Rising Tide 7: Media Mayhem and Parenting Predicaments

On Saturday, September 22, Rising Tide: A Conference On The Future Of New Orleans returns for its seventh year. It’s only a week away so GET YOUR TICKETS now!

This year’s hot topic is the local media – the unexpected and enormous changes at The Times Picayune, as well as the rise and struggles of local digital news media. Black and White and Red All Over: The Digital Future of the New Orleans Media Market features panelists that include Kevin Allman, Editor at weekly newspaper The Gambit, Robert Morris, News Director of neighborhood online news site Uptown Messenger, James O’Byrne, Editor and Reporter for The Times Picayune and Nola.com for over 30 years, Katy Reckdahl, Staff Reporter for The Times Picayune, and Jason B. Berry, writer of popular investigative blog American Zombie. The panel will be moderated by Peter Athas, Rising Tide’s veteran organizer and political blogger at First Draft.

There’s also two panels of specific interest to parents in New Orleans this year: Education and Parenting.

The Education Experiment: Petri Dish Reform in New Orleans and Louisiana will discuss the controversial topics of charter schools, vouchers, the future of public schools, and the experimental nature of our post-Katrina education system. Moderated by The Lens’ education reporter, Jessica Williams, panelists include Brian Beabout, an Assistant Professor of Education at UNO, Elizabeth Walters, writer, editor, and high-school teacher in St. Bernard Parish, Zack Kopplin, a student at Rice University working to make sure Louisiana kids will be able to get jobs after they graduate, Dr. Lance Hill, Executive Director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research, and Caroline Roemer Shirley, Executive Director Louisiana Association of Charter Schools.

This will be the first time Rising Tide is doing a parenting panel. Mardi Gras Moms & Who Dat Dads will feature Keith Spera of The Times Picayune’s The Paternity Test, Ashley Bond of NolaParent.com, and Andrea Dewenter of Pistolette.net. Moderator Bart Everson of b.rox.com will lead a discussion of the unique problems and benefits of raising children in New Orleans.

Other panels and speakers for 2012 include:

•    Lawrence Powell, “The Accidental History of an Accidental Book: How the author stumbled into the 18th century and post-Katrina New Orleans through the lens of her colonial past.”
•    Lolis Eric Elie: “At War With Ourselves: New Orleans Culture at the Crossroads… Again… And Again… And… “
•    Oil & Water: Can Louisiana save its coastline and have a thriving oil industry at the same time?
•    Community or Commodity?: Is profiting from our culture also stifling its evolution?
•    Take This Job and Love It: What it takes to own a business in New Orleans.

The Rising Tide conference was created on the first anniversary of Hurricane Katrina by the local blogging community to respond to the massive social, political, and cultural changes our city was – and still is – experiencing. Every year since it has addressed the complex issues facing New Orleans through prominent speakers and engaging discussion panels. Learn more about the history of Rising Tide.

BUY YOUR TICKETS now. See you there!

Rising Tide: website | facebook | twitter

Street Festivals

New Orleans is known all over the world for its big festivals like Jazz Fest, French Quarter Fest, Essence Music Fest and Voodoo Fest. But I’ve only been to three of those ONCE. I’m not big on crowds, and I really have to talk myself up to walk around in direct sunlight for several hours. As delicious as the food is, I have trouble enjoying it because I’m so hot! Who wants to eat hot fried food it 90 degree weather and no shade? Pas moi. But there are alternatives.

Another thing we have a lot of here are small street festivals. They extend a few blocks either clustered or along a main street and have a much more neighborhood feel to them. They are mostly attended by locals, and feature arts, crafts, food and music, all by small local vendors. I like that I run into a lot of people I know, and that there is space. Space to breathe, and dance, and eat without getting elbowed in the face. Space to let my kids run around in a crowd that not only is sparse enough that I can see if they run off, but will likely be intercepted by a friendly neighbor who will bring them back to me.

Unfortunately, these street fests rarely stay small and local for long. They always grow to insane ‘international’ sizes within 3-4 years. It’s only by the will of the organizers if these things stay small and local-friendly. Once such fest we attended this Saturday was the Freret Street Festival. After Q ran the Crescent City Classic 10K that morning (I told you the shit never ends here!) he came home, we took a nap, and then it was off to the street party. It did not disappoint. It had a great atmosphere that really was family friendly (usually that just means kid friendly and the adults want to shoot themselves). The music and food were great, and of course being in my own neighborhood makes it fairly perfect.

