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I’m Still Just Cleaning Up The Mess

October 15, 2012

Is 2007 all over, which includes not getting the Open Thread up for this episode last night. Blame Permanent Traumatic Stress Disorder, and the Saints bye-week leaving us all confusalated.

A Life and Death Situation

October 11, 2012

“Crickets. Do you know what I remember most about right after the storm? How quiet it was. No cars. No buzz from those power lines. No birds. Not even crickets. It was quiet as death. So know when I hear those buts rubbing their legs together like they do, I feel fortunate, Delmond.”

New Orleans, 2007. Life. Everywhere life. In hotel rooms fancy and nasty, in the back seat of cars, singing in the trees. Life and death, rolling side by side like running partners because here in New Orleans we’re all running away from and toward death and when you come to a corner and you don’t know where to turn, there’s a bar. There’s a jukebox. Out in front, a crepe myrtle blooms.

New Orleans, 2007. Life.

Death. Albert facing about the doctor. “It’s about how you stand.” I think I know where Delmond stands, or where I would like to see him, following the Wild Man out on Carnival Day. We all know how Albert stands. Won’t bow. Don’t know how. The juxtaposition of the senseless death of Jay Cardella and Albert’s diagnosis, neither fatality ever to appear on an Official List of Victims of Katrina. Cardella would wind up on the signboard outside St. Anna’s Episcopal Church. Albert’s obituary may not mention the flood at all. A friend of my mother’s died in 2007, elderly, displaced, traumatized. She will never appear on the Official List but her headstone reads “A Victim of Katrina” and she was. Neither of the characters can claim that horrible distinction but each was lead to death by the city they love. “There’s two things that make life worth living, and one of them is fried food,” Albert tells Delmond with a mock leer and truer words were never spoken. Cardella and his real life analogue found happiness in this city’s famous tolerance for what my current anthropology reading calls “transgressive behavior.” Death was incidental. Joy was intentional. I lived in Washington, D.C. for most of a decade and in the late ’80s and early ’90s death was ever-present. In my frontier neighborhood in North East I could see it walk the streets at night with a tell-tale swag, hear it in the slow, crickety buildup of a gun battle somewhere to the north while sitting in my backyard. There was something fatally attractive about D.C. but it was different from New Orleans. The attraction was power, the Hierophant (V), nothing worth dying for whether on a corner up by Gallaudet or on the sands of Iraq. The troubles of New Orleans may be about power but the city is not. It is about mystery, exploration, a distracted carelessness, an ancient arcana. Its card is The Fool (0). In New Orleans is a reason to live not found elsewhere, and a place worth dying in, preferably of old age and muleish pig-headedness. [Insert obligatory half-step snare-snap trombone parasol wall oven reference here].

I think I said something about this already, once upon a time in the 2007 time-frame of Season 3, and we’ll leave it at that. “If history and the city consumes us all one-by-one but the city lives on, that perhaps was what was always intended, why we were all lured home.”

That’s The Crime Problem Right There

October 8, 2012

After last week’s episode aired, I heard that two well respected local writers with whom I am acquainted had been a bit stunned and chagrined by the murder of the Salon owner character, Jay Cardella (played by Greg Zola). I was intrigued by that and gave it some thought this week. I had to admit that I was a bit weirded out by it as well. I couldn’t quite figure out why as the Treme writers have included the losses of Helen Hill, Dinerral Shavers, OPP prisoners, kids on the street in previous seasons. Many of us recognized personal losses in the losses shown on screen, starting with Creighton Burnette. So why does this one seem to be hitting some of us in a different way? I can only speak for myself, but before I can explain my own feelings about it, I have to back track a little.

The time period of this episode was a tremendously difficult time. We knew about the Danziger Bridge cops. Rumors about other police perpetrated atrocities traveled from block to block, bar to bar, person to person, some of which turned out to be simply rumors, while others proved to our horror to be true. Our Police Chief, Warren Riley, had become Chief of Police four weeks after Katrina had decimated not just the city, but the police department. Police had gone AWOL, some never came back, some were just basket cases like the rest of the population, many had lost their homes like the rest of the population, and now they had a new Chief of Police. An already deeply broken departmental culture was now utterly fragmented. At the same time, New Orleans had a District Attorney, Eddie Jordan, who seemed completely ineffectual and he and the new Chief of Police didn’t much care for each other.

