ExTreme Makeover: New Orleans

November 20, 2010

Its [New Orleans) frauds and farces represent some of American’s worst excesses and affronts. But, day by day, year by year, New Orleans also conjures moments of artistic clarity and urban transcendence that are the best that Americans as a people can hope for. That is, if we who bare witness to them are not too jaded, too spent, too stupid to recognize them for what they are.

— Creighton Bernette (John Goodman), Treme.

I’d hardly think to offer a thoughtful analysis of the city of New Orleans after a quick jaunt there that left me less full of insight than it did life threatening fatty foods and rum induced bleary-eyed incoherence. But its future fate is something anyone interested in urban affairs should watch with keen interest. The dynamics that once made the city a cultural touchstone – race, economics, an international port of call – are currently undergoing highly charged changes that are either necessary for its survival as a vital, forward looking city or nothing short of an ethno-class cleansing. Or do such divisions have to be so starkly drawn?

The worry to some is that, post-Katrina, New Orleans simply becomes a gentrified tourist destination. A Cajun Orlando where the world comes to party like they’re all still college undergrads and watch the inhabitants perform nothing but past glories. Play When the Saints Go Marching In again while I eat a bag of beignets, will you? Museum New Orleans, monument to past glories.

There’s little room for innovation or adaptation within that framework. New Orleans as it was not how it could be. If you’re not part of that (re)vision then there’s no place for you in the new New Orleans. Play music. Wait tables. Deal blackjack. Hail taxicabs. If you don’t want to be part of that, well, there are other cities in other parts of the country that you can move to. Here, the past is the future. Minus, of course, the unsavoury, unpleasant bits.

That’s all too harsh and in no way so black and white. But it is a struggle that we should all be aware of, not just in New Orleans, but wherever we live. How do we embrace those things that made our homes, neighbourhoods, communities livable, vital and, in some cases, great without smothering them or not allowing for new ideas and approaches to help bring about necessary improvements to all our lives? Building on the past instead of plaster casting it and elevating it on a pedestal to be gazed upon but not touched.

Or maybe that’s just the whisky sours talking.

almost soberly submitted by Cityslikr


A Treme View

July 10, 2010

“No TV reviews!” our fearless leader shouted as he headed off for the weekend.

“This is a political blog!” he continued yelling on his way down the stairs. “There’s no place for pop culture on a political blog!” His belief is you can’t do both and do both well. “Just read NOW magazine if you don’t believe me.” (Not an opinion shared by everyone around the office.)

But now he’s gone and left me in charge. It’s kind of like tossing your kid the keys to the liquor cabinet as you leave town for the weekend with the warning, And no drinking. (As if your parents never did that.) I know I shouldn’t but it’s almost like a dare. Besides he can’t ground me although there have been times he’s tried.

While away recently up in the wilderness, I seized the opportunity to watch the entire first season of David Simon’s Treme on my hosts’ extremely large HD TV. I was a huge fan of his earlier masterpiece, The Wire, and probably overstayed my welcome in my drive to watch all 10 episode of his latest effort. But it was worth the risk of not ever getting invited back again. Otherwise I was going to have to wait until the show came out on DVD and would have to impose on someone else who owned a DVD player.

Set in post-Katrina New Orleans, Treme follows a diverse cast of characters (a Simon show trademark), from the upper crust who view the disaster as an opportunity to “reshape” the city down through those who have lost everything but their lives. It is a city at the proverbial crossroads, much of its past washed away — some of it storied, some of it checkered — when the levees broke and facing an uncertain future, caught in a stranglehold of competing visions. The old New Orleans versus the new New Orleans.

I bring this up not to show off my skills as a reviewer, for none do I possess outside of I like it, I like it, I don’t like it (and isn’t one Rob Salem enough, frankly?) It is the politics at work in Treme that I think is interesting and more than a little relevant. Not that I’m in any way trying to equate Toronto’s recent troubles with Hurricane Katrina but there are some interesting parallels.

An outside force beyond the city’s control blows into town and inflicts great damage, both physically and psychologically. In its aftermath, there is a scramble to be the first and loudest to deny responsibility. Victims are criminally mistreated. Those charged to protect and defend, do neither. Once a sense of normalcy returns, there’s the slow realization that nothing’s going to be the same again.

There is a feeling that for those who live in a city, whether its New Orleans or Toronto, events happen in which they have no say. Key decisions that will affect their lives are made without any input asked from them. Cities deal with the consequences and results of actions taken at a distance.