To illustrate, it goes kinda like this…

You DRINK and EAT…

Freret Fest 2012
Savi nomming on Dat Dog.

You DANCE…

Freret Fest 2012
Eva dancing to “Russian mafia band” Debauche.

You smile, because life here is pretty damn amazing.

Freret Fest 2012
Q and I, having just devoured some pulled pork po-boys, and several Abita beers.

Originally posted on Pistolette.net.

Out With Katrina, In With The Tricentennial

I’m over it. Now this doesn’t mean I’m going to forget what happened, or that the scars I have and fears I carry will ever disappear. But I’ve learned to live with it, and I’ve moved on, just as the vast majority of New Orleans has. All the morbid documentaries on TV this week are not for us, they are for the rest of America or the world, that wants to wallow in gratuitous disaster porn.

I remember / Je me souviens / Recuerdo

That’s what I said last year for the 5th anniversary of Katrina, and I feel the same way now on the 6th. I’m more interested in living in the present and looking toward the future. I’m running out of things to say about the past. We know what our problems are, and we’re on the path to fixing them with an enthusiasm that didn’t exist here before. The trick now is to keep up the momentum, and never return to the apathy of before.

When I think of anniversaries I think of happy things, not miserable things. So this year, instead of rehashing Katrina I’m thinking of New Orleans’ 300th birthday.

On May 7th, 2018, New Orleans turns 300. Which means we have less than seven years to plan something for the tricentennial. I’ve only noticed a few minor mentions of this subject over the last few years, and I don’t even know if it’s on City Hall’s to-do list yet.

city park tricentennial place plan

City Park Tricentennial Place Plan

So are any plans in the works for the big day? I turned up one major project that is currently on track to be completed before 2018. City Park seems to constantly be under construction, and there is a reason for that. They are building dozens of new attractions, including the biggie – New Orleans Tricentennial Place. If the plans are any indication, it looks like we’re going to have an impressive metropolitan park.

“The Great Lawn stretches across what has come to be known as Tri-Centennial Place, a regal concept incorporating new parking, an expansion of the Bestoff Sculpture Garden, an amphitheater, a splash park, rock climbing and Peristyle. Although in its infancy, Tri-Centennial Place will be another huge draw for the park. The splash park and amphitheater, viewed as large revenue streams, are included in Phase One of the $24 million Capitol Campaign of the Master Plan .” -New Orleans Magazine, March 2010

The press has only made minor mentions of the tricentennial in the last few years. In 2008, Errol Laborde suggested that we develop the New Orleans Lakefront for our birthday, however, we all know what happens whenever someone wants to make the Lakefront useful. Plus, that means going near the unholy trinity – Louisiana, politics, and real estate. We should avoid it like the Ebola virus. New Orleans is not New York, or San Francisco, or Chicago. The idea that we should build some grand expensive structure, much less develop the entire Lakefront during bad economic times is irresponsible, and something we’re not good at anyway. Building more than a statue or sculpture on the Lakefront might incur some bad juju.

Other suggestions were closer to the mark. In 2009, Richard Campanella (who will be speaking at the Rising Tide Conference this weekend) wrote about his ideas for the upcoming tricentennial. He suggested a more reasonable path in planning a “World’s Fair” type event.

“A tricentennial event might also offer an opportunity to present to the world the recovered and stabilized city we all hope emerges from this post-catastrophe era. The 1884 world’s fair aimed, in part, to demonstrate the city’s rebound after Civil War-era tumult.” -Times Picayune, May 2009

I agree that this would be a good opportunity to show off our recovery, however, I’m not okay with this being a celebration for visitors. We LIVE here. I want to party with my own people – like after Superbowl 2010. Just for one weekend, I want the French Quarter to belong to us. To celebrate US.

