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A venerable yet humorous Mardi Gras spectacle, the greasing of the poles at the Royal Sonesta Hotel, delights again in its 43rd year!
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Why is Louis Armstrong Park closed for a lengthy duration as the spotlight shines on New Orleans?
It’s easy to understand how a gesture intended as a display of community love and respect can be misinterpreted. What’s not so easy to fathom is when the fallout can have unwarranted negative impact to a local, internationally-recognized craftswoman to the detriment of her business.
Actor Wendell Pierce tweeted the following regarding Kabuki Hats — created, owned, and operated by Tracy Thomson — on 7/14/12:
The link referenced is as follows: http://www.kabukihats.com/uncle_lionel_watch.pdf
Tracy Thomson (who does not have a Twitter account) was alerted to these tweets today and offered the following in response via Facebook:
“Okay, I am horrified to understand that Wendell pierce has tweeted numerous awful things about the memorial watch that I made. I don’t tweet, but want him to understand that in NO WAY did I profit from these watches I GAVE AWAY as a tribute, at my expense, and with the permission of the photographer. The copyright I added says explicitly ‘this image may be distributed without compensation,’ which means I was GIVING it to the family to do what they want with it. There was NO PROFIT MADE from this gesture that was made in love of Uncle Lionel. Can someone help me set the record straight? Try to do something GOOD and have my reputation destroyed by a celebrity, that just ain’t right. Thanks for your help.”
She adds, “Mr Pierce, I want to set the record straight. I created these paper watches as a FREE tribute to our beloved Uncle Lionel, for the family, and for his huge extended worldwide family. It was NEVER my intention to sell or make a profit; in fact, when I was handing out dozens of them at the second line, in the rain, a guy offered me a dollar. I declined, telling him they were free for all. I have been asked by Markieth, Lionel’s nephew, to make memorial watches for the pallbearers at Lionel’s funeral. I have made beautiful tributes at many New Orleans funerals, from banners to flags to fans, and have never asked to be compensated. As you might notice, I do not even have my website printed on the watch. People wore them in the second line, proudly, on their left hand, as Lionel did. I hope your followers DO click on the link that you posted above, there is a full explanation of my intentions, and they can print one out for themselves, as a tribute, not a trinket. Have a great day in Paris.”
Mr. Pierce, I do believe that you owe Ms. Thomson a sincere apology. While your concern regarding the representation of Uncle Lionel’s image is laudable, I would hope that, in the future, you’ll exercise more care and consideration before causing genuine and unwarranted harm to the reputation of another local icon’s livelihood.
As one reader replied, “It’s a little like the pot calling the kettle black, since he [Pierce] actually does monetarily profit from the destruction of our city… ahem.” Another added, “Has anyone pointed out to him that [the television show] ‘Treme’ is a commercial exploitation of the deaths of all the victims of crime and disaster? And that he makes a paycheck from it?”
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Another (partial) milestone was reached today in the City that Care Forgot’s recovery from the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita: a portion of the Louis Armstrong Park in the Faubourg Tremé neighborhood re-opened! The Tremé Brass Band kicked things off playing jazz traditionals and favorites at today’s Armstrong Park re-opening ceremony!Various public officials (including […]
A random roundup of my personal picks of the best from local blogs and other NOLA-related news.
In Treme news, in response to the last episode, Sam Jasper at the Back of Town blog has written a beautiful and thoughtful post about the culture and tradition of place and the inevitability of change, “It Just Don’t Smell Right Up In Here”. Big Chief Albert Lambreaux is showing more of his cantankerous side while in New York recording Indian chants for a proposed record release. The title of the post comes directly from Big Chief’s mouth. Sam writes in part,
“His son has come around to the tradition in his way, but it’s not Albert’s way, and that’s mortality hitting ya in the face. Not just his own, but possibly the old ways, the culture he is so totally self-identified with and by. I know many elderly Native Americans who are terrified that their grandchildren won’t know any of the songs, traditions, creation stories, or medicine ways. In fact, several years ago, I believe it was the Shawnee who were given back sacred objects that had been held at the Smithsonian for a very long time. They let the Smithsonian keep them because no one alive knew what to do with them anymore.”
As an aside,in an earlier thread, Sam talked about the character Aunt MiMi, commenting as how she wanted to be Aunt MiMi. Huh. I’m acquainted with Sam and have heard a few of her stories. I think Aunt MiMi would be thrilled to be her. Sam is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. She’s a born teacher and storyteller who shares her knowledge and life experiences with an open heart, bypassing the need to instruct. I highly recommend her personal blog, NOLA Slate, although she doesn’t post nearly enough to feed this starving reader. (Check out this amazing post.)
Former mayor Ray Nagin released his self-published Katrina memoir last week resulting in a frenzy of blog posts, opinions, tweets and grumblings all over town. The best thing I’ve read hands-down is Michael Homan’s post, “Pharaoh Nagin”. No spoilers here – you must go read it.
