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Odd Words July 25, 2013

Posted by The Typist in books, literature, New Orleans, novel, Odd Words, Poetry, publishing, reading, Toulouse Street.
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Lolis Treme BookThis week’s big event is the launch of TREME: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans by foodways writer, Treme contributor and writer/co-producer of the film Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans. Lolis Eric Elie. He will be at the Crescent City Farmers Market signing his book Saturday.

& Thursdays at 7:30 p.m. the Juju Bag Cafe, 5363 Franklin Ave., presents a Spoken Word Showcase, with happy hour from 5-7 and open mic starting at 7:30 p.m. Check whodatpoets.com for featured performers.

& At 7 p.m. Thursday in the Jefferson Parish East Bank Regional Library, the Great Book Discussion Group meets to discuss Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.

& Thursday night around 9 p.m. is a poetry meet-up at Fiora’s Coffee Shop and Gallery loosely organized by Jimmy Ross. Mostly we sit around outside in the breeze, visit and occasionally read a poem. Sometimes it happens, and sometimes it doesn’t. If no one shows up, push your coffee cup aside and put that notebook on the table and write!. Come grab a cup of iced tea and join us.

& Thursday at noon the New Orleans Museum of Art Book Club will discuss The $12 Million Stuffed Shark by Don Thompson and Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton. For more details on the club, contact Sheila Cork at scork@noma.org or (504) 658-4117.

& Every first, second and fourth Friday (that’s this Friday) check out Turnt Up Friday, a spoken word event at the Garage Cafe, 1532 Dumaine St. Doors at 7:30 p.m.

& Join Octavia Books for a special Saturday morning at the Crescent City Farmers Market featuring Lolis Eric Elie signing his much anticipated TREME: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans. Inspired by David Simon’s award-winning HBO series Treme, this celebration of the culinary spirit of post-Katrina New Orleans features recipes and tributes from the characters, real and fictional, who highlight the Crescent City’s rich foodways. From chef Janette Desautel’s own Crawfish Ravioli and LaDonna Batiste-Williams’s Smothered Turnip Soup to the city’s finest Sazerac, New Orleans’ cuisine is a mélange of influences from Creole to Vietnamese, at once new and old, genteel and down-home, and, in the words of Toni Bernette, “seasoned with delicious nostalgia.” As visually rich as the series itself, the book includes 100 heritage and contemporary recipes from the city’s heralded restaurants such as Upperline, Bayona, Restaurant August, and Herbsaint, plus original recipes from renowned chefs Eric Ripert, David Chang, and other Treme guest stars.

& Saturday at Maple Street Book Shop Ryan Murphy will be reading and signing What the Sleepy Animals Do at the Audubon Zoo at 11 a.m. No Storytime with Miss Maureen.

& Sunday at 3 p.m. at the Maple Leaf Bar is the Maple Leaf Reading Series, the oldest continuous reading series in the south, founded by Everette Maddox. In the back patio, weather permitting. Periodic features and an open mic every Sunday.

hives and archeology, the author presents fascinating insights on how residents of this working plantation actually lived

& WhoDatPoets.com lists four Spoken Word shows on Sunday nights: The new Sunday show from Spoken Word New Orleans is Poetry and Paint Brushes. Spoken Word artists perform as a resident artist sketches the performers. Doors at 7 pm. and show at 8 pm. at Special Tea, 4337 Banks Street. There are also open mics at The Black Star Cafe, 800 Belleville St. in Algiers at 7 p.m.; The Shadowbox Theater at 2400 St.Claude Ave. at 6 p.m.; Espe’s Kitchen, 1743 N Broad St. at 7 p.m.; and, the T****** Wine Lounge, 3001 Tulane Ave., doors at 9 p.m., Admission $5. For phone numbers with more details on all these readings visit WHODATPOETS.COM. (If I don’t block out the name of the location at 3001 Tulane, Facebook will reject my ad for promoting alcohol. Go figure.)

& Monday night The Fiction Writers Group at the East Jefferson Regional Library will host guest author Anita Paul at 7 p.m. A communications specialist, Paul is known as “The Author’s Midwife.” She coaches and mentors corporate professionals and successful entrepreneurs to become published authors. Through her Write Your Life program, she shares strategies for writing, publishing, and marketing a book … and then leveraging it to upsell your expertise. Paul is the author of three books: Take the Mystery Out of Marketing (2002), What Goes Around Comes Around (a novel), and Write Your Life: Create Your Ideal Life And the Book You’ve Been Wanting to Write.

& Susan Larson, the former book editor of the former Times-Picayune newspaper and member of the National Book Critics Circle hosts The Reading Life on WWNO (89.9 FM) on Tuesdays at 1:30 p.m. She features interviews with authors of local and national interest.

& Tuesday night at 6 p.m. Garden District Book Shop features Stephen Maitland-Lewis’s Ambition. “Having it all will never be enough for George Tazoli, an ambitious dealer on the trading floor of a prominent California bank. He is hand-picked for a special assignment to sell off bad loans, but not because he is dating the daughter of the bank’s president, rather for his skill at working the market. The promotion sends him to New York, putting a strain on his relationship, but then a scandalous discovery lures him into the gamble of a lifetime.”

& Also Tuesday at 6 pm Maple Street Book Shop hosts Scottish author Zoe Venditozzi will be signing her book <emAnywhere’s Better Than Here. Laurie’s life is going nowhere. She lives with a computer game-obsessed boyfriend and has a meaningless job. The highlight of her week has become finding a new snack food at the supermarket. When Laurie meets an older, mysterious man things veer suddenly out of control, and she needs a plan – fast. For anyone who’s ever got stuck with a hopeless partner and a dead end life – this is not the way to go.

& Also on Tuesday the Jefferson Parish Library Writers Group meets at the Westwego library from 7-9 pm.

& Every Tuesday night get on the list to spit at the longest running spoken word venue in New Orleans at Sweet Lorraine’s Jazz Club hosted by African-American Shakespear. This Tuesday you don’t want to miss the New Orleans Slam Team goes head-to-head with Team SNO. Doors open at 7pm and the Mic pops at 8pm. It is $5 to get in.

Wednesday at 6 p.m. Octavia Books hosts a reading and signing with Bennett Sims featuring his recent novel, A QUESTIONABLE SHAPE, a wise and calculated postmodern zombie novel. “A Questionable Shape is a novel for those who read in order to wake up to life, not escape it, for those who themselves like to explore the frontiers of the unsayable. I envision the core readership as brilliant and slightly disaffected men and women… fans of Anne Carson, Nicholson Baker, Rivka Galchen, Juan Rulfo, W.G. Sebald, Henry and William James, and gaggles of Russian and German writers. [A Questionable Shape] is more than just a novel. It is literature. It is life.”-The Millions. Sims was born and raised in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His fiction has appeared in A Public Space, Tin House, and Zoetrope: All-Story. A graduate of the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, he currently teaches at the University of Iowa, where he is the Provost Postgraduate Visiting Writer in fiction.