We should stick with what we know – and that’s parties. We can get some ideas for this from our colonial sister city, Quebec. They have an annual festival celebrating their founding as part of “New France” called Fêtes de la Nouvelle-France (Louisiana was part of New France too, by the way). Much like our fests they have local music and food, but for this they add a big parade, re-enactments and period costumes, crafts and art, young folks juggling and twirling fire in the street, old folks running a local names genealogy booth – it’s like ren-faire-meets-Mardi-Gras. And even though Quebec is a tourist city like New Orleans, this fest feels very local.

Our version of something like this, Fête de la Nouvelle-Orléans or New Orleans Fest, would be a kick. I mean, this is WHAT WE DO. And we have six years to plan it. We threw an epic internationally covered Superbowl party in under a week. And like that party, our tricentennial bash should be for the people of New Orleans first, the travelers second. They’re welcome of course, but it shouldn’t be designed for them.

In the end, I’d rather see a huge fire-lit Fleur de Lis atop the Superdome with a gritty old blues guitarist playing in the middle of it for a month rather than build some tower on the Lakefront, or put on fair airs for rich foreigners. It’s much cheaper, and definitely more fun. Also, we’ve got a history to envy, so this festival and parade thing should plan itself. Just brainstorm for a minute about what this place has been through in 300 years and you’ll see what I mean (I predict more people will be crammed on the Storyville re-enactment block than the Saints Superbowl Square).

We have so much to celebrate (and reflect on) as a city, and for once, we should not make tourists the priority, but ourselves. Because this is how we’ll keep up the momentum. We have to constantly feed our spirits great moments, or we’ll forget what we’re working for. That euphoric feeling of being where you belong, with those you love, and those who love you, is that reinforcing rush that motivates us to keep improving and to keep going forward.

Originally published at Pistolette.net, August 2011.

Superbowl 2010, Bourbon St

Bourbon St after the Saints won Superbowl 2010.

No Resolutions

After a six week holiday break, Pistolette has returned. I’ve been quite productive though, getting up at 4:30am to make short story deadlines, and crack out word-count on other fiction projects. But now, it’s back to the essays. Happy New Year!

Using the word “resolution” for something you want to accomplish just destines it to fail. It sounds disorganized, undedicated, and passive aggressive, like something the United Nations would declare. Call it anything but that. Ambitions, objectives, aspirations, and even intentions sound more tough than resolutions. “Goals” is a nice direct one.

That aside, making any such attempts for the New Year is almost destined to fail when you live in New Orleans, especially when eating healthy and starting exercise programs are at the top of the list. Everywhere else in America, it might be productive to mark the end of the Halloween/Thanksgiving/Christmas seasons with new “resolutions”. But January is actually the worst time to start life changes here because it’s technically holiday MIDSEASON for us.

Take January 2nd. The new diet begins. You learn to grill some fish and steam some veggies, adding liberal amounts of cayenne just so you can swallow it. Then the workout starts. You endure stabbing pains in your side while you run in Audubon Park – and that’s before you even make it out of the parking lot. But you survive four whole days, pat yourself on the back, and give yourself one fat-free organic chocolate chip to celebrate, and then…

Aunt Jeanette comes over on Twelfth Night with a f#%king King Cake.

And this is how it goes for months. After January 6th there’s a slew of diet-destructive treats related to Superbowl parties and Mardi Gras, not to mention Valentine’s Day goodies that sneak in from the office and school. Before you know it your Pilates DVD is buried under beads and candy wrappers, and your health food is rotting in the crisper drawer. Just a minor setback, you think, there is still hope.

Lent! Yes, Lent will save me! Forty days of behaving for a higher purpose! Unfortunately there was a comedian in the Catholic bureaucracy who thought it would be hilarious to place St Patrick’s Day during Lent (yeah, I know Paddy died that day, but what the hell was wrong with his birthday?). So there are more parades, and food, and alcohol. In any other city this might be a one afternoon event, but in New Orleans, hell no, at least a week. This also happens to be wedding season too, and if you’re standing in one, consider your ‘get in shape’ plans decimated.

Even if you survived all that, you surely wouldn’t make it through festival season. From mid-March to the end of May there are more Springtime events in Louisiana than dirty politicians (ok, maybe not that many). If you’ve made it this far… oh hell no you haven’t. You’d have to be Jesus to endure that kind of temptation. And even he liked a big family dinner with plenty of wine and Saints.