Local indie designer Kerry Fitts was featured in the Times-Picayune last Thursday. (Sorry I don’t have a link.) After the earthquake in Japan Kerry allocated a portion of her sales from her Etsy shop to ArkBark, a non-profit group that was rescuing pets left behind in the radiation zone. Shortly thereafter she began exchanging emails about a possible fund-raiser and is traveling to Japan in July to participate in that event. She is donating her original designs for dogs and seeking additional donations from other local crafters. For more info about this amazing woman see my interview with her here.
One of my favorite local blogs is “NOLA Details” where the blogger Carla shares a NOLA-related photo every day. My favorite reoccurring theme on this blog is “Fun Porches” and we surely have plenty of those here in NOLA so I don’t anticipate she’ll run out of candidates any time soon! Here’s one of my favorites. Carla has another blog, “Watching NOLA Nature”, described as “Explorations in the urban oasis of New Orleans”. I really like how she zeroes in on the little things that go unnoticed in our every day lives. She reminds us of the wonder of nature and the beauty that is all around us. It’s a great little Zen moment everyday that I really look forward to.
Are you a tweeter? If so, my pick for Tweeter To Follow is @gadboiselensnola for informative up-to-the-minute reports from many of our city services department meetings including the City Council meetings, the City Planning Commission meetings and the Housing and Human Needs Committee meetings (all in the last 12 days!), among many others. Karen has made it so easy for us to keep up with what’s happening it would be a shame not to follow her.
Finally, I want to give a little shout-out to local blog “New Orleans Write Spot” that currently has one of my pieces posted. Susan Prevost (whom I interviewed here) publishes local talent and has the welcome mat out for local writers who are interested in publishing there. It’s a great place to read a bit of poetry and prose and support local talent.
Remember, you can follow us on Twitter and on Delicious to keep up with what we’re talking (also found in the sidebar) about or just wait for here for my random NOLA Noteworthy posts. Take care, y’all.
Update: I just want to add a post on NoLA Rising I read this morning (6/30) about the musical house that’s being created in Bywater. Internationally known artist Swoon is involved along with many local artists. I recently viewed & photographed a scale model of the house from the street (seen below). Go to ReX’s website to read about it and view the video that details this community-minded event.
Good morning, NOLA!
Here for your pleasure is another random (as in whenever I get around to it) post of links that impressed me from the NOLA blogosphere as well as articles of interest that are not local but are NOLA-related. Without further ado, you must click over to:
Well, it’s past midnight and I’m ready to visit la-la land so off I go. Remember, you can catch many of these stories, and more, weekly via NOLAFemmes on Twitter. Or, you can wait for the random post here. Until next time….
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.
As promised, I’m bringing you a short but sweet link-loaded post about what locals are thinking and saying about Treme. Y’all may have already seen these stories but I think they bear repeating, just in case someone hasn’t seen them.
But first I want to let y’all know about what’s going on over at NOLA Defender. Ben commented on one of my earlier posts that he planned to interview locals for their thoughts on the show and today is his first such post. The first interview is with John Herman who’s been playing with The Dirty Dozen Brass Band since the age of 14. Be sure to check it out.
Both of the following pieces were of special interest to me because they’re written by women who are native New Orleanians.
Treme Through New Orleans Eyes by Beth Herstein on Women’s Voices For Change.
Treme-tized by Eve Kidd Crawford on My New Orleans.com.
And if you’re a brass band fan you’ll like this link on NPR to some great tunes by five of our brass bands including The Dirty Dozen doing My Feet Can’t Fail Me Now.
For more buzz on what locals are saying about Treme be sure to visit Humid Beings’ Tremeter.
That is all.
NOLAFemme contributor Nikki Page Sothern has emailed me that her husband Billy has an article about Treme up on Salon.com today. Billy Sothern is the author of Down in New Orleans: Reflections from a Drowned City. Since she’s having computer issues at the moment she’s asked me to share the content here for her. So, without further ado:
Sunday, Apr 18, 2010 08:01 EDT
I watched the first episode of “Treme” sitting on a couch that DJ Davis, the real-life version of one of the show’s main characters, peed on after a hard night of drinking. Everyone in the room knew the guy “from around,” so it was slightly odd to watch Steve Zahn’s performance as DJ Davis. But it turned even weirder when Steve Zahn’s character ran into the real-life DJ Davis, who gave a nod and a wink, in a bar where some of us had sat drinking with the real-life DJ Davis before.
I am an old fan of David Simon, the show’s creator, and spent Friday nights in college obsessively watching “Homicide: Life on the Streets,” the detective show based on his book. But my anticipation of “Treme” had been fraught with concern: Would “Treme” get the city right? What kind of effect would it have on the city? Could it possibly manage to capture the fact that we are so lucky to live here — and yet that residing here comes at great risk and cost? A few weeks ago, I had a conversation about my worries out on the streets of New Orleans’ Central City, a largely unflooded, historic neighborhood whose shotgun homes have recently heard as many fatal gunshots as any neighborhood in North America. It was Super Sunday, an annual Mardi Gras Indian “holiday,” and men, women and children packed the streets in vividly detailed, painstakingly stitched, brightly colored full-body Indian suits. I talked with a veteran civil rights lawyer, Mary Howell, in the middle of a normally busy street. After seeking to end police abuse against Mardi Gras Indians and other New Orleanians for years, Howell was present this day as a legal observer. We talked about Toni Burnette, the character in “Treme” based on Mary and depicted by the terrific Melissa Leo, who captured her characteristic diction and gestures with great aplomb in the premiere, and how the show might impact next year’s Super Sunday: Would “Treme” open the floodgates to hipsters and cultural tourists, Americans longing for a non-homogenized version of community?
