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Xmas in Debrisville

May 3, 2010

Last night’s episode “At the Foot of Canal Street” was, like the first, as much about character as the momentum of the plot: a slow, kaleidoscopic realignment of the characters in revealing ways — Lulu’s son showing up for practice, and Lambreaux’s dinner with them, the divergence of Annie and Sonny (and Janette leaving Davis alone at the bar with his political delusions), the entire constellation of Antoine and his sons and LaDonna and her husband, the contrast of Creighton’s ranting personality with the man in front of the tree.

It’s Christmas in Debrisville and if Creighton’s screed seems out of place with the holiday spirit of him decorating a tree, it was a Christmas when trees were artificial if you didn’t flood and but otherwise absent if you were home. Outside viewers may have missed the significance of the moment but when he held up the ornament his daughter had made in first grade every heart in New Orleans stopped for a moment. For every one like Creighton’s safe on his Uptown tree there were a thousand drowned and lost.

There was just enough Dickens in this episode to remind us of the season: the Bernettes’ tree, the window decals as Annie busked outside the Apple Barrel (Liz! You’re a TV Star!), the Christian charity of LaDonna’s husband fixing Antoine’s teeth (after dithering over her helping with her brother); even the scene in which the prisoner tells the story of LaDonna’s brother seemed a genuine recantation when confronted by LaDonna’s mother.

There was also just enough despair to remind everyone that after almost five months, simple things like lighting the burners on the stove of Janette’s restaurant was a crap shoot, that the streets could swallow your car in an inattentive moment (I’m surprised he didn’t get a nail flat instead, but that wouldn’t have advanced Davis’ new political career), the unwanted holiday present of a headline asking why rebuild New Orleans, Batiste has a tooth but as a toss away line by Toni Bernette tells us she spent a day unsuccessfully looking for his instrument (which means that cops took it and Annie and Sonny could not rescue it).

At this point we are still in the power of the ghost of Debrisville Christmas present, but there were clear signals of where the ghost of the future may take us: into a more complex Antoine (who I earlier complained seemed a bit flat and cartoonish), into a separation of Annie and Sonny that everyone watching hopes does not involve a Ginzu knife, toward hope for LaDonna and her mother and a new life for Albert.

The last was the most touching: the boy who seemed so unpromising showing up for practice, a hope for the future even as Albert buries his wildman and loses that man’s son to a distant city, together with Lulu’s dinner invitation were a poignant reminder that Christmas is a holiday of promise and hope, the joy of the newborn without much thought for the bloody crucifixion waiting at the end; a reminder that we are all if not precisely a city of saints, then at least like the early Christians a people washed in the gospel of New Orleans, willing to look past the trials and tribulations of this world toward what is — for us — a secular version of redemption for New Orleans and ourselves, the promise of a new Jerusalem of parades and po-boys, of a bright coming home like that promised by John Boutte’s song At the Foot of Canal Street.

— Mark “wet bank guy” Folse

14 Comments
  1. May 3, 2010 8:26 am

    nicely said. X

  2. greg p permalink
    May 3, 2010 8:51 am

    I thought “Foot of Canal Street” was about death, and referenced that cluster of cemeteries at the north end.

  3. May 3, 2010 8:53 am

    Yes but its also a gospel coming home to heaven song. Otherwise Boutte wouldn’t be so damn happy about getting there.

  4. May 3, 2010 9:03 am

    I thought the fact that Toni couldn’t find Antoine’s bone indicated that Annie & Sonny do have it.

    Also, gotta tip the hat to Adrastos for the Debrisville coinage. I just assumed it was his post when I saw it in the title. All this Treme and talking about Treme makes me miss you guys so much. More than anything it takes me back to finding y’all online in the months after the flood. It reminds me of how my friends & family here couldn’t stand to be around me because New Orleans was the only thing I could talk about and I got so emotional when I did and the joy I experienced being around y’all because you were the same way.

    And the oil spill gives it all this new layer, so to speak, of emotion. *sigh*

  5. brueso permalink
    May 3, 2010 9:47 am

    Agreed- nicely written.

  6. brueso permalink
    May 3, 2010 9:49 am

    (sigh) re. ‘the spill’.

  7. May 3, 2010 10:20 am

    It’s not a “spill” any more than the Federal Flood was a “hurricane”. Just sayin’. I don’t want to current events to spill into this discussion much further. We all have our own blogs for that.