Many, many records of arrests and evidence collected connected to crimes had been stored on the bottom floor when Katrina hit. They were completely trashed by and large. There was some attempt to dry some out, in fact I remember one press conference in which some mucky muck said that it would take months for the records to be dried and usable if they could be salvaged at all. So a lot of criminals whose records were in there did a happy dance and it appeared that those crimes would just be zeroed out. Those of us living here at the time were busy with our lives, so although we didn’t spend all our waking hours thinking about all those files, we did discuss the ramifications and wonder why on earth this stuff hadn’t been put in a safer place. Naturally, though, there were new crimes being committed.

Fast forward a few months.

As crime, murders in particular, climbed all the various players took defensive positions. The DA said the police weren’t collecting evidence, or weren’t collecting it properly. He blamed the cops for not giving him enough ammunition to take cases to court and win. The police, for their part, blamed the DA, accusing him of everything from laziness to cowardice. The Public Defender’s office was overwhelmed, understaffed and underfunded and they got blamed for asking for too many continuances which in effect allowed some criminals to skate because they weren’t brought to trial in a timely fashion. The term “misdemeanor murder” was born as they were released after being held for the maximum allowable time. The always good for a sound bite Mayor Nagin polished his head and blamed the knuckleheads and said he’d sit down with the Chief of Police and the DA and things would be better.

The population took to the streets as we saw portrayed last season. We were fed up, sick of the internecine bickering and finger pointing, and we really hoped that our statement of rage and unity would make a difference. Perhaps that was naïve. I know at the time a lot of people thought so, but those of us who went out there on that day knew we couldn’t just sit in our living rooms bitching anymore.

Then along came 2007. Eddie Jordan, the beleaguered DA left office and Leon Cannizzaro took over. Police Chief Riley stayed for three more years. Also during 2007, Robin Malta was murdered.

Robin Malta was a popular hairdresser and activist, who was murdered in a most barbaric way at the age of 43. I knew him to say hi to if I saw him outside his salon on Decatur or if I ran into him in a bar, but I didn’t know him well. His murder, however, hit me and everyone I knew hard. I think it had everything to do with the senselessness of it, the niceness of the man, and the fact that his murder came after the march, after people started lists of the dead on church walls and blog lists. His murder came when we were in a holding pattern of hope, albeit cautious hope.

We watched to see how the investigation would shape up. We hoped that they would catch whoever did it, prosecute that person and lock that person up. We followed the case and were devastated as some details about his murder, the condition of his house when the body was found, and the possible motives were discussed, effectively dragging a lovely man’s dignity through gutters. The police claimed that he was killed over a drug debt (that’s why Colson’s statement in this episode was so resonant), and when they arrested the alleged perpetrator, stories became all the more lurid. In 2009 the killer was convicted and sentenced to life without parole, and yes we were happy about that even though virtually all the evidence convicting him was circumstantial. Cannizzaro himself prosecuted the case, making an effective political statement that he wasn’t Eddie Jordan in the doing, but some people were deeply upset by his using this particular case to make that statement.

So why did Robin Malta’s death shake us so? Because it signalled a continued lack of efficiency and sensitivity in NOPD’s investigations of crimes. Because we never got an adequate answer to the question, “Why?” Because it yanked a little more hope for change out of us at a time when we were clinging to that hope lest we despair completely.

In 2009 we moved into the house we live in now. It is two doors down from Robin’s house. When we moved here some folks whispered and pointed at his door to make sure we knew, as though brutal murder was contagious. I can see his backyard from where I’m sitting right now. I think of him often, although we weren’t close friends during his lifetime. I pass his stoop every time I go to the store or go meet friends for drinks. Those steps that were covered in candles and flowers and hand written signs after his death jump out at me some nights and I picture him reaching for his keys knowing I’ll never actually get to see that. I think I would have enjoyed having him as a neighbor. Recently the couple who lived there for the last three or so years moved out of that house and a new neighbor is living there now. I sometimes wonder if he knows about Robin. I wonder if he knows that what happened to a very nice man inside that house was beyond a sane person’s imagination, and I wonder if he knows that Robin’s murder stripped away the edifice of our finely crafted hope that our choice not to be silent about violence would have an impact on the institutions of our legal system. I wonder if he knows that along with a huge personal loss for the many people who loved him, his loss brought those of us who love New Orleans to our already bleeding knees as we confronted the possibility of hopelessness as the future status quo.