Every Wednesday at Buffa’s in the back room there will be music and poetry hosted by Laura Mattingly from 7-8 p.m. followed by an open mic open to all performers: musicians, poets, comics.

I Am Not Alright, But I Am Upright September 22, 2012

Posted by The Typist in cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, Poetry, The Narrative, The Odd, The Typist, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Four people came to Toulouse Street looking for “new orleans upright tattoo” and all four clicked through to hear Raymond “Moose” Jackson’s “O’Neil’s Lament”. Some words have power beyond their simple human utterance, and Jackson’s words struck me so strongly as an epigraph for a place and time, an epigram for what others had already forgotten, that I will wear them on my right arm until the end. Bury me in a sleeveless shirt, right arm toward the room.

As I finish re-watching Season Two and prepare to read a year’s worth of Wet Bank Guide in preparation for Sunday’s premiere and the conversations to come on Back of Town I recall last season’s Treme teaser poem by Gian Smith, “Oh Beautiful Storm.” I think the refrain from “O’Neill’s Lament” on Jackson’s Illusion Fields disk gets as close to the wound inside the characters of Treme, a hidden stigmata that haunts them like a waft of church door incense on a lapsed Catholic, as an outsider can possibly get.

New Orleans or New Haven, first-time viewer or Treme Sunday devotee, give “O’Neill’s Lament” a listen before Sunday’s show.

We are not alright, but we are upright.

Countdown to Treme Season Three September 21, 2012

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, Treme.
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Don’t forget Back of Town for all you need to know about the show. OK, you’ll probably go read Dave Walker first and you probably should but BoT rolling come Sunday night.

Rampart Street Blues April 23, 2011

Posted by The Typist in Crime, French Quarter, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Late night is quiet on Rampart Street, unlike its distant cousin Bourbon with its drunken river of tourists, barkers and throbbing cover bands. The street has a half abandoned air, with as many dark facades and For Lease signs as there are bars. There is a subtle thrum of dance music from The Ninth Circle but with a name like that I suspect business hasn’t really started at eleven. The talk and laughter from the Voodoo Lounge just barely carries across the street , unintelligible as birdsong and just as comforting, a reminder that you’re not alone on the dark side of the Quarter.

I walk cautiously out of long habit learned when I lived in Treme in the 1300 block of Esplanade and would amble home late at night down the well beaten neutral ground path we all called the DMZ. That was BC—before crack—when walking head up and mostly sober was usually protection enough, before the Clockwork Orange horror of 21st century midnight city streets. I park on Rampart almost every Thursday night and feel more comfortable each time, less likely to bristle like a cat at the sight of a lone Black man approaching on the sidewalk on the lake side of the street but the old New Orleans habits die hard. I remember the genteel way my grandmother said “nigrah”, warning me that if she put too much coffee in my child’s café au lait I would turn dark and wonder if its ever possible to escape completely something bound so tightly in the limbic brain however good one’s intentions.

The gap-toothed marquee arch over the padlocked Armstrong Park merely amplifies the darkness of the abandonment behind the gates, adds a graveyard sense of menace to the lake side where I park but at the same time I am reminded that centuries past the African slaves gathered in what was once Congo Square the place became sacred to the ancestors and the loa and suddenly the darkness is not threatening but a presence watching over me with no particular intent. I murmur my own ancestors’ names like telling the beads of the rosary and feel a bit safer.

Two young women are coming up the sidewalk and their conversation quiets as we pass, looking at me askance as if to ask: do I belong here? Am I a lost tourist? Most white pedestrians keep to the river side of Rampart, but my car is just up the block. Behind them comes a young man alone, walking slowly up toward Canal or perhaps Iberville. Reflexively I cut between two cars and walk up the street toward my own car, parked a half-dozen spots ahead, pressing the remote to unlock the car and turn on the interior and headlights.. I keep an eye on him until I would have to turn my head, then wait a beat for him to pass before I turn my head. He is still walking, paying me no real attention.

I don’t feel especially nervous. My caution is ingrained, part the training of decades living here and in Washington, D.C. at the height of the crack wars, in a block where three people died late at night just coming and going as I am. I think of my grandmother again, of her maid Sylvia shared with my mother—one of the only black people I knew growing up along with Jo Jo my father’s handyman, a perfect match for the character in The Green Mile who I revered like a Hindu demon in overalls. Sylvia was invited to my sister’s weddings, but not the receptions.

I think of the friends I still know from the lakefront, the one’s who harassed me when my sister enlisted me as a young boy to drop literature and hammer signs for Moon “The Coon” Landrieu as he was known for being the first white politician to reach out for the Black vote, friends who still wear the casual racism of the lakefront like a comfortable old Saint’s jersey. Do I belong here, on this bock of Rampart halfway between Treme and Iberville? I believe I do, envying the comfort with which the Treme character Davis McCalary carries himself through the Treme, wishing some bit of the innocence of youth with which I would search for lost cats in the blocks behind my house on Esplanade, an innocence lost in part on the streets of D.C. where police helicopters would hover over the house lighting the alleys in back, the small yard from which I would occasionally hear the crescendo and diminuendo pop pop pop of gun battles.

I remember the young boy who walked in front of my car at the suburban shopping center at Elmwood one day, forcing me to stand on my breaks. He stepped into road mindless of the cross walk a short ways up and stopped, turned and glared at me as his mother and sisters passed. His body was tensed as if to spring, his eyes not angry or hateful but dead, with no discernible light in them. He was perhaps ten. And I wonder if innocence is something we have all lost.

As I sit in my car lighting a cigarette with all these thoughts passing through my mind I think again about the spirits of Congo Square, wonder which of the sainted loa I should beseech to purge me of the dark past of my own ancestors, the French planter refugees from the Haitian slave revolt, the German farmer who with two enslaved was probably thought a prosperous man by his neighbors, the great-great uncle who once owned a plantation in Plaquemines and lorded over his fields on a black stallion my mother was forbidden to ride and so took particular delight when taken up to the front of his saddle, the living memory of white women screaming at young black children in the ninth ward and all the baggage of desegregation, the palpable racism of my own youth in the early Nineteen Sixties.