  8. May 3, 2010 6:19 pm

    I rarely watch television without Tweetdeck, so when I’m watching, I’m also seeing the reactions of other viewers who’re tagging their tweets with whatever hashtag is being used for that show. I didn’t do it with Treme the first two episodes, afraid of missing things, but have the last two. Of course, there’s no reason I can’t also keep following #oilspill, so the #oilspill column is right next to the Treme column (the upside of ADHD), adding a new layer of poignance, or irony. I promise to try to stay on topic and to think about Treme without regard to recent events, ’cause that’s how it was made, but I think the world is a better place if we’re having a long, thoughtful and interesting public discussion about why these words matter and what we should be calling the aftermath of the Deep Water Horizon drilling platform disaster, regardless of where that happens. Also, and perhaps most importantly, I think this wonderful blog would enlighten any who might land here in the course of searching online for information about that not just an oilspill rather than this television show, in the best way, and that not only should it be okay for us to talk about it, but I hope to hell y’all’re tagging your posts with that stuff, ’cause the whole world is searching it right now, and they need to be educated. Ok, I’ll shut up now. Please forgive my off-topicity.

    For me, the most heartrending moment in Ep 4, the one I found myself thinking about even through a ridiculously busy day at work, was Antoine’s inappropriate Christmas gifts for his boys, the degree to which he’d lost them and the boys’ complete understanding thereof. The baseball reference hit me right in my soft spot.

    This is a great post, Mark. So much of what y’all are writing calls to mind the things you were writing then. I hope this will inspire some folks to go back and read those posts too.

  9. May 3, 2010 10:02 pm

    For anyone who doesn’t know the story behind the song, Paul Sanchez explains it here:

    Strongest episode so far. I’m no longer surprised by how effectively Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters inhabit their characters. Both were terrific on The Wire and both are terrific on Treme. I also think that Kim Dickens has been outstanding. In general, the story lines are settling in, with the episodes becoming more dramatically satisfying by the week.

  10. granzombi permalink
    May 5, 2010 12:25 am

    Nicely done, Mark. I must say I didn’t get the ornament significance in the show although I have had exactly your thought every Christmas since 06, with all the family back, when we, in Algiers, have still had all the ones our kids made from kindergarten on. On the tube it just blew by. In 2005 we had no Christmas, just a couple of lonely men drinking way too much. I’m new here, so I hope my intrusion isn’t rude. One of the things I enjoy most about all of these episodes is the use of the music, so much of it is hardwired into my mind, I don’t even think about it before naming all the players and the albums. How does it sound to folks who live in Boston? I moved here largely due to Dr Johns Gumbo and its incredible liner notes, a chance pick up in a Virginia drug store when I was a 13 year old piano fan. I came to the Quarter back in the days of Buster Holmes and Takee Outee and the easy money of the oil boom. If forced to live somewhere else, I could be happy with the Treme soundtrack. Without any of that music I’d be a fish out of water. I remember the first two or three weeks after the storm cheering if I hit on Nolia Clap on a rap station or Goin Back Home on NPR. The music kept me and my kids going, hopefully this will make some serious connections nationally for Joe Krown, Tom McDermott, Paul Sanchez, Glen David, Big Sam, the Vipers folks, etc. Shorty is already getting his, and good for him. I know she’s not from here anymore, but I’d love to hear Lucinda Williams “Crescent City” referenced just once in the background, I had that on repeat on my way back across the damaged twin spans.

  11. liprap permalink
    May 5, 2010 6:31 am

    Welcome, granzombi!

    All I could think of when I saw Creighton looking longingly at that ornament was a recent assignment my son had that required he find photos of himself from each year of his life for a personal time line. I told some people about how tough it was to find some pictures after a certain year for me, as everything had been digitized, and one of the folks I was talking to said, “Oh, and what about those who got flooded out? People’s pictures were RUINED. Who’s thinking of that when they assign this?”

    The small ways in which all of this still affects us can open up when you least expect it. The Bernette’s have their pictures. But those who don’t….

  12. May 5, 2010 6:36 am

    I can’t imagine anyone in New Orleans assigning such a project.

    Mark Folse Toulouse Street — Odd Bits of Life in New Orleans http://toulousestreet.net “You got to be a spirit! You can’t be no ghost.” –Rastaman the Griot

  13. May 5, 2010 10:49 am

    The show gets richer.

    Christmas and Thanksgiving, New Orleans, 2005.

    People scattered to the four winds came back to be together somewhere, but together in New Orleans, for those holidays, even when they had to leave again. As one person explained it to her family about her friends and herself and Thanksgiving in New Orleans, “We’ve been celebrating Thanksgiving together every year since we got to this place where we all wanted to live. We’re all going to live in New Orleans again. We HAVE to be together for this one.”

    The variety of hats the audience wore in Rusty’s (the Houston gig) — and that line-up of musicians — Woo!

    Love, C.

    Love, C.

  14. Scott Harney permalink
    May 6, 2010 11:44 am

    I _still_ occasionally look for some item — say a cooking utensil — and then think “oh yeah, that was in the bottom cabinets back in mid city”. Five frickin’ years later. It doesn’t catch me emotionally the same way. But it always sort of amazes me.

    A teacher making an assignment like that clearly was not here at the time….

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