Maybe he doesn’t, but at least now I think I understand why the depiction of that murder was so surreal, at least for me.

The Long Con

October 8, 2012

It’s all yours. Make it worth me getting up out of bed in the morning.


Who Killa Da Chef?

October 3, 2012

Mosca’s. Tony Angelo’s. Vincent’s.We know a thing or two about red sauce down here in New Orleans. The French Quarter was once a Sicilian ghetto. Lasagne at Tony’s on Bourbon on Wednesdays was once an institution. Sunday dinner out in an Italian Place means putting on a jacket, something only the most ostentatious of the city’s restaurants still require. “Who killa da chief” was the famous taunt used aganst Italian immigrants after the murder of the Chief of Police and the subsequent mob lynching of the Italian suspects at the turn of the last century. The most obvious piece of the 1984 World’s Fair is the Piazza d’Italia in the CBD. With the same thoughtful grace with which this city once boasted a Home for Incurables (get in the goddamn cab, grandma!) and built Crippled Children’s Hospital, the “wop salad” drowning in marinated “olive salad” was once a menu staple of the city.

We’re not Italian, but had a (now severed) tie by marriage to the Marcello tomato empire. My sister the foodie still make a mean “Sunday Sauce”, a slow reduction meat sauce which acquires upon completion a specific gravity that flattens the pasta and guarantees a good Sunday afternoon nap, especially if you wash it down with a couple of glasses of what is still affectionately known by some  as “dago red”. (Serve with a wop salad of iceberg, tomatoes, an anchovy or two and enough olive salad to require a garnish of an extra does of your blood pressure medication).

If you are going out to dinner somewhere  everything on the menu that is not pasta comes with a small plate of Spaghetti No. 1 in marinara sauce on the side, the drink of choice is a good “dago red”. Nothing French or Napa mind you, and nothing white. You might be allowed a beer if it’s lunch in the middle of the week and you’re afraid the wine is going to jump on top of all that pasta and put you down for the count, but at dinner? At a fancy place?

Maybe I should follow LaDonna’s Sixth Ward common-sense advice and let the guests pour their beer in the wine glass, but if the new Metairie steakhouse king takes you out to dinner at a highly regarded Italian restaurant in New York, you order a beer? Worse, you order a Schaefer? When I was living in the 1300 block of Esplanade you could buy Schaefer in New Orleans. I used to get mine after work when I was a broke-ass suburban newspaper reporter–three for a dollar–at Egle’s Pharmacy. That’s right, three for a dollar. High class stuff, perfect for sitting on your stoup for an after work drink with a spare can should a neighbor stop to chat. Schaefer took over the market niche of Jax, that product of the secret Fabacher Family Recipe which was deservedly buried deep in a cave in a remote and inaccessible mountain range under a horrible curse until it was discovered by Miller and made the basis for Miller64.

Schaefer, America’s oldest brewery (or so they claimed) succumbed to consolidation and was acquired by Strohs and later Pabst, a progression a lot like that starting with  a second drink at lunch, then one at breakfast, and ending up at the corner with a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20.  The only possible explanation is Product Placement, and I hope that the food consultants had a fit on the set so disruptive that David Simon had to peel off a couple of hundreds and send them off to go have lunch somewhere. An Italian place maybe. With a good bottle of Sicilian Red. Marco, make some recommendations.

You Don’t Hafta Game the System

September 30, 2012

It’s already gamed for ya. Ya just gotta know the rules.

It’s an Open Thread for Episode Two!

Ago, agere, egi, actum

September 30, 2012

“I’ll do the time I deserve to do. Cause I did what I did.”

Disasters are “responsible” for a great many things, and not just on the physical plane. They destroy, they rearrange, they punctuate, they scar. Sometimes they even create simultaneous or subsequent iterations of disasters. Disasters aren’t alone in this respect but they are alone among other causal agents with respect to agency.

How you read Treme (for that matter, how you read that paragraph) likely corresponds to how you’d finish the phrase on the title card that sets up the episode: twenty-five months after Hurricane Katrina? Or twenty-five months after the flood, caused by the failure of the levees, caused by entwined decades of failure and negligence. There are those who would add more commas, followed by more “caused by”-s.

