here still look like Polidori's pictures, and people here are paying every day in money and blood for their homes to emerge from the mud, the mold, and the wind damage.
Take my advice. Don't spend the money on this book - unless you buy it from a Gulf Coast independent bookstore and send it to your Congressional representative or Senator. Or to the head of insurance companies such as Allstate.
They are the ones who need to be reminded the most of what has happened and is still happening around here.