This season, New Orleans isn't confronting outside forces; it's fighting itself.
[Spoilers abound] Early in this week's episode of Treme, Davis (Steve Zahn) shows tourists the battered, neglected remains of Perseverance Hall, a venue where Buddy Bolden once played. That structure is contrasted later with the clean, white architectural models for the jazz center project designed for the Memorial Auditorium. The meaningful difference between the two - people saw how money could be made off the latter.
The Memorial Auditorium plan was actually proposed in November 2009, and it will be interesting to see if it lives as a storyline longer than it did in real life. I wrote about it while at OffBeat and watched the story go from golden proposal to the scrap heap in three days (stories here, here and here). By the end of the year, New Orleans' Inspector General Edouard Quatreveaux had filed his report on it and blasted the proposal as "abject waste." On March 15, 2010, the deal was finally done, and the only remnant of it is the scuplture garden in Armstrong Park, which faced its own problems.
That storyline and the depiction of City Council's vote to tear down the housing projects illustrate tensions that played out throughout the history of New Orleans. Everybody likes the idea of preserving culture, but how, and at what cost? Do you clean up old buildings and put markers on them, or do you put it in more contemporary contexts? In the context of Treme, it plays as the city being ravaged by another devastating force - this one man-made and internal instead of something that swirled out of the gulf.
It's very much an inside job as the city's business elite circles the wagons against the outsiders who were very much a part of the 2006 story. The show poignantly illustrates that when Nelson (Jon Seda) can only share his theories on the demolition of the projects with his smiling, uninterested girlfriend (Taryn Terrell). When he goes to Liguori (Dan Ziskie), he learns the limits of gratitude in New Orleans' business community.
The projects story shows an exercise of power that seems largely unconcerned with the people it would affect (the mixed income developments that would replace them would only offer housing to between 30 and 40 percent of their former residents). The episode shows more naked displays of power on the part of the police departmentas it continues to harrass Toni (Melissa Leo) and Sofia (India Ennenga). Like New Orleans civic leadership, it seems completely detached from its purpose as Terry (David Morse) has to deal with a detective who's obviously missing work to do a detail - off-duty work - instead. In the show and real life after Katrina, much of what has happened reflects differing views of what's best for the city. NOPD, on the othr hand, is depicted as so punch-drunk and battle-scarred that it's lost all sense of purpose beyond self-defense.
- Annie T's career continues to move with unprecedented swiftness this week on Treme as she's courted by Lost Highway Records after opening for Marcia Ball and Robert Earl Keen in Austin. Record companies generally prefer headline artists that can fill venues bigger than the Bon Temps in their hometowns, so I assume Annie's story is being fast-tracked for a reason.
- In the summer of 2007, Cupid released "Cupid Shuffle," the song Antoine (Wendell Pierce) is line dancing to with his students.
- Last season, Delmond (Rob Brown) performed with Jonathan Baptiste, and Baptiste returns in this episode. Del announces a song as "Little Big Chief" by Leon "Kid Chocolate" Brown. Kid Chocolate doubles for Rob Brown, actually playing Delmond's horn parts just as Stafford Agee plays Antoine Batiste's trombone parts.
- Al Copeland's annual Christmas lights display was indeed insanely garish, and it was a yearly part of our Christmas season. After Copeland's death in March 2008, plans were made to move the lights from his house at the end of Transcontinental Boulevard in Metairie to Lafreniere Park. Because of public outcry, they were shown one last season at the house before being moved for Christmas 2009.