“…you and me done broke some fresh fucking ground. Them songs is gonna stand, son.”

Words, like people and events, even buildings, tend to become associated one with the other. These relationships can be deliberate or random, sometimes due to error, sometimes accurately reflecting some interconnectedness. Two such words are “palimpsest” and “pentimento.”

To be scraped clean and used again, or evidence of that having happened, often in layered iterations — watching Albert enter the home under renovation, come upstairs to set about working, then get interrupted by the song on the radio, I registered the scene visually as a palimpsest. A year ago, we saw a similar scene against a similar backdrop, another song on the radio, a very different reaction, or the absence of a reaction, from Albert. Time has passed, Albert is older. He’s still a hardass, but even hardasses change, of their own accord or in response to external forces.

“Don’t ever change.”

It’s a matter of convenience to drag Lillian Hellman into this (she was, after all, born in New Orleans)

Old paint on a canvas, as it ages, sometimes becomes transparent. When that happens it is possible, in some pictures, to see the original lines: a tree will show through a woman’s dress, a child makes way for a dog, a large boat is no longer on an open sea. That is called pentimento because the painter “repented,” changed his mind. Perhaps it would be as well to say that the old conception, replaced by a later choice, is a way of seeing and then seeing again.

As soon as she published  Pentimento, others began to refute much of what Hellman had written, who she’d written it about, whether or not she was even present for some of the events she’d depicted as her own memories. That’s a whole other story but related to this topic, related to Treme, related to New Orleans. Whose memory do we trust? Whose lives get turned into “history” and who gets the last word about that? Whose landmarks, whose traditions? Who gets to protect those and who gets to tear them down?

“Did you people ever actually preserve anything of note?”

Who owns the stories of what happened after the levees broke, and how should they be told? Does your story depend on rigorously catalogued pieces of forensic evidence? Or is it the story of a family, who used to live in a house, that used to be in a neighborhood, where now there’s only chest-high weeds?

Memory, traditions, justice, cognac, music, relationships, buildings —”things” get preserved in different ways, in spite of or because of different forces, and to different extents.

Bunny Turducken: An Open Thread Interlude

September 29, 2012

OK, not all of America was salivating over the Lièvre à royale  during the slow (but sumptuous to us here in New Orleans) chef’s dinner, but I sure what to get me some of that bunny turducken, and a glass of that brandy so old Napoleon is not an apt appellation. I do wish the producers would grace us with subtitles when the chefs lapse into French. It was one of the slowest scenes in the entire series, a bit of Stanley Kubrick’s Barry Lyndon dropped into Treme. Everything is in the can now for Season Three but even a line’s worth of explication of the dilemma of brain drain, people leaving New Orleans to seek real success, would probably have helped.

Still, Mr. Bourdain, you know where to find me next time this is on the menu.

Anyway, it’s Open Thread, time to start getting the juices flowing and your mise en place ready for Sunday night.

Dreamers and Drunks? No, a Community.

September 27, 2012

I am the first to confess that I’m no fun to watch a movie or television show with. No. Really. At least not in our living room, I’m not. We at this house are film junkies. A movie rolls and a few scenes in, a pause button is hit, and one of us says, “That was a TOTAL Fincher rip off.” Play. Another movie another day, pause, one of us says, “Pfft, this guy thinks he’s freakin’ Coppola!” while the other retorts, “Wait, maybe it was an homage to Francis’ Godfather 2 scene! You can’t fault him for that!” Sad huh. We rattle off director’s names in the same way we mention our favorite authors. Screenwriters are also highly regarded and many are known by name here on the burgundy couch. Some directors, screenwriters and yes, actors pop up regularly on our “to view” list.