Nope, I’m not apologizing for that. Quit groaning and read.

Now you’re in the first week of June, and your New Year’s resolutions are long forgotten. You likely gave up somewhere around your fifth slice of Cream Cheese and Raspberry stuffed Randazzo’s at the office party, right before the “Be Mine” card with a box of Godiva arrived. You didn’t decide to give up, you just decided not to think about it anymore.

But you didn’t fail, really. You simply started at the wrong time. Many of these goals take months of uninterrupted dedication, and when do we ever get a break from partying around here to do that? Well…

Hurricane season.

That’s right. The perfect time to start New Year’s resolutions objectives in Louisiana is June 1st.

In June the worst of the summer heat kicks off, and a lull in the city’s fun agenda along with it. You’ll have several months of no interruptions*. You’re going to switch from bacchanal mode to survivalist mode anyway. You’ll clean out the pantry so you can fit canned goods and bottled water in it, stock battery powered electronics, scrape out the storm drains, do some house maintenance, check on the important documents, etc. This mode is far more conducive to making health changes than the beginning of Carnival season because you can convince yourself it’s hurricane survival training**.

The peak of hurricane season is so hot that you won’t be as pissy about salad or grilled cuisine as you’d be in January***. If not, you might just forget to eat while obsessively checking the Weather Channel every ten minutes to the hour. So work off the stress in a chilly 65 degree gym, or get up at 5am and beat the heat for a run. By the time the Fourth of July comes around you’ll have shed several pounds while everyone else will have already gained back what they lost in January (plus a few extra). And when those 4½ months are over you’re far more likely to enjoy the October through May onslaught of decadence in pleasurable moderation****.

So there you go. You’re officially off the hook until Summer. Enjoy that King Cake.

*Sure if you LOOK for trouble you can always find it here, but during these month it usually stays out of your way.
**Which in diet psychology feels morally superior to “I just wanted to wear a bikini again”.
***Sometime during June’s Tomato Festival last year you probably bit into a juicy fresh Creole tomato and thought, “Hmmm, this is healthy *and* delicious. Too bad it’s not the proper time to start eating well”.
****I’d never suggest giving up the local fun completely. If that’s your goal I’d just advise you to leave town.

Originally published at Pistolette.net, January 1, 2011.

Katrina, I’m Over You Bitch

Zydepunks show @ DBA, June 2008

Me and Q enjoying a Zydepunks show at DBA.

I started to write part 2 of my last post on Hurricane Katrina, but then I realized I had zero interest in rehashing that bullshit yet again.

I’m over it.

Now this doesn’t mean I’m going to forget what happened, or that the scars I have and fears I carry will ever disappear. But I’ve learned to live with it, and I’ve moved on, just as the vast majority of New Orleans has. All the morbid documentaries on TV this week are not for us, they are for the rest of America or the world, that wants to wallow in gratuitous disaster porn. I tried watching one, and so many painful memories resurfaced that I refused to watch another one that only recapped the storm itself. I want to hear about now and the future. Unlike most other stations, CNN has been doing excellent and abundant non-disaster coverage on Nola including stories about the rebuilding status in neighborhoods, the new education system, the new mayor, the cleanup of our institutions of corruption, and the defiant spirit of locals after Katrina *and* the BP oil spill. This, coupled with their live coverage of the Saints Superbowl victory parade has them far on my good side. Anyway…

peace

Mini Q hanging out at a family backyard BBQ.

We’ve rehashed and over-analyzed the past five years to the point of exhaustion. We know what happened, and we know what we as New Orleanians, Louisianians, Americans… as humans, did wrong. We have learned from it, and rebuilt a better city, one that held on to the best of our culture (a warm Franco-Afro-Caribbean passion for living like we mean it – through harder work in less hours complemented by decadent traditions) while discarding or disavowing the worst (corruption in government and education, both black and white racism, and poor economic development). We’ve crafted an island of energy and enthusiasm in a time when the rest of the country is in the economic dumps. Sure, we’re not immune to it, but we’re taking it very well, especially considering we had oil hemorrhaging all over us for three months.

