The Land of Dreamy Dreams
“I love the friends I have gathered together here on this thin raft.”
— Jim Morrison
There was a lot of chatter in this week’s open thread about Nelson Hidalgo and a lot of time was spent this week on Sonny, another less than sympathetic character. It is easy to hate on Nelson at a superficial level, or shrug off Sonny’s seemingly predictable struggles but I love these two characters. Both are a type of the outsider swallowed by New Orleans, the story of every Tulane student turned bartender, of every Jazz Fest visitor who now makes an annual pilgrimage to the city at off times (I run into these couples a lot on Frenchmen, it seems) and I always ask: so when are you moving?
I often say New Orleans gets its hooks into you but it’s more subtle than that, something as fragile as a sea anemone and as attractive as a pitcher plant (and for some, just as fatal) which entraps. If I could put my finger on it I wouldn’t be hundreds of thousands of words into ToulouseStreet.net and the old Wet Bank Guide but I remember that scene from Season Two after Nelson’s introduction, standing on a hotel balcony, his “big village” moment when you realize he has moved past the tour of bars and restaurants and into the city’s fatal attraction. Sonny is much the same. He seems to have arrived from Amsterdam with enough of the canon in his piano bag to set up up busking. Nelson came for the money but Sonny came for the heady, wet atmosphere. There was a line this season about “dreamers and drunks” from Colson’s meeting with his wife and there’s truth in that, although the drunks are just a subset of the dreamers, the ones who have given up on finding the secret and simply surrenders to the city’s more dangerous charms.
It’s clear from the discussion that Sonny and Nelson are not the most popular characters. No one (except maybe me) has faith in Sonny’s possibilities of redemption, much less Nelson’s but there is some subtle link between the early meetings between C.J. Ligori and Nelson with their discussion of Catholicism that hints at redemption, that leads me to wonder about the division of hustle and honesty when he puts Robinette on the papers for his new LLC, the one doing honest work with the NOAH money. He seems to be slipping back onto the bus to Easy Street but he is hovering at the edge, just as Sonny is tottering between the gutter and wedding bells at Mary Queen of Vietnam. There is a story in these characters by a couple of guys from up north (and yeah, Baltimore is up north from here) who were themselves lured by the magic of New Orleans music, who have perhaps themselves considered New Orleans’ allure and its effect on people, who have perhaps met more than a few fellow dreamers sitting in the Carousel or the gutter outside, lost in the dream.
Nelson and Sonny may seem like plot devices on legs but there is an old story acted out many times before on these streets without the benefits of catering and No Parking signs. That they represent, and that a couple of guys with no grandparents in the graveyard capture this particular facet of the story of New Orleans says something about the depth of Treme’s writing. You can go ahead and hate on Hildalgo or groan every time Sonny picks up a drink but this is one story line (and it is one, two-headed story line) I hope gets fully played out before the end of the series.
– Wet Bank Guy