This comes from having worked in varying capacities during what is now known as the “Golden Age of Music Videos.” (Who knew?) Having taken all my living room furniture out of my house to be used by props because the budget left no room for the rental or purchase of such basics; or having called up radio stations just ahead of the local high school’s first bell to mention in an ever so off the cuff way that a particular band was going to be shooting a video in a certain place later that day and we were having a TERRIBLE time finding extras, only to spend the rest of the day writing fraudulent dental appointment excuse notes when they swarmed the outdoor set, gives me a different perspective on the making of the images flickering across my screen. It was hard work a lot of the time but also great fun. We were working on incredibly small budgets, sometimes using guerilla shooting for B roll and hoping the Teamsters wouldn’t shut us down for having some PA driving a rented Hertz truck or god forbid a cop sees us in the park and hauls us and our equipment off for not having a permit. Given all that, amazingly some of the most anxiety filled moments were after the squabbles in the edit bay were over and the piece was finally viewed and then aired.

I was lucky enough to see this first episode of the new season in two different environments. The first was with the cast and crew of Treme, the second with some ardent regular viewers in a local bar.

While the Treme production crew probably doesn’t have to write bogus excuse notes for anyone, I don’t doubt but that there was a certain level of anxiety and relief as the first frames of the episode rolled. There’s a sense of excited expectation that comes with the lowering of lights and moving images on a screen that’s palpable. It was that way with both groups of viewers.

When the first notes of “I’ll Fly Away” were heard, both groups spontaneously started singing along, getting quiet as the cop said stop the parade, getting louder again after the line about singing in the street was delivered. Both the pros and the regulars sang as though they were in that street with those people, and it faded out in the theatre and the bar in the same way it faded out, one voice at a time, in that scene.

The opening credits hadn’t even rolled yet.

I am pretty sure that throughout the episode, some of the cast and crew were critiquing some things internally. An actor might wish he’d delivered a line differently. An editor might have wished this scene had been cut shorter, that one longer. A director might notice that the light that blew up just before a scene was shot for which they had no instant replacement would have made it look just the way he wanted it, but hey, they were running out of time and they got the shot and it worked. None of that, however, was visible on their faces. What I saw was simply an audience. Watching the show. Enjoying it. Enjoying it with each other, having become a community during the making of the show. That’s just what happens on film sets.

Meanwhile, at the bar, there was also some critiquing going on, but it was of a different sort. At the bar, unlike the theatre showing with the pro’s, whispered comments about having been at the second Second Line were heard. “I remember those lawyers in those hats.” As the new reporter character (played by Chris Coy) entered the storyline I heard a quiet comment from over at the bar, “He’ll sell the story to the Nation. That’s who broke the story in real life.” He couldn’t have said it too loudly or he’d have been shushed. I looked at the faces sitting on those chairs in the dark bar, every single one rapt. An audience. Watching the show. Enjoying it. Enjoying it with each other, having become a community seemingly under siege after the Flood in the city depicted on screen. That’s just what happens in places where the people shared a traumatic time.

As one group watched, hoping they got it right, the other group watched, also hoping they got it right.

Laughs came at the same times in the episode in both locations. Feet were tapping and heads bobbing during music scenes in both locations. There were “Uh huh!’s” and “Yeah, you right’s” at the bar that I didn’t hear with the pro’s. Everyone loved Rob Brown’s impression of Clarke Peters (I confess I did glance across the aisle and see Mr. Peters smiling widely at that) and I definitely heard, “Well you knew THAT was coming!” when Khandi Alexander’s LaDonna delivered her “I’m kin” speech. I heard a couple of quiet discussions at the bar about David Morse’s Colson character, all were glad to have him fleshed out a little bit, and everyone wants Fez Man’s (played by local actor, Nick Slie) bike, including me.

There may have been some dreamers and drunks in both audiences for all I know. I have been known to hold my own in both categories on occasion. What I saw in both places, though, was Community–pride in that community, and a ferocious determination to hang in there. One of those communities could breathe a sigh of relief as the end credits rolled, their job for this season complete. The other waited for the preview for next week and considered coming earlier to guarantee a seat.

Both communities applauded, loud and long.

That says a lot to me. It tells me that Treme is well done and appreciated. The regular local hangout went from sparsely populated to full in half an hour prior to air time. Next week it will get fuller faster. Some will be there because they have a crush on Lucia Micarelli. Some will be there because they want to find out what happens with Sofia and her boyfriend (I heard a man, probably a dad himself, saying protectively, “That guy is way too old for her!” and it made me laugh.) Some will be there to debate the accuracy of this or that Second Line within the timeline. Some will be there just to boo Nagin’s noggin in the newly cut opening credit sequence. Some will be there to bad mouth it. In the end, though, they will be there, as a community enjoying it, watching it, debating it possibly.

