When HBO’s Treme started, the sets, decorations and character wardrobes were a reflection of having just survived a horrific flood. Walls were watermarked, photos were stained with black mold and clothes were utilitarian. Everything was about “making do.” In this season of Treme, which takes place in late 2007, much has changed. Homes are being rebuilt and businesses are growing but, for me, the clearest indicator that the city is on the mend is all the Saints merchandise everywhere.
As anyone who loves a football team knows, NFL gear ain’t cheap. Slap a NFL logo on a $5 t-shirt and it’s suddenly $25 or more. This episode featured Saints-logoed hats and pillows as well as a diner festooned with Saints decorations competing for space with Christmas wreaths. All of the NOLA regrowth and rebuilding inspires hope for the city’s future but none so much as finding disposable income to spend on cheering on our team, the single most unifying element in the rebirth of this city. People here disagree on which hospitals and low-income housing developments to rebuild, how to handle the complicated issues of remaking a school system or overhauling the police department, but we all agree on the Saints. Though the show may never catch up to the amazing Super Bowl win, signs of hope and optimism are popping up more and more in each episode. Watching the show surrounded by our Saints pillows, throw blanket, shower curtain, slippers, t-shirts, jackets and more, I couldn’t help but get a kick out of it all.
Once again, I was pleased to see some more of our marvelous local actors featured. Douglas M. Griffin was very effective as the bewildered and frustrated homeowner wondering what homeownership means if someone else can determine the fate of your house. In the Royal Omni hotel, sweet and spicy Lara Grice greets David Morse (my character’s ex-husband) and the two have palpable chemistry right away. Her charms are not lost on Morse and they engage in a heated race to tear each other’s clothes off. I gotta hand it to Lara, it’s enough to make an “ex-wife” jealous. The scenes were charming and funny and sexy and long overdue for Morse’s “Terry Colson” character.
Food and music always costar in Treme. In addition to the traditional dining at Camellia Grill and the meats served hot from a grill parked on the sidewalk, there was the inventive and fine cuisine of Bayona. The second I heard, “Duck, cashew butter and pepper jelly sandwich,” I knew it had to be a Susan Spicer creation. She has a rare gift for combining flavors and letting the purity of the ingredients shine through without a lot of sauces and culinary gymnastics. I’m long overdue for another meal there. In the episode, Rob Brown’s “Delmond Lambreaux” talks about our love for food, “We use lunch to talk about what were gonna have for dinner.” True. We also use dining out to talk about other great meals we’ve had dining out.
This week’s musical guests included the incomparable Marcia Ball. With her grey wink of hair and chunky jewelry, she is a cool and stylish earth-mother with a soulful voice. New to the cultural repertoire seen on the show was a glimpse at NOLA theatre. The idea of setting Waiting for Godot in post-Katrina New Orleans conjured images of people waiting on rooftops holding signs pleading for rescue or water. It evoked the thousands of people waiting at the Convention Center and the Superdome. Images of people waiting for everything from insurance money to open schools popped up for me. Memories of families waiting to find missing loved ones flooded back. A guy in the audience of the play blurted what we already know, no one was coming. They would have to save themselves. It’s hard to believe the vibrant city I live in was the wasteland left by Katrina. I love how well Treme has immortalized this city’s complicated journey back from the brink. It was also fun to see Anthony Anderson, who starred in New Orleans-set K-Ville years ago, as one of the two guys waiting for the man who will never come.
Many organizations helped with this city’s renewal and 3 that focus on musicians are named specifically in the episode; Tipitina’s, Musician’s Clinic and Sweet Home. Tipitina’s Foundation assists musicians and provides instruments to local schools to preserve the local traditions and culture of music so critical to this region. The New Orleans Musician’s Clinic provides health care and mental health/social services to local musicians. New Orleans musicians are dedicated, hard working people whose jobs provide no benefits and the Clinic helps to fill that gap. Sweet Home New Orleans helped musicians return home and find housing and now endeavors to help support musicians and Mardi Gras Indians as vital contributors to the city’s culture.
Throughout the last season and the current one, we’ve also heard of many characters waiting on Road Home money. The Road Home is a government program sponsored by the State of Louisiana, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Nearly 130,000 residents of the Louisiana coastal region have been afforded the opportunity to rebuild and protect their homes from future storm damage with the help of this program.
Wendell Pierce‘s “Antoine Batiste” has finally figured out how sexy being responsible and paying the bills can be to Phyllis Montana LeBlanc‘s “Desiree.” Now we watch as he deals with the complex morality of being a “good man” in post-Katrina New Orleans as he “steals” from a program to pay for a student’s electric bill so that she can sleep through the winter nights. Especially during an election year, it’s easy to get into discussions of cutting programs, but the show amply illustrates that these are people, not programs. Nothing is simple when the stakes are our children.
Much of the post-Katrina violence has left this city. Police brutality and corruption are down, having been made to answer for events like the Danziger Bridge shooting. Like any major city, we have crime. Like any major city, people are fighting hard for solutions. Some crimes are part of a culture and, thankfully, some of the cultures rife with violence here have changed. None more than the Mardi Gras Indians. As I’ve blogged before, there were times when the Mardi Gras Indians battles ended with deaths. Over the years and with much urging from Chief of Chiefs, Tootie Montana, the battles now focus almost exclusively on who wears the “prettiest” suit. I love watching the Indians battle in their vibrant plumes and intricate beaded patches. It may be the most beautiful thing I’ve ever laid eyes on. But, until this episode of Treme, I’d never seen Indians battle in plain clothes. It was no less fierce and beautiful. The battle ended with a hug for Creole Wild West Chief Howard Miller.
Treme is an amazing show for many reasons. The writing and acting are top-notch but my favorite moments are not plot twists or even great performances. There’s simply no better peak behind the curtain of this city. Watching the show is like reading the city’s diary. It’s a diary of devastation, loss and grief but it’s also the journal of rebirth. Maybe to an outsider, music is just something you listen to and food is just something you eat. Treme continues to illustrate how music, food and culture are powerful tools in bringing something beautiful back from the edge of hell. I love this show.