What will it take, I ask, to finally cast off the last threads of white sheets of my own ancestors for something like the white robes of baptism? In which river must I immerse myself to step out born again as nothing but a child of God, a child of New Orleans? The street, the answer comes from somewhere. That river is this sidewalk, its people the living waters. Next time, I tell myself, I will not cross into the street but stay on the sidewalk and whoever comes and I will pass as two children of God in a new covenant that breaks the seventh generation curse, just two men passing each other on the streets of New Orleans, the place we both belong.

O Beautiful Storm March 23, 2011

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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Dave Walker of the Times-Picayune profiles spoken-word poet Gian Smith who voices the poem over the Season Two teaser for Treme. Smith says that he only started writing seriously after the storm as I did, and he now runs a spoken word event at at the McKenna Museum of African American Art at 9:30 p.m. Saturdays. There are some seriously gritty lines in the poem but they don’t come across as the casual misogyny of radio hip-hop in this context. It is what it is and I won’t convict the witness.

“O Beautiful Storm,”
By Gian Smith

I got the Rain in my veins…
The flood water in my blood makes my heart beat harder.
I’ve got the scent of the death and decay in the wind
Sinking into my nose and under my skin.
She’s the music in my ears, and the mold in my soul.
Move with her like bellies to congo drums
Write a sonnet to her, serenade her, recite her a poem.
Bump her like sissy bounce or mellow into her like Marsalis.
Let her weave through your brain like a song has moved you
And you can stop the flow…
But don’t let her go.
Last night, on my knees I scrubbed and scrapped
Katrina from the tiles of a house that would one day
Belong to my kids who’d have no idea there was a remain
Underneath the sofa, I had purposefully not wiped away.
Cause while Hugo and Andrew talked a good game
In the end all they did was ride the Gulf to the lake
And kick up a few waves and make a few trees shake
But Katrina had foresight and long term goals.
Bear her like ungratifying child labor of a stillborn
Answer to her, embrace her. Make passionate, steamy love to her til you moan.
Let her consume you on holidays and special events
Not meant to be spent alone.
Do what you must, but don’t let her go.
She’s Death’s greatest stage
She’s the 11th plague
She’s five men dead in a truck from a murderous rampage.
There is no fury like her rage hell bent.
The apocalypse heaven sent.
A city’s extinction level event.
She’s men’s residence changing homes,
Chickens coming home to roost again.
She’s man exalting science as defense
From God, being overthrown
She’s the perfect combination of wind, neglect
And Amir’s criminals in City Halls and black robes
Whose Congressional bills pass at levees expense,
Whose gavel smacks smash homes and crack domes.
Beat her to let her know you care.
Hate her on the streets in front of your friends for show.
Love her behind closed doors at home.
She’s a summer rain, a gentle breeze blown,
And an infamous name that our hearts now own.
O’ beautiful storm, I won’t let you go.

Street Cred for the Wet Bank February 8, 2011

Posted by The Typist in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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OK, I can’t resist tooting my own horn. Here’s an interview with David Simon on the relationship between truth, fiction and newspapers in which he references the three local blogs he says gave him inspiration in producing Treme: the Back of Town blog about the show, Ashley Morris: The Blog, on which one of his characters was partially based and some blog called Wet Bank Guide.

It’s not that Simon sees no value in blogging or “the internet.” He says that bloggers can sometimes force traditional media to cover important stories. And, in the course of discovering the real, known-only-to-locals New Orleans he depicts as a co-creator of “Treme”—which is about to finish its first season on the air, and has been picked up by HBO for a second—he cited three locally written blogs as sources of inspiration.

[Insert completely inauthentic “aw, shucks” here, for both Wet Bank and the Back of Town.]

Nothing is wasted June 26, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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“they say that
nothing is wasted:
either that
it all is”
— Charles Bukowski

At some point in watching the first and last episodes of Treme last night (my wife wanted to start from the beginning; I wanted to re-watch the last) I had the realization I have hinted at over at Back of Town in the past. In great art, nothing is wasted: not a word, not a brush stroke, not a moment of silence before the next note. In great novels (the closest analogue to a season of episodes running to over eleven hours in length) detail is piled upon detail and in the greatest works every piece is a working part of the great machine. Oh, perhaps an appendix is left in in the manner of an intentional flaw in Asian art but everything else serves the purpose.

I know that as I go back through the series I will find these fine details more and more often, will connect the threads to small to see on first viewing.. It will not be a matter of taking the scenes apart, parsing the dialogue and the soundtrack as if I were decoding an encrypted text. It will be a discovery of that new thing: that word, that song that has to be there and suddenly it’s so obvious, you’re standing transfixed before the canvas and the guard comes by to remind you it’s closing time.

I don’t remember what started this train of thought but I know where I lost it: a moment I missed with a house full of friends for the first episode, the gumbo party that started as a drunken joke in a bar, running to the kitchen for beers at the end of Buona Sera: at the end of the sequence of perfectly apocalyptic shots of the dark and empty city. that one perfect shot of the plastic bags swirling in the wind, at once trapped in the current and rising up to heaven, proxy ghosts for all the lost in quick fading (you will miss it unless you step through the frames) to the unanswered call on a silent telephone.

I think I should perhaps change the epigram at the top to the one Ken Kesey recorded somewhere in the Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test: “go with the flow…you’re in the hands of experts” but that would be wrong, because this is no bad trip.

Before I go any further: a confession. I rarely watch television anymore. If twenty seasons of Law and Order isn’t enough to ruin you for crime drama forever, start watching the Wire if you’re new to Simon’s work then dip into an episode or two of conventional cop shows. If it were not for Treme and my bundled internet connection, I think I could save about $150 dollars a month if my family wouldn’t put me out of the house and change the locks if I disrupted their access to Futurama and The Housewives of Where Ever. (Not dissing Futurama, mind you; just cataloging what gets watched around here by others).

The armchair television critics around the internet can complain all they want that Treme is not good television because they are right. It’s not just the sniveling juveniles at Warming Glow. It’s this superficially thoughtful but ultimately convention bound review on Salon. Television is a medium, but one that blurs with film with the proliferation of wide screen, high definition sets. It is to some extent simply a delivery channel, albeit one with clear expectations. To complain that Treme does not conform to the expected tenets of episodic serial television is like complaining that the milkman also delivers orange juice. These malcontents are tourists walking into McDonalds in Paris and discovering snails on the menu, subjected to a tremendous cognitive dissonance because of the cubbyholes they have constructed to organize their world.