Whatever their reason for coming they are indeed watching it, and that’s what the pro’s do this for. The idea is to tell us a story. It might be a story that touches us and makes us think outside our own experience. A story that opens a window and lets us peer inside someone else’s life, someone else’s city. Treme is telling a story of our city and a story that includes a timeline we all remember very well. The props are as familiar as a trumpet seen daily. The extras are often folks we run into on the street. Because of that some people will love it and some people won’t. And that’s just fine.

I’m pretty sure several years ago there was at least one guy in Jersey on parole after a long stretch in Rahway saying, “No way Tony Soprano wouldn’t have been whacked by Johnnie Sack after the mess his cousin made!” I’m also pretty sure he tuned in again the following week, and that’s what makes good television.

Keeping The Beat On The Street

September 24, 2012

The Season Three’s premiere episode of Treme seems ripped from today’s headlines over a year ago by a guy who’s not even from here.

Confrontations between new, gentrified neighbors and the music culture (and perhaps an amplifier-chasing lawyer or two looking to shake down the club owners) are front and center in New Orleans today, with a new noise ordinance on the table so stringent it would eliminate the jukebox from the city and ban any instrument played any louder than pianissimo behind an open door. Complicating that is a move by the Mayor Mitch Landrieu, who as lieutenant governor was a champion of tourism and music, to shut down music venues all over the city for failure to strictly adhere to licensing requirements unenforced for decades. Find the way to pay up for your licenses through the city’s Byzantine labyrinth of licensing agencies—and don’t forget your “mayroyalty” permit, which is issued solely at the mayor’s discretion–or stop the music. Banker character C.J. Ligouri would be proud of this shakedown. The scandal over the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership scandal is still with us, with a fourth defendant pleading guilty just last July. A grand jury indicted an NOPD officer just last month in the shooting of unarmed and allegedly uninvolved Wendell Allen during a minor marijuana raid.

Once again, many people’s favorite carpetbagger David Simon drops one onto the city desk and stands, arms-folded, the story nailed perfectly. Corruption, rogue police, crooked gentrification schemes, the battle over music: tell me again why you think Treme is irrelevant?

Watching the last episode of Season Two Saturday night with my son, he noticed what all of those who first viewed it last year did: Do Watcha Wanna was written as coda, so many plot lines tied up, so many happily ever afters. The joy that swelled over Kermit’s horn beneath the credits was tempered by the sad moment that closed the show when Davis plays Pops’ Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams, the feeling so many of us had that the ride appeared to be coming to an end. Those of us who lived it, who know David Simon’s career, understood that whatever HBO and Time Warner had in mind the author of The Wire was not about to let the story of New Orleans die in a Production Code re-write fairy tale, everyone off to sweet dreams in their twin beds with one foot planted firmly on the floor. Khandi Alexander’s umpteenth Emmy-worthy moment in the DA’s office and her husband Larry’s tasty-canary smile as he announced that they would not sell the bar but move back to New Orleans returns as the familiar postdiluvian conflict of too many family members in one house, exacerbated by the high-handed treatment of Alexander by her high-Creole in-laws. Wendell Pierce’s surrender to his “job-job”, bar-band leader traded for the trenches of the high school band room where the next generation hone their embouchures, all put to risk when he confronts the police during the second line for Kerwin James of the New Birth Brass Band in 2007. Hidalgo tries to worm his way into the money tree that was the New Orleans Affordable Homeownership racket after Ligouri has dropped him like he’s hot because of his connections to Oliver Thomas. New revelations of police misconduct, Oliver Thomas in his prison threads, the incompetence of the recovery: episode authors Simon and Anthony Bourdain drop us right into the thick of 2007, when the ugly recovery was in full, foul-smelling bloom .

