August 29 will mark the five-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. With a death toll of almost 2,000 people and a displacement toll of 800,000, the deadliest storm of our generation has not been forgotten.
After finishing his hit HBO show “The Wire,” David Simon began working on and recently finished the first season of his new post-Katrina drama “Treme.”
Taking the same authentic approach he did with the “The Wire,” ex-journalist Simon spins the threads of several real stories beginning three months after the hurricane and weaves together an image of the actual Tremé neighborhood and New Orleans as a whole, through the eyes of various characters: a jazz trombonist, lawyer, Tulane professor, Mardi Gras Indian chief and restaurateur, to name a few of the ensemble and sometimes native-NOLA cast members.
The show was immediately picked up for a second season two days after its 80-minute season premiere, and the first season finale aired on June 20 with an average of about one million viewers.
Although the characters’ struggles remain the focus of the show, the drama is interspersed with long scenes of great New Orleans’ jazz, cajun and blues music featuring the likes of Elvis Costello and Kermit Ruffins.
Simon even incorporates other “fellow Louisianians,” including actor John Goodman and renowned chef John Besh, to give it an honesty that you just don’t find elsewhere on TV.
“Treme” is a genuine celebration of all things New Orleans, like a jazz funeral of the life and times there.
Except the city did not die; it was reborn, and “Treme” is the “jazz rebirth,” if there was such a thing. Whether the city is better or worse off now, I can’t say because I’m not from there, but I’ve had a love affair with it since high school.
With the start of hurricane season and Hurricane Alex making landfall, my thoughts turn back to 2005 and the New Orleans I saw before Simon’s “Treme” begins. There was a sheer joy about life expressed through every bit of food I ate and musical note I heard, despite the corruption, crime and racism underneath it all.
I remember the feeling I got in he historic Preservation Hall, seeing the magnificent Mardi Gras Indian costumes and walking those old streets before seeing it all go underwater.
Then, I remember the aftermath. My father, a public insurance adjustor, packed his suitcase and a gun, slept out of his car and worked with FEMA to rebuild what parts were insured.
He called every night, telling my mother and me about the increasing presence of the National Guard and how he managed to eat the leftover foods from his clients’ restaurants. It was surreal just to watch television, but it was even more unbelievable to hear about the anarchy from my father.
It may be five years later, but I can only hope we are better prepared as a nation. “Treme” wrapped up its first season on June 20, 19 days after this year’s hurricane season began.
No, Austin is not on the gulf coast, but many of us are from the Texas coast. Wherever you’re from, though, remember how much history was washed away in less than 24 hours.