It is an ironic distinction as something much on my mind largely is the opinion many writers hold of bloggers, that blogging is not writing (paging Truman Capote: Mr. Kerouac on line one). Most of the time it isn’t. It’s noodling and air guitar playing and coffee pot chatter and bathroom graffiti and screen magazines and gum comics and trading cards and a hundred other things. It can be all of those things and still host brilliant writing because it truly is a delivery system as much as what Marshall McLuhan would recognize as a medium.

Not everyone has the chops to write something as massively complex and interleaved as Ulysses or Gravity’s Rainbow, and few have what it takes to navigate the labyrinth of Hollywood to win approval of and then manage the thousands of threads that must be tied together to produce a major television series, to do it on a scope of almost twelve hours and still create something on that scale with the attention to detail of a painter. I think that is an equal part of why I am so deeply drawn into this show and not just because I live in New Orleans. I am about halfway through The Wire (I am not just another fawning fan, knowing Simon before the last few months largely by reputation) and I am just as taken in by that world as well.

We all talked again last night about how universally accessible Treme is or is not but I think that’s a moot point. If my son and I pop The Seven Samurai into the DVD player my wife will find something else to do. Some people need a translation into the familiar language of cowboys and bandits; some don’t. There may be a language where the words loss, betrayal, defeat, and hope don’t translate well but I have a hard time imagining it. You can find all those themes on a hundred channels at the same time but they don’t deliver the depth that something like Treme does. Catharsis depends in part on hubris, upon watching the high brought low and seeing it coming. We don’t live in a land of incestuous kings but by stretching to the limit of his grasp and the limits of the medium (and the audience’s tolerance) and then trying to stretch just a little bit further, Simon substitutes his own ambition for Oedipus and Lear, and achieves the same effect with characters some might find mundane and uninteresting. But like Shakespeare or Sophocles some effort is required of the audience.

In the end Treme will be judged as success or failure by those who job it is to mediate culture. As long as we rely exclusively on the judgments of television critics it will often be judged harshly even as Simon is praised for stretching the envelope. Go read that Salon review. There will be more like it everywhere and for all its pretension to a literate critical distance it is built on the same bad foundation as that of the knuckleheads at Warming Glow.

Or better yet, go into a darkened room where you won’t hear the neighbor’s weed whacker screaming and turn off the cell phone and start to watch again, and savor the moments of auteur brilliance like the trash bag spirits or start to do the Sunday Times crossword puzzle of music and plot. Don’t listen to the whiners. They will move onto the next vampire spin-off soon enough and leave us to enjoy what we have discovered, to spend our time unraveling the weave and putting it back together again and again rather than be forced to choose something less suitable just because it’s what is expected.

The Last Day June 22, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Hurricane Katrina, Toulouse Street.
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I used to read the blog Still Life with Soup Can long ago. At some point she took it private, which is fine. Some people write for themselves or a small circle of friends, and wish to keep it in that circle. I right for myself and the tiny audience of voices in my head, and chose to hang it out like a line of laundry. To each their own.

I have been contributing a bit and commenting a lot at the Back of Town blog on the subject of David Simon and company’s HBO Series Treme, and one of the regular contributors and founders sent me a link this this post on her blog. The email subject was “this is cool” and contained only a link.

I have a problem with the term bloggers, because it carries some horrible connotations. It is also much too generic, like “periodical”, which would encompass The Weekly World News and the Lewis Laphan-era Harper’s. While there may once have been a Harper’s List which referenced Bat Boy or Faces on Mars in some tongue in cheek way, they are about as far apart as possible.

I read another blogger’s take on Treme here, and felt obliged to comment. I think BatBoy is likely one of his devoted readers and may occasionally comment there as well, unless there is a James Bond marathon on Spike, in which case his entire readership disappears into mom’s basement with a box of PBR and a big bag of Doritos and isn’t seen for days.

Then I read the recommended “cool” post, Still Life’s with Soup Can’s The Last Day.

I think to “this is cool” I would add at least a “wow”. And thank you.

Pondering character at BOT April 20, 2010

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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On the road for the Counting House, so things are quiet here. Not so at Back of Town, where I just posted Unquiet on the Battlefront. I think the title sucks. Suggest a new one I like and win a beer.

I did not mention how damn pleased I was to see Joe Braun at the Spotted Cat on Treme singing “Hope You’re Coming Back to New Orleans” in the BOT post, but damn pleased I was.

We who have nothing to lose April 18, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, Toulouse Street.
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It’s National Poetry Month (you did know that, right?) and I have signed up again for Knopf’s Poem-A-Day email. I had just finished putting up a post on the Back Of Town Treme blog about the first second line after the Federal Flood, comparing a video of the actual event to David Simon’s portrayal. Then I opened the poem a day email and there were two short poems by Langston Hughes, including the one below.

Some things are just meant to happen a certain way. Or at least that’s the story the crow told me.

Black Dancers

Who have nothing to lose
Must sing and dance
Before the riches
Of the world

Who have nothing to lose
Must laugh and dance
Lest our laughter
Goes from

Yeah, you right.

I Am Upright April 13, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, New Orleans, NOLA, Poetry, Shield of Beauty.
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Somewhere at the confluence of Treme, wage slavery and poetry this popped into my head as I struggle through my typically dysfuntional morning. I can’t get a link on here because the Counting House fails to understand the business necessity of dialing out to MySpace for quick dip in the pool of sanity, prefering I go get more coffee. I made green tea instead, and popped Sanctuary: Music from a Zen Garden into the laptop, and turned it on over the speakers (workspace etiquette rules? in a knife fight?) to try to drown out the movers wrapping two dozen computers and monitors in brown paper and strapping tape in the walkway right outside my cube while I try to stuff 10 hours of work into an eight hour day without violating Generally Accepted Accounting Rules.

I used this quote to open my panel on the State of New Orleans Culture at last year’s Rising Tide, and it seems to belong in the cloud diagram of thoughts Treme is drawing on the inside of my skull. I need to get them out of my copy of Visio, as I need it for work.

I am not all right but I am upright. I am here, a warm body, clinking glasses with the dead.”
–O’Neil’s Lament, by NOLA Performance Poet Moose Jackson

P.S. Yes I managed to figure out how to get a link in here. Now back to work before someone comes down to supervise the packers and notices what I’m typing.

P.P.S. Must turn up the Japanese flute music a little louder to get the words Must Stop Thinking About Tomorrow to the Fleetwood Mac tune out of my head. Yes, I know those aren’t the right words.

Tootie’s New Suit April 12, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Last night America saw a ghost and they don’t even know it.