Personally, I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime since Katrina. No five year period in my life has ever felt so long, so filled. When Katrina hit I was a broadcast news assignment editor interviewing to become a federal agent. If you’d told me then that in five years I’d endure the worst man-made disaster in US history and watch my entire hometown get wiped off the map, move cross-country and back, career change to publicist and writer, have two babies, and then watch the worst oil spill in US history dump all over my home state – I’d have thought you were drunk. And I think it’s this way for many people. The memories of Katrina are so painful and harsh they are still recalled like yesterday, yet so much has happened to us since then it also feels like decades ago.

Mirliton Fest 2009

Me and 21 month-old Zuzu dancing at Mirliton Fest in Bywater.

I know not everyone feels they are better off since the storm, but I do. Now I can barely recall the restless and unfulfilled person I used to be. Five years ago I spent my time obsessing about my career and ambitions, now I spend it enjoying my family and friends via backyard BBQs, music or food festivals, cooking with my windows open, or just lounging on my porch with a beer while the babies play at my feet. Sure, I still have ambitions, but I don’t lose sleep over them. And I’m the happiest I’ve ever been in my life.

New Orleans is a powerful example of what resilience, energy, love, and passion can accomplish. I think in many ways we took New Orleans for granted before Katrina, and now we’re finally treating her like we really love her. Sometimes it does take the worst to bring out the best in people… and places. I feel very fortunate to be here in a time of such renaissance for the place I was born. So no, I don’t want to talk about Katrina any more than is necessary, I want to talk about now.

Now, is really heartening.

Originally published on Pistolette.net.

Dow’na Road

This month is the 5 year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. So the ‘reflecting’ posts are to be expected. I’ll be moving on to other happier subjects in September.

shell beach katrina memorial

This week the Times Picayune is running a four part series about Delacroix, a small town in eastern St Bernard that is almost extinct. When I was a kid growing up in western St Bernard (which is right next to the Lower 9th) we referred to all the swamp villages like Shell Beach, Hopedale, Yscloskey, Delacroix, and even parts of Violet as “dow’na road”; a kind of coonass “here be dragons” on the map. While us kids in Chalmette were playing football and Nintendo around our suburban brick homes, kids dow’na road ran around half naked, shot wild pigs, and lived in ‘camps’ on stilts. Two totally different civilizations, only 20 miles apart.

Still, I’m melancholy about the loss of any culture, especially since globalization has turned out to be a massive bore. Although I joke, the place was not that foreign to me. There was better fishing dow’na road, and we had friends in the area, so I did spend some of my childhood there. So where am I going with this?

Inevitability, I guess. Some places are meant to take a beating and come back, but for others the end is near. Their moment in time has passed. Extinction and evolution and all. And yet even accepting this, it still hurts. I never thought I’d be the last generation to grow up “dow’nehr” when it was at its peak at a population over 70k, not the 20k it is now (most of whom are close to the city end, not the swampy end).

I left St Bernard and moved into Orleans Parish after college, but I visited a lot because my family was still there and they owned a restaurant where many friends and family regularly met up. It was like a big party whenever you walked through the door. After the storm I stopped going dow’nehr and to the cafe that never reopened. My parents rebuilt and live in Arabi today, right past the parish line, but when I visit them I go no further than the border. It’s been three years since I’ve ventured down to Meraux where I was raised. I thought for a while it meant that I just didn’t miss it, but now I know that it really just hurts me to look at it. The last time I was there, the only thing remaining was a slab (and now even that is gone too, they tell me). In 2007 I remember looking at the spot where my house used to stand, and suddenly all I could see was 25 years ago exactly the way I remember it from childhood. Remember that sappy final scene in Titanic where Rose is asleep and dreaming about the present-day sunken ship and then it morphs into the past, the way she remembered it – lively, happy, with people she knew and loved greeting her? Yeah, that’s why I hate going back. Because that’s kind of what it feels like (only I hear crickets instead of Celine Dion music). All I can see is my little brother climbing trees, my dad washing his boat, or my mom calling from the door for us to come inside. I see myself playing ball in the street, and running two houses away to swing on the back porch with my grandmother, or running two houses the other way to ask my aunt if I could swim in her pool. When I finally did see the present day slab again, I looked around for evidence that I existed there, wondering how so many years spent in one place with so many wonderful memories can mean absolutely nothing to the marshlands.

