I was out of town for a wedding for the season finalé of Treme, but thanks to HBO Go, we were able to watch the episode from a hotel in Napa, CA. The show opened with Bayona‘s extraordinary chef, Susan Spicer, playing herself during the Kim Dickens‘ chef character’s trip to NOLA. As Dickens took her short ride on the streetcar and started welling up with homesickness, I began crying for home too. I’d only been gone 4 days.
I continue to be impressed with former Councilman Oliver Thomas and his willingness to relive his misdeeds on national TV. Though he stopped short of explaining why he took bribes, he has owned his choices from the second he decided to play himself on the show. “Everything we do counts. Everything. It all plays out.” By allowing us to watch the man he chose to be, we’ve had a window into the leader he could have been. And in an era where people hide behind denials, he pled guilty, paid for his crime, and has earned my respect. Perhaps his most interesting days are ahead of him.
Khandi Alexander is TOO good at her job. It’s been heart-wrenching to watch her character struggle to piece herself together as more loss, violence and horror is heaped on her once simple life. When she finally melted down and gave voice to her frustration, it was as powerful as watching her confront her rapist. Much of this season has focused on this same frustration – that despite the lack of federal help and despite the insurance companies abandoning their customers, despite the lack of schools and hospitals, despite the loss of family and property, community and employment, people were trying to rebuild, people were trying to come home. People are still trying to come home. I was glad to see that her husband, the Lance Nichols character, finally recognized that New Orleans could heal them as they try to heal the city.
I’m glad people are being exposed to the lives of shrimp and oystermen. The topic of slow rig leaks was introduced and I can only guess that we will eventually watch the BP gusher play out during some future season. Maybe the producers will bring in The Wire favorite, Dominic West, to play a longshoreman. Then we will watch the wise Vietnamese father’s words come true, “People do what they want, take what they want. Then they move on.”
The John Seda carpetbagger saw what many saw – an opportunity to exploit Katrina for financial gain. As the builder pointed out, Seda’s character contributed nothing, built nothing, achieved nothing. Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye…
And it looks like the corrupt cops are on their way out too. I suppose we’ll watch the Danziger Bridge shooting play out. For those not in the know, 7 NOPD officers shot 7 people 6 days after the storm. Of the 2 that died, one was a mentally challenged man who was shot in the back. Though they covered up their crimes, they were convicted last year. When people say the storm washed out some of the bad element, they don’t just mean the criminals. Corruption was exposed not only in the NOPD, but in the school system. I suppose that topic and the ongoing arguments over hospitals are ahead of us in season 3.
The episode showed, quite well, that it was “grow-up time” for New Orleans. Tough choices had to be made. People had to take a stand. Those whose spines strengthened the city’s backbone needed to come home and those driven by greed or vanity needed to leave.
And then it was Jazz Fest! As Trombone Shorty caught up with the fellow musician Wendell Pierce character and the marvelous and underused Phyllis Montana-Leblanc, all I could think was, “Isn’t that the Crawfish Monica stand behind them?” Why-oh-why can’t we live on festival food everyday? And, as always, I get unreasonably excited to see Mardi Gras Indians. Though their stage shows aren’t usually as wonderful as when they parade the streets on Super Sunday, they always bring me unmitigated joy and a connection to a drumbeat living deep inside me.
As we hopped around Frenchmen Street from the high school kids being taught how to play for money to seasoned pros, Rebirth Brass Band, reminding me once again why I love them so, the episode and the season wound down to a montage ending… and our wi-fi signal dropped. I wasn’t able to see that last 45 seconds until we were in the airport heading back to New Orleans the next day. Though I loved the beads hanging from the trees, as they do year-round here, I began crying at the remaining neglect and ruin. It would be sad if it were only a show or if those images were shot 2 years after the storm like in the show, but they got those shots now – 6 years after the storm. You still don’t have to look far or hard to find the scars Katrina left behind.
That said, a lot of people ask how things are down here now and I’ll tell you the truth – this city is a testament to the fierce resilience of its people. Treme is a good show because it’s well acted and well written and features great music and tantalizing food, but Treme is a great show because of the people it portrays, the people of this city. They say love conquers all and I see it come true sometimes, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen love for a place conquer all until now.
As the montage ended and Steve Zahn‘s Davis confessed, “That one got me,” about the song he’d been playing, I wiped tears from my eyes and thanked goodness they were boarding our flight, sending us back home where we belong. As Times-Picayune/Gambit columnist Chris Rose said, “The longer you live in New Orleans, the more unfit you become to live anywhere else.”
When the connecting plane out of L.A. was boarding, I, who almost never get excited about celebrity of any kind, started smiling uncontrollably, “Look who it is! Look who it is!” Was it Johnny Depp? Natalie Portman? No, it was rapper Ace B aka “Lil Calliope” from Treme. I beamed at him as he passed, “We’re lovin’ you on the show.” Exiting the plane in New Orleans, I ran into a friend who’d also been at a wedding. I hadn’t even been on the ground 2 minutes and already a hug. We chatted with friendly strangers at the baggage carousel and on the shuttle to the off-site parking garage and when we paid to get the car out of the garage. There are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t met yet.
California is beautiful, the food was good, the wedding was wonderful but I missed New Orleans everyday. California has predictably fabulous weather but the air is so dry I got a callous on my nose-bridge from my glasses and thought, “Oh yeah, I remember this.” They have Trader Joe’s but no sno-balls or gumbo. And everyone was pleasant and well dressed but most people speak when spoken to, no one went out of their way to make me laugh or smile. New Orleans may be hot and humid but it’s my home and there’s no place like home.
R.I.P. Ray Deter (owner of Frenchmen St. bar, d.b.a.)