It spoke a language they did not understand, took a stand, gave a command: Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

When that spectral yellow figure stepped out of the darkness with that downtown sparkle and spoke, the spindly cemetery trees all across this town moved in the windless night and the hairs on the back of a ten thousand necks stood up like the feathers in its headdress.

Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

The last night Tootie Montana spoke he died at the microphone, defending his culture to tone deaf politicians and against a hostile local police force, demanding respect for a century old tradition with roots in in the bead work Yoruba and a strange and never clearly explained solidarity with the American Indian, something I think similar to the identification of the Black Christian church with the Isrealites in bondage.

Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

That ghost wasn’t speaking to me, or to any of the people in the room with me on Toulouse Street. It wasn’t even speaking to New Orleans. It spoke to all of America, to the entire planet. It stood amidst a desolation the American continent has not seen in a hundred years, one only those who came home with nothing to nothing, and the few privileged tens of thousands who came to volunteer, can understand. That ghost said all you need to know about the people of New Orleans.

Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

If that phrase still seems cryptic to you, try this: watch a repeat of Pacific that leads into a repeat of Treme.

Won’t bow. Don’t know how.

5 – 0 – Forever April 11, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, 8-29, Corps of Engineers, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, St. Bernard, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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The Tragedy of St. Bernard [excerpt]
Wet Bank Guide
September 01, 2005

….I want to show my children the beauty in a place they don’t understand, growing up in the Midwest. I want them to see people who live with the water the way people in Fargo live with air; people who shrimp and crew towboats and work on rigs in the Gulf and, when the refinery lets out for the day, go fishing; people who chose to live on an island in the middle of a swamp, and not in Kenner or Fargo, ND; people who worked hard and set aside a little and built a place for themselves out of a swamp, a place they would not willingly let go.

I want them to know why I am crying at my keyboard for people who’s views on issues of race I could never understand, and teach my children to abhor; people who took me into their homes and fed me sweet tea and told me stories until the stars and the mosquitoes came out; people who chose to live apart, surrounded by capricious waters, an island; people who would not willingly surrender their island back to the waters.

I want them to understand why some people stayed , and why they would come back and start over again


Carry Me Home April 10, 2010

Posted by The Typist in 504, Debrisville, Federal Flood, je me souviens, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Since I’m getting all this traffic courtesy of David Simon and Ashley Morris, no reason not to remind visitors that some of the essay originally posted on Wet Bank Guide are collected as Carry Me Home, A Journey Back to New Orleans, available direct at Lulu.com, the usual online locations, and the best New Orleans Independent bookstores. It’s a journal of the time that frames the Treme story and one man’s journey back to the town nicknamed Debrisville. In the end it is an odd genre of my own inventing–the geo-memoir–because it is not really a journal. As I did on the original Katrina blog, I serve mostly as narrator. It is ultimately about the city and it’s people and our long journey to make once again a place recognizably New Orleans.

“Mark’s writing is about skill and heart. A blend of reporting, memoir and analysis, [the book] is as immediate as it is reflective. It’s more than a love letter to New Orleans—it’s a survival guide for post-Katrina America. Mark shows how to go through a disaster with your soul intact”
• Michael Tisserand, author of Sugar Cane Academy and The Kingdom of Zydeco.

So if Treme leaves you wanting to crawl into the heart of New Orleans, here’s another chance to get you some.

“It belongs on the bookshelf alongside the other worthy
post-Katrina works”
• Chin Music Press

Treme too authentic for the New York Times April 9, 2010

Posted by The Typist in Debrisville, Federal Flood, fuckmook, FYYFF, New Orleans, NOLA, We Are Not OK.
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Cross-posted from Back Of Town.

I am struggling to figure out what precisely offended New York Times TV Reviewer Allessandra Stanley about Treme. The gist of it seems to be that it is not didactic or angry enough, that is “is more an act of love, and, odd as it sounds, that makes it harder to embrace…

“[Treme] is a tribute to the “real” New Orleans by filmmakers who have become connoisseurs of the city, depicting its sound and ravaged looks with rapt reverence and attention to detail…

“The effort to get New Orleans “right,” to do justice to the city’s charm, its jazz tradition, and now its post-Katrina martyrdom, is at times so palpable it is off-putting, a self-consciousness that teeters on the edge of righteousness.”

Let’s start with her use of the phrase “its post-Katrina martyrdom.” I want to know when New York plans to get over it’s post-9/11 martyrdom. If Allessandra gets back to me on that one, you will read it here first.

She is also disappointed that Treme is “an elliptically told tale, and it takes a few episodes for the plot and the characters to pick up steam.” I’m sure you’re quite busy up there in New York, but it is kind of hard to tell a story of this sweep and depth in a way that you can watch episodically on your I Pod while waiting on the platform for your train. MTV is shooting a Real World New Orleans episode. Maybe you should wait for that.

On balance, she manages a good job of retyping the material that came with her review copy, giving a basic idea of the plot outline and characters, sort of a TV Guide snapshot for people who would not be caught dead reading the TV Guide. With some tight editing, bits of it might make for decent jacket copy for the boxed set but I suspect most of it was written up the first time by Simon’s staff.

In the end, she casts the show (I presume she saw the first one or two episodes most reviewers got) as a reflection of the snobishness of some locals toward the outside world (keying in on the scene when the visitors ask to hear The Saints), that the film is taken with that attitude and is too reverential towards its subject.

One wonders what she expected. Perhaps she is a die hard Wire junkie and was just itchily waiting for that new package. As she points out, Treme ain’t that. If I went looking for analogies I wouldn’t think of Simon’s prior oeuvre, or Spike Lee’s move or even Trouble the Water. If I hope for anything, it is precisely achingly reverential treatments Ken Burns gave to subjects like the Civil War and Jazz, mingled with strong and representative characters (because at one level, New Orleans is all about the characters), characters who tell the story of one of the great cataclysms of American history, a story that attempts to convey what Ashley Morris and all the New Orleans bloggers have been talking about since 8-29: it’s not just about saving not just the real estate, but about saving something recognizably New Orleans.

I don’t expect everyone to love Treme, anymore than I expect everyone to love New Orleans. Some people are only happy in their own tightly constrained milieu and are never going to be happy outside of it. If they travel, they go to all inclusive resorts and tell every one they went to Jamaica when they really went to a fucking Marriott and never set foot outside the door. New Orleans is different, and not just in the way Idaho is different from New Jersey, but rather z a place with a unique local culture that has evolved over three centuries, longer than most of America has even been settled by Europeans. If you don’t like it, that’s OK. I’m not too fond of Phoenix, but then I haven’t heard anyone nominating Phoenix a world heritage site.