A quiet high point of the show was Terry Colson’s visit to Indianapolis, portraying the painful dissolution of families over the question of whether to stay or to leave. We see this same story playing out in Janette’s toss off line to D.J. Davis (Steve Zahn) as she collects her mail—“I’m in New York now”— and Delmond’s return to New Orleans, the success of the record that former Orleanian Wynton Marsallis says “isn’t really jazz”. (I hope everyone relished the moment when the two men who dissed Delmond in Season two over “Dixieland” and “minstrel show” came fawning over during the record release party). Colson’s is the most poignant and insightful storyline in Episode One. From his first step into the house—“in New Orleans, I live in a trailer”—and into the kitchen where one of his sons wears an Indianapolis Colts’ jersey to the private conversation with his wife over her relocation of his children, the moment when he tells her she never really understood New Orleans. It’s a story everyone who has dragged a spouse or SO over the border has worried over or lived. Colson has shown that he gets New Orleans deeply, more so than the average ranch dweller out by the lake or in Metairie. There is the scene last season when he dresses down the officer for an unnecessary arrest, “Let Bourbon Street be Bourbon Street”. The episode’s end is so perfect, an answer to everyone who ever asked “where are all the real people?” Colson is real people, just a hard-working uniform with a mortgage and a divorce, and the moment when he encounters Nick Slie of the local Mondo Bizarro theater troupe, dressed in a vaguely Renaissance costume on his brightly lit bicycle, and tells him “don’t ever change” is not just a glimpse into the character but into the soul of everyone who came home and stayed.

(A moment of indulgence please, to mention a toss off line between the Deputy Chief and Colson noting Lt. Guidry’s transfer. Colson nemesis Guidry was played by accomplished actor and Chalmette, Louisiana native Micheal Showers, who tragically drowned in 2011).

Lt. Colson and Toni are joined in their respective story lines by a new character, investigative reporter L.P. Everett (Chris Coy), based on real-life investigative reporter A.C. Thompson, and later in the season by another character based on local activist and community journalist Karen Gadbois of The Lens, according to Dave Walker of This promises an escalation of the focus on crime and corruption but don’t expect Season Three to be The Wire Goes to New Orleans. Simon has made clear in the past this was an entirely different story with its own purposes. “The Wire”, BoT contributor Sam Jasper said to me, “was about futility. Treme is about hope.” I wish I had said that. Hell, David Simon probably wishes he’d summed it up so neatly. Treme is so fundamentally different in other, subtle ways. The city itself is a character, its places not just settings but characters that drive the story. The longshoreman’s bar and the restaurants in The Wire where deals are made are just a place to act out a script. Consider the scene from Season Two when Hidalgo is sitting in a booth at the Crescent City Steakhouse cutting a deal. The difference between this scene and any similar moment from The Wire is Hidalgo’s remark that they could just as easily have met in a suburban steakhouse. Conversation pauses and the two other characters look at him as if he has just spilled Heinz 57 down his shirt. Or almost as bad, simply picked up the Heinz 57 bottle. . Hidalgo’s misunderstanding of the city is revealed in a line only possible in one of the claustrophobic booths of the Crescent City, the restaurant serving up the line. The first episode also made clear that this season won’t be all cops and robbers. Expect a full tapestry of characters and their stories, from the most public and ugly moments to Toni’s tendered-eyed glimpse of her blossoming daughter with her Bywater-musician boyfriend. Hope is what buoys us through the bad moments, that glimpse in the trailer of Antoine and Desiree’s (Phyllis Montana LeBlanc) new home falling under the backhoe of the period’s incompetently random demolition of both blighted and sound houses. Hope and music, if it is truly possible to separate the two.

D.J. Davis’ perfectly tragi-comic venture into the walking tour business reminds us how much the city lost before the storm, through neglect and greed—themes I expect to see prominent in this season—and how clearly people realized this when they woke up in an upended landscape, realized how dangerously what remained was at risk. Those battles continue today with the furor over live music and street arts, and a movement to line the industrial strip of Marigny and Bywater along the river with high-rise condos on land bought up after the storm by the very people who were helping to plan the new riverfront park those buildings will overlook. (Mr. Hidalgo, C. J. Ligouri on line two). The art shop headlines of Season Three run into those of last week’s Times-Picayune, and hopefully Back of Town and the rest of the Treme posse’ can help Americans remember through these beautifully drawn stories that so much is still at risk, so much undone, so many not yet perfectly healed. We still have so much to lose. And we are still here.

The Davis scenes remind us that however today’s real life battles turn out, if all that is left standing of the history of music in New Orleans is the Selmer clarinet mural on the side of the downtown Holiday Inn, we will always have Treme.

— Wet Bank Guy