And so, I avoid it. And try to enjoy where I live in New Orleans right now, for however long it lasts.

Here’s to a miserable-ass 5 year Katrina anniversary.

Photo: St Bernard Katrina victims memorial in Shell Beach, LA

Originally posted at Pistolette.net

Swampblood

Yesterday we took the babies on a swamp hike near Lake Maurepas in the Joyce Wildlife Management Area. It was a short hike, especially since you can’t go too far without needing a pirogue. Plus, we stuffed ourselves with fried catfish, shrimp, frog legs, flounder, and more at Middendorf’s just before so we wouldn’t have waddled far anyway. Our kids are too big to carry, but too small to walk terrain this treacherous on their own feet so we opted for the stroller – and pushed it into the swamp on a narrow rickety old boardwalk. And it was fun! It was midday so the mosquitoes left us alone, and the canopy was so thick we rarely had to endure direct sunlight. I mostly buzzed around with the camera while Q pushed the kids and showed them their Cajun roots (literally) (groan).

Joyce Wildlife Management Area

There were pretty spiderwebs all over the place…

And an amazing clearing with a beautiful view of the cypress trees, where I decided to kick back and rest for a bit…

I took over for Q pushing the stroller for a while because I’m always complaining I’m never in the photos. That’s because I’m always taking them and therefore Q appears to be a single father…

Joyce Wildlife Management Area

There were cute little hidey holes all over, containing who knows what hellish little marsh beast…

Joyce Wildlife Management Area

And general swampy pretties (must. not. fall. in. nasty. water. with. babies.)…

Joyce Wildlife Management Area

After leaving the Joyce WMA we drove through this spooky little swamp village that was apparently nameless, but was located near the town of Head of Island. There were small rustic homes on the bayou with lots of people sitting on porches while children swung on ropes into the water. I wanted to live there. For a few minutes anyway.

Head of Island, LA

Afterward we went around the lake (Maurepas, that is) and drove through the town of French Settlement where we picked up some Cajun boiled peanuts and hot boudin. I swear it was totally subconscious that I put nuts and sausage between Q’s legs for this photo.

French Settlement, LA

If you want to view all the photos from that day, check out the Flickr set.

A Season in the Treme

Warning: This post contains spoilers.

I trudged through Treme.

The first episode made me crawl and squirm inside so badly I wanted to rip open my old leather sofa and get inside with the decomposing cheerios and wine stains. At first I thought it was the forced dialogue – overt references to red beans on Mondays, second lines, carnival, hell… there was even a voodoo scene. But things got better, and minor faults aside, it was infinitely superior to any film or show I’d ever seen about New Orleans. But it was still falling flat for me, desperately screaming from the start, Hey, I’m a New Orleans show! I’m full of New Orleans-y stuff that will make you midwesterners want to sell everything and join the steamy bacchanal down here.

But I stuck it out. I kept watching out of obligation, like when your kid makes you a crappy finger painting and you stick it on the fridge like a budding friggin’ Picasso made it. It was “our” show so we had to watch it. But as things progressed I began to discover why it really made me uncomfortable.

I felt like I was watching one of my home movies; not in quality, but in content. It was unnerving to watch people, places, and events I was so familiar with on a daily basis. Intimate details of my life were now being exposed on television. Conversations I’d had in bars and cafe’s with friends, backyard parties I’d had with family – the camaraderie eerily accurate. I spent most of my adult life reveling in the ‘bohemian’ ideal portrayed on the show. Now I felt reduced to a script. Intellectually violated for entertainment value. But I was taking it all too personally. You never want to admit when someone has you pegged. I wanted to punch the snot out of David Simon. And I wanted to kiss him stupefied for getting it so damned right.

This is the best film depiction of New Orleans ever made. And likely the best that ever will be made. The attention to detail is so brutally authentic in some scenes that I just sat there whispering inside “please don’t do this to me“. And yet I find myself so grateful that this city was finally put into the hands of brilliantly capable filmmakers. Professional artists with a rebellious streak to match our own. The way every episode hangs onto a music scene just too long – it’s a homage to a city that never really gets credit for what it gives to the world, and definitely a ‘piss off’ to people who want formulaic television.