If Allessandra Stanley doesn’t understand what she calls our chauvinism, if she doesn’t understand why someone of Simon’s talent would want to reverentially recreate New Orleans, she’s entitled to her opinion. She’s a reviewer, that’s what she does, but a reviewer who approaches their subject with a closed mind or one that snaps shut like a trap at the first whiff of something that does not fit some preconceived notion, well that’s a waste of perfectly good trees.

I think most New Orleanians are like the people I met traveling to New York, people who would gladly stop and give us directions or swipe my wife into the subway with their own fare card when my wife couldn’t get her to work, people who were glad we came to share in one of the great cities of the world even as they carried deep inside a profoundly chauvinistic conviction that New York is one of the great cities of the world, and that it was perfectly natural we should want to be there.

— wet bank guy

Irony Puked All Over the Back of My Car April 6, 2010

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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While we are discussing Irony’s slow demise let us consider Scott Cowen, President of Tulane University, who was awarded the Times-Picayune Loving Cup for outstanding community service by the Times-Picayune newspaper this past Sunday.

Then let us contemplate Cowen, strapped into a chair with his eyelids pried open in the manner of Alex DeLarge in A Clockwork Orange, forced to watch the loop that starts at 8:12, over and over and over again. I will, in Ashley’s memory, volunteer to apply the eye drops.

Treme Is Not OK with PZB March 23, 2010

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Novelist, blogger and a champion of New Orleans on a par with Ashmo isn’t to terribly fond of the Treme film crew in her neighborhood, Treme in general or David Simon. In fact, she tears them all a new asshole in a viscous screed worthy of her idol Hunter S. Thompson. Or Ashley, for that matter. However she goes down a path that is disturbing, dismissing Simon’s work while admitting she hasn’t watched film work, suggesting he is just an out-of-towner here to profit from out pain.

Over at the new Back of Town blogWe Are Not Amused. I mean, that William Styron guy wasn’t Black or (to my knowledge) Jewish. Hell, he was 25 when he wrote Lay Down in Darkness. So he should just shut the fuck up. I guess.

I will, however, buy dinner and ammo if I can watch Brite (whose online work and persona I generally like, unlike most of the rest of our circle of NOLA Bloggers) shoot up mock Katrina fridges.

Back Of Town March 19, 2010

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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Brought to you my Maitri’s new Back of Town blog on David Simon and HOB’s Treme:

“You hate the food. You hate the music. You hate the city. What the fuck are you doin’ down here?”
— John Goodman as Ashley. Near the end. Wait for it.

Gather by the river March 14, 2010

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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How am I going to manage to watch the David Simon’s new HBO dramatic series Treme if I can’t sit through the trailer without my eyes welling up in tears? There are some images that haven’t crossed my consciousness in a while: a floor caked in cracked mud, a desert camo Humvee rolling down a street of flood-stained houses, one ruined home’s contents scattered on the curb as the owner stands over it with one thing in his hands transfixed with grief. When a half-million of us sit down in April to watch this I am not sure what will happen. It will be a shared, civic catharsis to rival winning the NFC Championship and the Superbowl, a powerful psychic bomb the shock waves of which will do something profound to this city.

I am just not sure what.

Will it be the car backfire that takes the shell-shocked homeless man back to some long ago battle and sends him careening into a crowd, releases his government issued, muscle memory instinct to kill? Or instead like the blinding light and hallucinatory voice that transforms a minor government functionary into an evangelist revolutionary?

Or something else? One of those things that makes you think: only in New Orleans?

I find myself listening in a loop (party out of a conversation I had last night) to “Gather by the River” by Davell Crawford from the Nonesuch RecordsOur New Orleans recording of 2006. Perhaps Treme will be one of those strangely transcendent moments, the eerie scene from Brother, Where Art Though when the people in their baptism whites come out of the woods and down to the water’s edge, something like the gathering of Daddy Love’s faithful in William Styron’s Lie Down in Darkness.

We shall gather
At the river
With each other
Cause you’re my brother
And our souls
put in the water
for the healing
of each other.
Be saved
Freed from sin
Where freedom lines
Fly away
From the land
Because we can
Because we can.

A few months ago my friend the writer Sam Jasper started republishing parts of her Katrina Refrigerator blog documenting the months after. And now Ray in Exile (aka Ray in New Orleans and before that Ray in Austin) has been moving over his Katrina-period writing to his new site. They are both powerful writers and while some blog posts have the telegraphic simplicity of a front-line dispatch (two hundred and fifty six Viet Cong captured) or seem like pieces of a accidentally found private journal, the sort of thing you might find open and waterlogged in the debris pile at the curb, to the people of the Flood, they are like the notes toward a gospel: a narrative fraught with significance to the initiated and attractive enough to the curious outsider that perhaps they are the basis of a conversion to the truths revealed by the waters.

I never finished David Brinkley’s The Great Deluge. A work of history on the most important event of my lifetime shouldn’t begin be transposing two major geographical features (Lake Borgne and Bay St. Louis), then start with a vicious deconstruction of Ray Nagin as if his performance were the most important thing that went down in September 2005. I haven’t picked up Zetouin or Dan Baum’s book either. There is a lot I will have to make the time (and find the strength) to do before the fifth anniversary: watch Treme, read those books and re-read some others, to scan again the fragmentary texts of the blogs of 2005. I will have to figure out how, without the intervention of the distant and indifferent gods, to turn tears and anger into redemption, how to “fly away from the land” not into the sanctified clouds but into the bath-warm and comforting soul of New Orleans, washed clean by the waters.

Fly away
From the land
Because we can
Because we can

And the colored girls say: FFF FYYFingF January 20, 2010

Posted by The Typist in Federal Flood, FYYFF, Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans, NOLA, Sinn Fein, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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“[The HBO show Treme’, set in immediate post-Federal Flood New Orleans] wasn’t a bummer. It was more looking at (the setting) and having the same feeling that John Goodman’s character had. ‘There’s something wrong here and it needs to be fixed.’ It didn’t bum me out as much as it made me want to jump up and say, ‘We need to do something for New Orleans. Look at all this wonderful flavor. Look at all these great characters. And why are they still having these problems? I don’t want them having these problems.’”
– Susan Young, a freelance writer based in the San Francisco Bay area whose writing appears in People and Variety, following the critics premiere of the first two episodes.

The NOLA.Com summary of critical reactions by Dave Walker, both on his blog and for the Times-Picayune, gives a capsule on Goodman’s character: [he] plays an Uptown New Orleans college professor who struggles to contain his rage at media misconceptions about post-Katrina levee-failure flooding.”

Hmm. That sounds familiar.

