Ride, drive or walk past Press Street and you are crossing the invisible line between the Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods. The divide isn't as big as, say, Uptown and downtown, but it's tangible. Press Street runs along the railroad tracks, and Bywater is that neighborhood that begins the distinction formerly known as the wrong side of town. Being from the wrong side of the tracks in this case, though, is a good thing; it seems to allow a certain artistic and personal freedom. The literary and visual arts collective named after Press Street is anything but divisive, but it does seek to look at questions of divide -- whether racial, economic, social or interpersonal -- in its first publication, Intersection | New Orleans. On a more basic level, the anthology of writing and visual art takes as its leaping-off point the simple fact of the physical intersections, in this case the streets of New Orleans, the corners we cut around town every day, often without thinking twice about what happened there before us or even what happened to us in that particular locale. Those days of luxurious street crossing seem lost to me now, when I stop to consider whether a whole part or even a small detail might be wiped away by construction, destruction or reconstruction, terms we are all tired of by now, but are stuck with nonetheless.
One of the great things about Intersection | New Orleans -- besides the beautiful artwork and thoughtful writing contributed by 50 local and well-known artists and writers -- is its ability to make the reader think about his or her own city map, the streets and places we call our stomping grounds, the people whose paths we've crossed. New Orleans being so old and so gracefully worn, the physical is always there to remind us. Lately, we feel vulnerable to losing our hearts and minds because of this very fact. Good or bad, we each have our own communal and individual memories tied to these intersections and paths. The question that hurts then is, if place reminds us of our memories, what happens when there is no place? Hence the term "displaced" and all the horrific feelings that come from the actual state. But look around hard, look around at all the people who are here day in and day out: we're not placeless. With much work, high demands and a little luck, New Orleans will be okay.
There could be several volumes of Intersection | New Orleans. Every New Orleanian could submit his or her story, could tell everything about their lives through the exercise of writing about where they've been. I suggest this exercise for people who are still inexpressibly mourning the loss of things and friends. This collection of stories and pictures inspires such a project, and this city absolutely demands a record for all that came before and all that will come after. Katrina is prevalent in many of these haunting images and recollections, but she is only one more crossroad, a mere roadblock if you feel so bold, in the long history of this city. The good news is we won't ever cross paths with her again. But we will always remember. Nothing can take that away. Beauty was here before and it is all around us today.
Press Street collective hosts an art show and book-release party to celebrate our city, Uptown and downtown, and to contribute to the literacy and art programs for New Orleans' youth. All of the book's proceeds benefit NOCCA/Riverfront's writing program. -- Katie Walenter
7 p.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday, June 24
LÕArt noir gallery, 4108 St. Claude Ave. ; www.press-street.com