“Treme” Explained, Episode 8: “All on a Mardi Gras Day”
I know, I’m late again. Busy week. We were out yesterday so I’m even an episode behind, eek! But let’s just dive right in … ’cause it’s Mardi Gras! (Well, in the timeline of “Treme” it was last week; in real life Mardi Gras was almost four months ago.)
Here’s last week’s installment of Dave Walker’s “Treme” Explained column for Episode 8, “All on a Mardi Gras Day.” Some excerpts, and my annotations:
The episode’s title is “All on a Mardi Gras Day,” a song that describes music and Mardi Gras Indian pageantry on Fat Tuesday.
“All on a Mardi Gras Day” is also the title of two works of interest to “Treme” fans who want to learn more about New Orleans Carnival traditions. One is a 1995 book by Reid Mitchell tracing Mardi Gras history and traditions (its subtitle: “Episodes in the History of New Orleans Carnival”). The other is a 2003 documentary by Royce Osborn focusing on black Carnival traditions.
Delmond checks into the Loews New Orleans Hotel on Poydras Street. Hotel rooms were hard to come by for Mardi Gras 2006: Almost half of the available hotel rooms during that time were occupied by public safety and recovery workers, as well as residents who’d lost homes and apartments.
The Loews Hotel also houses one of my favorite restaurants in New Orleans, Café Adelaide, and one of the city’s better bars, The Swizzle Stick.
You should go there soon.
Antoine’s gig is at the Howlin’ Wolf nightclub in the downtown Warehouse District. The band he joins is Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk. Guitarist Ian Neville is the son of Art Neville of the Neville Brothers. Keyboardist Ivan is the son of Neville Brother Aaron.
Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) is a holiday in New Orleans. Most schools are off all week, hence Sofia Bernette’s availability to take a drive to the lakefront with her father on Lundi Gras, the Monday before Mardi Gras.
When I first moved to L.A., I had hardly ever been outside New Orleans — family vacations in Alabama, Georgia and Florida, a brief stop at Rock City in Tennessee, and a weekend trip to Carbondale, IL to check out a school. Getting to L.A. and finding out that for starters you couldn’t drink on the street was a major culture shock. Then finding out that we don’t get Lundi Gras, Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday off from school and work … what kind of heathen land had I moved to?! My SceniCruiser had taken me beyond Baton Rouge and truly into the heart of darkness.
Creighton Bernette displays symptoms of depression, a chronic condition in New Orleans post-Katrina even among residents who were comparatively lucky in the storm.
Times-Picayune columnist Chris Rose wrote about his own battle with post-K depression in October 2006.
“My hands shook,” he wrote. “I had to look down when I walked down the steps, holding the banister to keep steady. I was at risk every time I got behind the wheel of a car; I couldn’t pay attention.
“I lost 15 pounds and it’s safe to say I didn’t have a lot to give. I stopped talking to Kelly, my wife. She loathed me, my silences, my distance, my inertia.
“I stopped walking my dog, so she hated me, too. The grass and weeds in my yard just grew and grew.
“I stopped talking to my family and my friends. I stopped answering phone calls and e-mails. I maintained limited communication with my editors to keep my job but I started missing deadlines anyway.
“I tried to keep an open line of communication with my kids to keep my sanity, but it was still slipping away. My two oldest, 7 and 5, began asking: ‘What are you looking at, Daddy?’
“The thousand-yard stare. I couldn’t shake it. Boring holes into the house behind my back yard. Daddy is a zombie. That was my movie: Night of the Living Dead. Followed by Morning of the Living Dead, followed by Afternoon …”
By the way, don’t ever call the streetcar a “trolley” in New Orleans; it’s a dead giveaway that you’re not from there. I’ll cut him some slack as he did say “streetcar line” first.
Chris Rose’s book 1 Dead in Attic: After Katrina is a must-get.
Antoine greets Al Johnson at the bar. Johnson recorded the Mardi Gras classic “Carnival Time,” the lyrics of which describe Fat Tuesday activities in the Faubourg Treme neighborhood, in 1960. He was 2005 King of Krewe du Vieux. “Carnival Time” plays under the later scene in which Janette and Jacques cook for parade-goers on the traditional St. Charles Ave. parade route.
“Milenberg Joys” was recorded by the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, New Orleans musicians living and working in Chicago, in 1923, with its composer, Jelly Roll Morton, on piano. The Milneburg entertainment district in New Orleans, located approximately where Elysian Fields Avenue once met Lake Pontchartrain, was a popular entertainment destination for New Orleanians from the 1870s until the 1930s. Many visitors, drawn by the outpost’s dance halls, arrived by a train known as the Smokey Mary. The area was reclaimed and redeveloped, and a lighthouse is the only remnant of the district today. The Pontchartrain Beach amusement park operated near the site through the middle decades of the 20th century. The University of New Orleans now occupies part of the original Milneburg site.
For this and much more, see the rest of Dave Walker’s column in the T-P.