One critic quoted by Walker, Joel Keller of the online TVSquad.com, doesn’t like Goodman’s character much. ““I guess it needed someone to defend New Orleans,” Keller said. “He just seemed kind of out-of-phase with the rest of the cast. I’d like to see what happens as he kind of integrates himself into the rest of what’s going on. Right now, he feels like a totally different story, as opposed to the other stories that are going on.” Others were more kind: “Goodman’s wonderful,” said Ellen Gray, critic for the Philadelphia Daily News

Simon told a small group of bloggers privately last year that his team was writing a character into the show based, at least in part, on Ashley Morris. (We have got to get that boy a Wikipedia page so I don’t have to recap it all here). I am very anxious to see Ashley’s Goodman’s character. Having a commenter outside of the main story line may seem a bit weird to someone who reviews cable television on the Internet for a site hosted by AOL, but it seemed to work for writers back in the day.

The question I have: does America really want to see a sympathetic portrait of an alternative to the mainstream American culture, that banal plate of airline food served where everyone sits in their tiny little assigned seat reading the same in-flight magazine or watching the same movie, wishing they were in first class? (You do remember airline food, don’t you?) Treme’ gives us “those people”–you remember, the ones from the Convention Center and the Superdome–living in a world just minutes from America where playing bass drum or tuba is honored career choice because the parade season is 40 weeks long, people who don’t just live for the weekend like most Americans anxious to escape their little cubes for the big boxes but a people who live for the parade and the po-boy and if that by chance happens on a Wednesday afternoon well they might be late back to work without a thought.

I am not so sure, but I admire the hell out of David Simon for trying.

Down In The Hole with David Simon January 10, 2010

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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I don’t usually write about politics here because I try not to think about it much. That’s a part of my life that’s behind me, my years working the phones and the street in New Orleans, my time on and around Capitol Hill. I don’t even watch the cable news anymore because it makes me absolutely crazy. If I ever got it into my head to buy a gun it would have to be a choice between the gun and cable television, because if I had both it would just be a matter of time before I needed a new set.

On that note, this from David Simon: “I guess what I’m saying is that the overall theme was: We’ve given ourselves over to the Olympian god that is capitalism and now we’re reaping the whirlwind. This is the America that unencumbered capitalism has built. It’s the America that we deserve because we let it happen. We don’t deserve anything better. The Wire was trying to take the scales from people’s eyes and say, ‘This is what you’ve built. Take a look at it.’ It’s an accurate portrayal of the problems inherent in American cities.”

One thing I tried to do in the months after the Federal Flood was turn a hard eye on what this country had become, using New Orleans as case study. That was not a pleasant exercise, and when I started referring to the United States as “the central government” I knew it was time to step back. When the last piece on that blog wrote itself, I knew it was done.* I am anxious to see how Simon and his team turn the hairy eyeball of a thoughtful camera on New Orleans. After watching part of The Wire I was a little scared that the show is going to turn me into Jay Arena, the sectarian communist blowhard we had to toss out of Rising Tide a couple of years ago. Until I read this interview, that is. Simon says: “New Orleans has created such unique cultural art in terms of music and dance, and it’s a very idiosyncratic culture, it shows the value of what the American melting pot is capable of. It does it in a way that is visual and musical and demonstrable, and it does it in the fucking street every day. Somehow this city is trying to find a way to endure while the political essence of the country doesn’t give a fuck. That, to me, is a fascinating dynamic.”

I guess I’ll be keeping cable to get HBO and passing on the handgun, which is probably a good thing. The dead are with us enough in this city, and I don’t think I would ever want to add to that number.


* A related thought from Simon: “nobody wants to write endings in television. They want to sustain the franchise. But if you don’t write an ending for a story, you know what you are? You’re a hack. You’re not a storyteller. It may not be that you have the skills of a hack. You might be a hell of a writer, but you’re taking a hack’s road. You’re on the road to hackdom and there’s no stopping you because stories have a beginning, a middle, and an end.”

Treme: Life on the Banquette September 17, 2009

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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How to tell the story of New Orleans? That is the secret I have tried to unravel for the last several years, primarily through my blogs here and the old Wet Bank Guide. Since I folded Wet Bank Guide into Carry Me Home, I let others bandy about the stories of the day and vent their anger or parade their amusement while I look for those odd bits of life in New Orleans that I hope explain why we choose to live here.

An outsider’s view of New Orleans is sadly colored by the coverage of the aftermath of the Federal Flood, by ongoing corruption trials that refresh the long standing perception of corruption, and by a long string of horrible and exploitative films and television shows. Now one of dramatic television’s most prominent figures is attempting to fit the complex and terribly nuanced story of New Orleans onto film: David Simon, creator of the widely acclaimed television series “The Wire” and “Homicide: Life on the Streets”.

For those of us who have suffered through the gumbo parties of “K-Ville” and Dennis Quaid’s insufferable Cajun accent in “The Big Easy” (and bog knows I could go on), this is a promising moment. David Simon is a former journalist whose book “Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets” became “Homicide” the TV series, the spiritual father of the gritty and morally ambiguous cop noir television of today. He pulled no punches in his portrayal of Baltimore in “The Wire,” and one has to hope his talent as writer and producer will result in a compelling, faithful and savory portrayal of this city.

Simon and other members of his writing team for Treme told an SRO audience at Octavia Books in Uptown New Orleans last night it will not be an easy task. “Your nuances have nuances.” Having lived through writing and producing two television series set in his own hometown of Baltimore, he warned it “would not be perfect… We’re going to piss you off no matter how hard we try. It’s coming.”

But as series co-writer Lolis Elie, local newspaper columnist and producer of the acclaimed documentary film “Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans,” told the audience, “You won’t be embarrassed by the way we present the city”.

Part of the difficulty is the nature of dramatic television. Simon said it’s all “about life and death, ninety five percent of dramatic television. It’s cops and robbers because that’s life and death, it’s the emergency room (it’s never the proctologist’s office), its about lawyers and the guy in the dock who may go to prison for the rest of his life, so this sort of dramatic series may be a laughable enterprise. Don’t over hype this. Four years from now we’ll be saying we did a show in New Orleans and the guy behind the bar will say, ‘that’s great, now finish your drink and get out of here. It’s 2 a.m.’.”

The series’ first season will focus on the early months of the recovery, a period from November 2005 when people first became to come home in significant numbers and run through St. Joseph’s Day 2006. The storm and flood are not only an intrinsic part of the story line, but what made the telling of this story possible. ““It’s very hard to explain New Orleans on paper to anyone but Katrina gave a relevance to New Orleans and gave the ability to go in and talk about Mardi Gras Indians and not have their eyes glaze over,” Simon said.