That’s the reality of politics at the municipal level regardless, it seems, where that municipality is. We elect clowns, do-gooders, politicians of the noblest intentions as our local representatives and ultimately it doesn’t matter. They have no role beyond carrying out the marching orders from those who have seized the true levers of power through a historical process that has remained frozen in amber, impervious to the imperatives of change and adaptation.

You’re doin’ a heckava job, Brownie.

A statement of obliviousness and indifference that resonates far beyond the boundaries of Orleans parish.

reviewedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Why We Love This City

April 7, 2010

Prone as I am to impulsive acts of merriment and derring-do, some of which have taken me far afield for weeks on end, I’ll be the first to say that there is a time and place for such pleasure seeking. One has to set boundaries or else it’s all play and no work. That, my friends, is the slippery slope on the road to pure hedonism, and take it from someone who has been there, done that and purchased the tank top to prove it, it is a tough, seductive slog back to the land of the dreary everyday.

So it was last night. We decided to take our editorial meeting out from the fetid confines of the office/media viewing room, pungent with the smell of non-stop sports spectating, chocolate ingesting and the agony of defeat. It was necessary to find a TV-free venue if we hoped to accomplish any semblance of work; jonesing as our colleague was with an insatiable need to cheer for someone, anyone.

We discovered just the place at the northern tip of the hot, hot west end strip of Ossington Street. The Painted Lady, it’s called. Had I known it would ultimately live up to its alluring name, I would’ve insisted on returning at another time when work wasn’t the reason we were looking for a bar.

Pure hindsight, unfortunately. It all stared innocuously enough. Ossington was quiet, what with it being the Tuesday night after a long, long weekend. The weather had returned to spring-like conditions from the blast of summer we’d received over the past few days. The Painted Lady was sparsely occupied, perfect for a work meeting. One could see, however, the appeal of it with a full crowd crammed into its fairly narrow confines. A slightly elevated stage sat at the back of the room past the long bar, underneath a ceiling decorated with deliberately gaudy baubles. Was that a picture of 70s icon, Xaviera Hollander aka The Happy Hooker peeking out from the back wall behind the drum set, slightly obscured by a heavy velvet curtain?

You want to say that The Painted Lady has a very lower, east side Manhattan feel but NYC comparisons are as futile as they are useless. It reveals a paucity of imagination on our part which I have just done by pursuing this thought out loud. So I’ll stop.

Things went swimmingly at first although it was a task to keep distracting Cityslikr from peering longingly up at the empty TV screen hung over the bar. We amassed future civic issues to follow, politicians and media personalities to praise and chastise. We even found ourselves downing delicious (if slightly sweet) pulled pork sandwiches prepared by our friendly if slightly reticent bartender who told us that this was something we could not expect when crowds filled the place.

Fair enough. But on this particular evening, all was well for the brain trust of All Fired Up in the Big Smoke.

That is, until the band arrived.

Why I didn’t insist at that very moment on paying up and heading out, I can’t honestly say. That the meeting was at an end was beyond doubt. There would be no more work talk to be talked. The bigger concern was for tomorrow (now today) and perhaps a few more days after that. I can personally attest to situations like this spiraling out of control and wanted no part of it now. My colleagues could not see (or chose not to see) the danger lurking. They were deaf to my protestations.

The band called themselves Rambunctious and were an ad hoc group of musicians featuring mainly horns and woodwinds with a drummer and accordion thrown into the mix. Only after it was too late did we learn that Rambunctious got together every Tuesday for an improv jam. And jam they did.

My best description of it was a sort of Broken Social Scene gathering playing dirty jazz. It immediately took me back to my days auditing religious courses at Loyola University in New Orleans where I frequented a down and dirty place called The Maple Leaf Bar, listening to the likes of the New Orleans Nightcrawlers. It was that good.

Which is why I had to leave. Eventually. Someone had to be the responsible one and it was quickly obvious that neither of my colleagues would be up to the task. I gathered together my meeting notes and took one for the team, calling it a night prematurely. Bidding the other two adieu (which they barely acknowledged), I ventured out into the drizzle, looking back one last time to witness as they shared a round of Jägermeister shots with the band. No, they would be of no use in the morning.

As I made my way home, I wrapped myself in the self-righteously edifying cloak of being the responsible one in the crowd. Besides, there would be other Tuesdays for me. At The Painted Lady. With Rambunctious.

longingly submitted by Acaphlegmic