Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Second Line

[Warning: spoilers]

I recently watched season one of Treme. I'm a huge fan of The Wire and had high hopes for David Simon's series set in post-Katrina New Orleans. While I don't think Treme is as engrossing as The Wire yet, the characters and dialogue are just as well written and the look is as honest as gritty.

With all of the sadness and loss that the hurricane wrought (both real and fictional), and with all of the joy of finding lost loved ones and coming to the realization that the city - the essence of New Orleans - was not completely washed away, the most poignant scene for me was the very last of the season.

During the second line procession after Daymo's funeral, the camera stays on Ladonna who seems in a trance. She watches the others move and dip to the brass band leading the march and slowly she begins moving with them. She starts to feel the groove and sway with the bass drum, trombone and trumpet until she's finally moving along with the other mourners, flinging her handkerchief from side to side. Ladonna grieves, in these last few minutes of the episode, for Daymo, but also for Creighton and Toni, for her own damaged marriage, for the pain of waiting so long to learn Daymo's fate and what it has done to her mother, and for New Orleans herself (both real and fictional, it seems).

The New Orleans funeral second line must be something to be involved in with so much sadness coming through that somber trombone and laying someone to rest above ground, so close to life. And yet it must be filled with joy, too. All of New Orleans is joy: the music is joy, the food is joy, the people are joy. You can't keep that down in a parade whether it's through the Quarter or leaving a cemetery, and Simon and the great Khandi Alexander as Ladonna, do a fantastic job of summing up the entire series in those final minutes.

I've been to New Orleans quite a few times, but the last time was only two weeks before Katrina hit in 2005. I've been thinking of going back. I finished writing my first novel (still unpublished) last year just before I turned forty. Much of it takes place in New Orleans of the early- to mid-20th Century. I'm working on my third now and there are large portions of it that will take place in the same city and same time period. A bit of research may be in order.

This is an excerpt from that first novel, Life Out of Balance. It's part of what I submitted to be accepted into the Moss Fiction Workshop at the University of Memphis in 2010:

... He wants to drift, to let his mind wander and he finds himself back in New Orleans, awash in blues and grays long-since vibrant; a chipped and faded skin holding in a life and pulse as old as time. The city was fading with time and age and looked, not as though the salt air and sun had come to do damage, but as though the city itself had been at sea, adrift and at the mercy of the godless elements there.
            And perhaps it had been. Maybe the genesis of New Orleans, that distinctive pool’s back story, her architecture and ways still intact, begins with breaking away from France and finding herself a current, skittering along coastal Spain and making some stops along the dark continent where she picked up even more customs, habits, sins and gods. The long trip across the ocean would give her people the time to argue and fight, talk it over to come to an agreement and eventually fall in love. They slept with each other again and again before putting into port at the Lesser Antilles, all the way up the Caribbean where pilgrims and voyagers, both willing and unwilling, would come aboard with rum still sweet from the cane. A visit would be made to the Dominican, Haiti and Cuba before banking off the lawless coast of Mexico like a snooker ball and finding a pocket of relative safety in the Gulf of Mexico. The gulf would funnel her tired and restless crew into the soft underbelly of a new nation and its denizens would pull themselves to land on wisteria vines, tie the whole damn city to centuries-old water oaks hung thick with Spanish moss and declare themselves home.
            These people of the world who had come to rest at the bottom of a bottle of wine would stand together on wrought iron balconies rusted through with sea salt and proclaim aloud and defiantly to their new neighbors, “We are New Orleans and we don’t give a good goddamn about your rules, laws, morals and ways!” And they wouldn’t, either. Their speech was a mixture of French, African and Spanish, stewed up in a cauldron of sea foam, pepper and red beans as though the very Tower of Babel had been erected to throw its seamy shadow on these new and pristine United States of America. They would come to understand over time that it was no tower, but an ancient tribe unto itself which some thought from Sodom and others, Gomorrah.