Simon and “Wire” co-writer George Pelecanos (a part-time resident of New Orleans) count themselves among those irreversibly smitten by the city. He recounted how they would sit around “talking about our record collections and our time in New Orleans,” and the time they were given an radio show for an evening to spin their extensive collections of old New Orleans R&B records. Rounding out the writing team is novelist Tom Piazza, who also penned “Why New Orleans Matters” in the immediate aftermath of the flood. This does not look to be the sort of Hollywood effort Orleanians have lamented in the past.

Any film set in a city is going to draw the eyes of the hometown continuity team, ready to pounce on the details they get wrong (and Simon the New Orleans record collector pointed out that the term “gumbo party” appears in a song by Little Queenie and the Percolators). He reminded the audience that this is dramatic fiction based on the city and the events of year one after the event. “First, we get to make stuff up. [In “The Wire”]some of it happened, some of it could have happened or was rumored to have happened, and some of it plausibly could have happened.” He recounted the story of a scene in which they reversed the flow of traffic on a major Baltimore street in the Wire, and locals complained endlessly.

Simon and Elie also made clear the series would not be a clone of The Wire. “Remember the crime didn’t come back” in the time period of the first season, November 2005 through St. Joseph’s Day 2006. And Elie did promise that the important things would not be missed. ‘Remember all the help you got from your city council member, your governor, you congressperson. We’ll make sure they get the credit they deserve.”

One feature that will carry over from Simon and team’s prior efforts: a focus on character. Talking about the team writing process, one of the speakers (I didn’t catch which) spoke of discussions of the “the arc the characters will take” as a key focus. And authentic and interesting characters are what will carry the show, he suggested. In response to an audience question about Katrina fatigue, Simon replied that “people will care about new Orleans because they care about the characters.”

And privately after the Q&A, when a small crowd of New Orleans bloggers gathered to get books signed and thank Simon for giving a commencement speech at DePaul University dedicated in part to our deceased colleague Ashley Morris who was a professor there, he promised that one character would be based partially on Ashley.

The co-writers also spoke about “the writing room” and how team-written television works. Three are novelists, three journalists, but the film writing experience is “about as different from sitting in a room writing a novel as something could be.” According to Simon, “in a writing room bad ideas tend to get challenged. The arguments are what makes it great.”

What struck me was the repeated mention by several of the writers of the criticality of character in compelling film drama, a focus borne out by Simon’s prior work. My own option is that character and setting drive the story. if you get the characters nailed and them put them into an authentic setting then the characters will take you where the story needs to go, through the actions and interactions with each other and with the environment.

The two things we’ve all complained about in prior New Orleans shows was a complete failure to get the characters or the place right. Simon and Pelecanos have a strong track record of getting both right in Baltimore, and Elie and Piazza know this city as well as any living writers.

If Simon and his team can deliver the characters and the place, can through their characters and the nuances of the visual setting deliver what they have done for Baltimore, I hope that our long-standing complaint about the poor portrayal of the city will be laid to rest by “Treme”.

Nothin’ but the bones January 26, 2008

Posted by The Typist in assholes, Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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The weekly newspaper Gambit brings us this story of the fearful future of the bone men and other African-American Mardi Gras traditional marchers. In on of the city’s oldest neighborhoods outside of the French Quarter, the local population is being squeezed by gentrification, rising rents and the demolition of the Lafitte Housing Project. What is at risk here is not just affordable housing or the comfort of coming home, but something infinitely more rare and precious: a living culture unique in North America.

For Bruce ‘Sunpie” Barnes, Mardi Gras day begins quietly in the darkened pre-dawn hours as he takes a solitary journey to a local cemetery to commune with the dead. Kneeling before graves, he asks the spirits of the past to enter his body so that he can become their living vessel, joining his soul with theirs as he takes to the streets. Later, at sunrise, he emerges in full costume, calling out and waking up the Treme neighborhood with his group, the Northside Skull and Bones Gang, which has followed the Carnival tradition for decades.

‘We’ll bring all the past dead spirits to the streets,” Barnes says. ‘Mardi Gras is the one day we do that.”

How much longer will the bone men and downtown Indians survive? That’s part of the focus of the story, which first emerged when the police broke up a traditional second-line parade in Treme honoring a musician who had passed on, scuffling with and arresting musicians. These unscheduled events are a century old tradition cherished by the neighborhood’s longtime residents.

Speaking to the Times-Picayune back in October when the confrontation between musicians and the police took place, lifelong Treme resident Beverly Curry explained why she came out that day in spite of bad leg: “I need to be here, to show my support for our heritage”

For a century, she said, that heritage has included impromptu second-line parades for musicians who die, “from the day they pass until the day they’re put in the ground,” she said. Those memorial processions still occur with regularity, without permits, as is the tradition. But, increasingly, NOPD officers have been halting them, citing complaints from neighbors and incidents of violence at similar gatherings.

….”Curry and other longtime residents point fingers at Treme newcomers, who buy up the neighborhood’s historic properties, then complain about a jazz culture that is just as longstanding and just as lauded as the neighborhood’s architecture.

“They want to live in the Treme, but they want it for their ways of living,” Curry said.

Who the hell decides to move to Treme, then calls the police when a second-line parade passes by? Why did they chose to live downtown, in this neighborhood of all places where second-lines (impromptu and the scheduled social aid and pleasure club versions), where bone men and Mardi Gras Indians are part of the very fabric of the place? What possible benefit is there to this redevelopment if it strangles the area’s culture?

Yes, you, yuppie scum. If you people feel you must live downtown, buy yourself one of those lovely high-rise condos being thrown up in the CBD and stay out of the traditional neighborhoods. You can climb into your Lexus and drive yourself to your favorite Uptown restaurant, if you can bring yourself to pass through or even (gasp!) park in the neighborhoods where the best ones are, neighborhoods full of the sort of people you apparently do want to live next to.

Is this the vision of the future of the city–gentrification leading to the death of the real New Orleans, what happened in Charleston after Hurricane Hugo, the threat I warned readers of WBG about over two years ago? It is a fearful thought, more so than a block-long trooop of possessed bone men: the death of the spirit that walks and sings and dances daily in the people of New Orleans. If the yuppie property flippers and their customers destroy Treme to save it’s quaint architectural charm, then it will not be Treme but something else. Only the bones of the houses of the old place will remain, and the spirits of three centuries will rest uneasily when the bone men no longer come to call on Carnival day.

Note: Hat tip to Anima Mundi and Library Chronicles for first calling out this story.