As the episodes went on I kept waiting for the show to fail. I’m particularly sensitive to political grandstanding on TV. After its wobbly start I knew at any moment Treme was going careen to its death with the complex social issues of Nola strapped to its back. And I almost thought I had them. I was convinced that when Albert took on public housing, that this would be the divisive move that drove off half the audience. But after barreling around with the topic, they landed abruptly, but safely and gracefully with it, like Capt Sully on the Hudson.

Overall, this is how Treme handled many of Nola’s sensitive social and political problems. Instead of trying to solve them, or get on a sappy liberal soapbox, they just floated above them with zen mastery. This is just the way it is. Life is a big gray area. Deal, you twitchy absolutists.

While I related strongly to many aspects of the show, I also thought it conveyed a romanticized, and even fetishized, version of Nola – the one all the outsiders want to gawk at and fondle. For instance, I was born here in the 70s and lived here all but one year of my 35 so far. I did not grow up listening to local music except carnival music, which I considered ‘holiday’ music. Perhaps the 70s were a dark age for all culture in America. But when I think of music during my early years, I don’t think of funky local tunes, I think of the same shitty arena rock and disco that everyone else does. The pretentious preservationists love to pretend that they grew up dancing in the street with Mardi Gras Indians, but I can promise you, while a handful may have, most did not. To this day, I have never seen an Indian in person, and I’d never even HEARD of them until I was in graduate school. Come to think of it, I’ve never seen a second line in my life either, and don’t know anyone pre-Katrina who wanted one. It wasn’t until post-storm cultural revival became chic that a bunch of middle class white people wanted second lines all of a sudden – or to attend MG Indian parades, or go to music clubs/see bands that could barely make the bills pre-K. I don’t think my ignorance of these things is a poor reflection on me, I think it just means I live naturally in my own city and don’t seek out “cultural”, or worse, “ethnic” things to do. That is just too sickeningly superficial to live with.

I also eat red beans and rice when I damn well feel like it.

I don’t mean to insult the revival – in fact I’m thrilled about it. Better late than never. Plus, I’m enjoying learning all these things about old Nola that I never knew about. But I’m sick of both local (and imported) hypocrites pretending like they were always on board with preserving Our Unique Culture™. Just be honest with yourselves. And please spare us your shallow condescending hipster fantasies about being the cool white guy the black folks tolerate. These parts of Treme make me squirm the worst. The immigrant street musician, Sonny, epitomizes the cultural freeloader here – the guy who thinks he “gets it”, but so doesn’t.

What it comes down to is that people who do NOT live here will determine if Treme is successful, and this show is for their entertainment. And I’m okay with that. For us locals, or for me personally anyway, this show is more like therapy. It’s forcing me to look at things I shelved away in the abandoned storage closet of my mind so I’d have the strength to move on. So I wouldn’t selfishly indulge in the pain and jump in the river like Creigh. Treme feels too much like my real life. Why would I want to watch my everyday shit, or past drama, when I could do the escapist thing and watch sexy vampires shag on HBO’s other Louisiana show?

But not all things on film are for entertainment. You don’t go to the movies to see Harry Potter for the same reasons you go see Schindler’s List. Some films are complex art inspired by gritty realities that are constructed to make you think. Some are just fun roller coaster rides designed to make you squeal with excitement. Treme is more the former. I like both experiences in film, but Treme is just so personal. If you’re local, you won’t likely have ‘fun’ watching it, or even enjoy it. But you’ll feel better, albeit exhausted when it’s over, like you just got something heavy off your chest.

There’s a thread in the final episode where Davis (the typical Nola cheerleader) is trying to convince his friend with benefits, Janette (who has been defeated by the city in every way imaginable) to stay in New Orleans by taking her on a tour of the city. I’ve done this more times than I can count, playing the roles of both Davis and Janette depending on where I was in life. I’ve begged some people to stay, while I’ve advised others to escape while they could. This depended on where they were in life. Other times it was I who was about to run, and being swayed by others. I know what it is to love this place, and I know what it is to hate it. It’s not for everyone. And Treme is just like that. If you’re a local, I can only recommend the show if I know you well enough to convince you to stay… or go.