To those of you who know me it will come as no surprise that one of my favorite places in the world is New Orleans. I lived there when I was a child and it got into my blood and has never left.
For a long time I visited there at least once a year, sometimes three or four, but I haven't been back since Katrina hit and when I was invited by some friends to visit there for Mardi Gras 2012 I jumped on the chance.
Unfortunately, scheduling meant I couldn't get there until Monday afternoon, so I missed most of the smaller parades as well as Bacchus, but I was still excited just to see any part of it.
I love the drive down there, although it can be frustrating since the bridges over the Atchafalaya River Basin and the final stretch into the Big Easy can become blocked by the slightest thing, causing unbelievable traffic jams. This time the roads were busy but clear.
The friends had suggested I take a different route once I got to town because of the road closures and traffic . Usually I take the Vieux Carre exit off of I-10, which puts you right into the French Quarter but they advised taking 610 off of 10 and then taking Elysian Fields to St. Claude, St. Claude to Rampart, and Rampart to Iberville on which the hotel was located.
You may be asking why I would be so specific as to the route I took but for those of you familiar with N'awlins will recognize that that path took me right through Treme, the section of the city where Jazz was probably born and also the namesake and location of the HBO series which is one of the best shows on television right now.
It truly, truly gets you into a New Orleans frame of mind, especially if you are a history nut like me, to drive that route and watch the residents of New Orleans, because there aren't a lot of tourists there, making their way to and from the parades. Back to Treme in a minute.
It is impossible for any writer to come to New Orleans and not spot people and places that inspire them. I saw one pretty young woman in a flowing sun dress pedaling her bicycle through the neighborhood, dodging cars and costumed pedestrians, a loaf of french bread in a paper wrapper sticking from her bike basket. Her dress was obviously a little older, she wore no makeup, and the bicycle was beat up but she had a big smile on her face. You could read how happy she was to be out and around that day and how much she loved the city.
The issues with race, a bad economy, the fact that the city still wasn't (and may not ever be) back to normal, and that it was drizzling rain were all banished from thousands of minds when the Orpheus Krewe rolled that night. We had a great place and were bombarded with beads, part of which we kept and part of which we shared with the kids around us.
I remember right after Katrina and getting incredibly mad when some politician remarked that New Orleans shouldn't have money poured into rebuilding when it might flood again and all I could think of was that the man obviously had never been there or at least not where I was.
A writer, I can't call myself an artist, draws material from whoever they see and wherever they are. That's one reason why New Orleans keeps popping up in my work, like in No' Chance, when the gang heads for a showdown there. I have no doubt that people I saw and met over the last couple of days will show up in my work eventually.
I also have to say that I had one of the greatest life experiences ever when I was leaving NO this morning (Ash Wednesday). It may sound a little morbid, but it is what it is.
When we were driving out today I decided to take the long way out and swing back through Treme. I had the soundtrack from the series playing and the song was by the Treme Brass Band. I took a wrong turn but could see the road I wanted to get to a few blocks up and decided just to go that way. Within a few feet I was amazed to see a New Orleans funeral procession (Google it if you don't know what I am talking about) come around the corner dancing their way back to the church just ahead. I was even more astounded to see that the band playing for the mourners was the Treme Brass Band, the same one that I was listening to.
We lowered our windows, turned the music off, and listened and watched until the procession broke up.
For me, it was one of the coolest experiences in my life. Although it was a funeral, which is why I said it is morbid, for me to happen upon a traditional funeral…in New Orleans…in Treme…with the Treme Brass Band playing…on Ash Wednesday…on my first time back in so many years…it meant a lot to me.
And now, from the HBO series that is absolutely phenomenal, Treme, I bring you Steve Zahn and his character's take on President Bush's reaction to Katrina.