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New Orleans: The Real Naked City

Art & Design

Treme bringing you down? There’s a reason (it’s got the city all wrong)

HBO’s post-Katrina Sunday night drama Tremecontinues to get more depressing and annoying with each episode. One wonders why, amid all its self-conscious insider-referencing and maudlin earnestness and sadistic police officers, the show’s creators don’t just sometimes take a breather from the “angst” and show some of the true-blue, exuberant, hilarious spontaneity that the city is all about, and occurs daily–from “second lines” that form out of corner bar doors to men wearing dresses and running in the streets en-masse (straight men) because “they can.”

We were in the wonderfully-silent, up-and-coming Bywater neighborhood of New Orleans last week, on a day that was 102 degrees at 11 am, and suddenly we saw something pretty marvelous and refreshing to the spirit: At least 150 bicyclists had just, for no apparent reason, decided to gather and bicycle throughout the neighboring Faubourg Marigny and French Quarter fringes, many of them wearing nothing but bikini bottoms or a thong (on the men). The girls were pretty much all topless and of every age and walk of life. There was nothing indecent, torrid or sleazy about it. The allegedly monstrous police force even provided them a Harley motorcade, gratis. Wouldn’t want any of the male cyclists suddenly having a mishap, and turning tenors. Along the route, there was no wolf-whistling. Folks sitting on their front porches–not fortunate enough to have AC–just smiled and waved and shouted the city’s obligatory “Aw-right…” Some locals picking up their morning papers and cafe au laits took their tops off and joined the gang. One man, walking his bike, took his shorts off, and joined as well, wearing only his tighty-whities. It grew and grew.

Perhaps there are skeptical viewers who would see this scene, were it re-created on Treme, not credible. Live through this, as we have (hurricanes, oil spills, droughts, like this summer), and you know that “magic” happens daily in the Big Difficult. And it’s far more credible than anyone putting up with Steve Zahn’s insufferable character “Davis” (pictured) on the weakening show. When we lived in NOLA, we had a name for self-entitled bar-fly hipsters like his white-boy, jive-talking character, the ones that never have money, as they sit next to you at a watering hole telling you what THEY’D do if they ran the city: “unofficial mayors.” They got as old as these guys all prematurely become, noses reddening, hair thinning, errant DJ jobs vanishing. If we’d written this show, we’d have had Davis take his own life, not Crescent City local John Goodman–or have him get shot by hoods, as Steve Earle’s kindly and very-real street-performer character did last weekend on the show. Now THAT would be a service to the city, and a heck of a lot more authentic. New Orleans, not a place to feel sorry for, ever.