Our passionate discussion of the future of the city, with a backdrop of crumbling homes, festive music, and Mardi Gras Indians, could have been a scene from the premiere. Indeed, just that day I had run into actor Clarke Peters, who plays Indian chief Albert Lambeaux, enjoying the day (in plainclothes) just before I ran into Mary. I can only guess that his real-life doppelgänger must have been there somewhere. And me, a transplanted New Yorker living in New Orleans for the past decade with the fervor of a convert, could have easily been mistaken for Davis, especially after ordering a few gin and pineapples (“No tonic, sorry”) out of an impromptu bar beneath the lift gate of an SUV on the parade route.
For New Orleanians, watching “Treme” can be a bit like a local version of Philip Seymour Hoffman’s unrealized play in Charlie Kaufman’s odd “Synecdoche: New York,” in which a mad, detail-oriented genius sought to create a constant and simultaneous performance of the quotidian lives of an entire city’s residents. The show is made by people who clearly adore and understand the city, and it takes great pains to get the details right. I recognize myself and my neighbors in these characters, these archetypal New Orleanians, and Americans will finally see this dynamic culture that’s mostly been obscured by cartoonish depictions of New Orleans in media like the short-lived show “K-Ville.” But I was surprised that the show isn’t just introducing America to real life here and instead presents something that transcends the unique geography and character found within the city’s borders.
That more significant reality is that New Orleans, for all its exceptionalism — its Hubig pies and Carnival — is the canary in the coal mine of American democracy. While its architecture, music, food and unique wonders provided a cogent argument for the country’s investment in its rebuilding following the storm (well expressed in the fine “Why New Orleans Matters” by “Treme” writer Tom Piazza), the seeds of its near demise are present in every part of the country from Baltimore, Md., to Richmond, Calif. You may not be able to get a good bowl of gumbo in your town or state, but there are very few places in America where you cannot drive half an hour to the nearest neighborhood with decaying infrastructure, crime, poverty, failing schools and other plagues and find the essence of the pre-Katrina New Orleans. What happened following the storm, “a man-made catastrophe, a federal fuck-up of epic proportions, and decades in the making,” according to John Goodman’s character on the show (based loosely on New Orleans blogger Ashley Morris), simply exposed our pre-storm desperation. That catastrophe, not the storm, flooded tens of thousands of homes, most of which were suburban, mid-20th-century ranches where regular families, like the real-life family of Wendell Pierce, who plays trombonist Antoine Batiste, lived.
So when Albert Lambeaux walked into his flooded concrete house in the premiere, a couple of inches of muck beneath his feet, his heartbreak has nothing to do with the elegant, crooked, old wood-frame homes that people visualize when they think of this city. It has nothing to do with why New Orleans, and not some other place, matters, but instead relates fundamentally to our common conception of home, and what protections we ought to expect as citizens of this terribly rich country. (I wrote about coming home to my wind-damaged, roofless, 19th-century New Orleans home in Central City, two weeks after the storm, for Salon.)
Similarly, when we see Khandi Alexander’s character, Ladonna Batiste-Williams, find out that her brother is lost among the inmates who were left to die in Orleans Parish Prison before they were transported willy-nilly across the state without regard to the insignificance of their purported offenses, we are hearing a true New Orleans story (which I wrote about for the Nation). But the subtext is that we are a country that relies on incarceration to lock up a greater percentage of its population than any place in human history, of which a disproportionate share are young black men. Again, New Orleans simply represents the razor’s edge of a problem that is a defining issue in modern American life.
In this way, the show, like Dave Eggers’ recent “Zeitoun,” uses post-Katrina New Orleans to present a convergence of pressing American crises alongside some of the very things that redeem this country. In “Treme,” the roar of a trombone wandering down Governor Nicholls Street sweetens the bleak realities presented by both David Simon’s earlier show of urban American horrors, “The Wire,” and the post-Katrina disaster that horrified Americans watching on CNN. But the joy of that music, of the celebration, does not obscure, in the show or in real life, the reality of police brutality, mothers who cannot pay for groceries, fathers who eschew their parental responsibilities, crime and staggering violence on the streets, and terrifying disinvestment in American infrastructure.
New Orleans is exceptional, and it does matter. It has Mardi Gras Indians, Sazeracs, po’ boys and red beans. But, in addition to those treasures, the New Orleans in “Treme” presents the post-Katrina magnification of the woes that this country faces in nearly every community. While your town is not likely to have a second-line parade anytime soon, civic collapse could be coming your way. That’s why New Orleans should matter to you.