'Treme': Post-Katrina New Orleans Gets Complicated

By Rachael Brown
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HBO


At one point in this week's episode of Treme, the saxophonist Donald Harrison reminds Delmond Lambreaux that there isn't just one New Orleans sound or culture. (Delmond had expressed surprise to hear the banjo-heavy performance of Don Vappie on the "Crescent City Twelfth Night" tour he joined.) It's an interesting point for Delmond to make, as he himself plays more straight-ahead jazz than New Orleans swing, but it calls to mind a reoccurring theme in the show, and in audiences' reactions to it: that of what is authentic, and what is the "real" New Orleans.

Last week, Atlantic correspondent Lane Wallace tackled the idea of what makes a place "real," noting: "On some level, it's impossible to capture or define the "real" anywhere, because places are not just fixed buildings you can point to. They're a melding of culture, viewpoint, character, detail and experience. And every person's experience of a place, group, event or culture is unique ... what we view as the "real" version of places we know, or have known, is almost always one in which we belong."

She continued:

But in the end, when we argue about what the "real" New Orleans (or anywhere else) is—beyond a general definition of a place that's far more complex and far less sanitized than the mass-market sights most tourists see—we aren't arguing about reality at all. We're arguing about narratives. The irony, of course, is that a narrative is just a story we've created in our minds. So while we can enjoy exploring all the rich and varied stories and perspectives that exist within a community, city, or country, and they can give us a far greater understanding of its many faces and truths, perhaps the reality is ... there is no "real" New Orleans. Or America. Or, at least, not one we can ever objectively describe or define, outside of our own minds.

Those differing experiences play throughout the episode. A few weeks ago I criticized the show for its two-dimensional take on NOLA law enforcement, but last night we started to see more depth, specifically in former NOPD cop Jim Dietrich, whom Toni seeks out in the hopes to tracing what happened to Daymo. When she asks why Dietrich abandoned his job, he responds simply that he couldn't take it anymore—he worked for nine days straight after the storm, living out of his car, with his house underwater. Dave Walker of the Times-Picayune points out that there were 91 officers like Dietrich, who quit the force in the aftermath of the storm, while another 228 were investigated for leaving their posts.

Toni performs some impressive detective work to trace Dietrich, and then tracks his abandoned squad car to find his arrest book, which confirms that Daymo was arrested after a traffic stop the morning of the storm, on account of a warrant that should have already been cleared. Basically, poor Daymo has spent six months lost in the prison system because he ran a red light.

Annie walks out on Sonny, fed up with his drug use, and his attempts to prevent her from playing with other musicians, even as he butchers their own street performances while high. Jeanette can't make her expenses and has to shutter the restaurant until she can figure out a plan. Davis's city council run is more circus than campaign, but that might change after a talk with NOLA politico Jacques Morial, who challenges Davis to raise some real issues. Creighton dresses his family as sperm for his Krew du Vieux float. And Albert's still angry that the housing projects remain closed, even though they weren't damaged. (The inequity in housing resources following Katrina continues even today; take a look at this Colorlines article for more.) For some, re-opening the city projects wasn't a priority, "now that certain elements have been pushed out," as Davis's mother—apparently a Jefferson Davis descendant—not so subtly put it.

Music worth watching for: Donald Harrison and Delmond's performance of "Iko Iko" at Fathead's in Houston was fantastic. Even though theirs was an instrumental version, the song's lyrics tell the story of two Mardi Gras Indian crews colliding during a parade, and has something of an interesting history. First recorded by the Dixie Cups in 1965, it has been covered by everyone, (including, bizarrely, Cyndi Lauper).

What we're wondering: What's behind Albert's dismissal of Delmond's musical career, especially considering Albert's own unused upright bass? Is it solely that he feels Delmond has rejected his Mardi Gras Indian roots?

I half expected the caller on the other end of Jeanette's unanswered phone to be Tom Colicchio, with some sort of news that would save her restaurant.

Creighton, always prickly, is increasingly full of contradictions. He posts his rants about the government handling of Katrina—"Fuck you, you fucking fucks!"—on YouTube, but blanches when his publisher and agent want him to also be the "voice of the storm" in what he sees as his "real" writing. He dismisses Davis's city council campaign—"Pot for Potholes, Ho's for Schools"—as a stunt that overlooks the seriousness of the situation in NOLA, but he's delighted to build a papier-mâché float of a masturbating Mayor Nagin for Krew du Vieux. "That's political satire," he defends.

By our count, Antoine now has five kids that we know of: his daughter with Desiree, two sons with LaDonna, the boy that called out to him during the parade, and that boy's sister. "Come see us," the new son pleads from the sidelines...

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2010/05/treme-post-katrina-new-orleans-gets-complicated/56827/