Apr 16, 201012:00 AM
Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

Treme-tized

I still can’t eat pound cake. Such an innocuous food, right? Who could object to pound cake? But one day at Sam’s Club, I mindlessly picked up a sample, a little pasty half-frozen morsel of Sara Lee Pound Cake on a frilly toothpick. I popped it in my mouth, and even before it touched my molars, I was gagging. I reached for a napkin as quickly as I could, tried to spit it out inconspicuously.

“Very nice,” I said to the relentlessly smiling woman in the hairnet who was eyeing me curiously. And then I hurried away, still a little shaky.

Pound cake is what everyone brought over to the house after my brother died. I was 7, and I couldn’t use the stove, and every adult around me had gone too crazy to cook. And so I ate pound cake. Pound cake for breakfast. Pound cake for lunch. Pound cake when I woke up sad and confused at 3 a.m. Cake for every meal didn’t seem like a bad deal back then –– if anything, it was a highlight. I’d forgotten about it, really.

When I did the whole song-and-dance about my brother’s death, the cake wasn’t something I’d even think to mention. By the time of the Pound Cake Incident at Sam’s, enough time had passed and I’d gotten so inured to it that I could run down the goriest details without so much as a tear: “Yes, we were close. Yes, he hanged himself. Yes, that does sound like the worst way to kill yourself. No, that’s not the way I’d choose to do it either.” I could have those conversations as easily as discussing what I like on my pizza or whether it was supposed to rain this weekend.

And yet that pound cake stopped me in my tracks. It was Proust and the madeleines, almost exactly, though the taste didn’t take me to a sunny house in his mythical idyllic Combray but to half of a double shotgun on Ponce de Leon Street in the middle of a very real, very sad summer in New Orleans in 1988.

No matter how far I think I’ve come, how together I seem, there’s still a part of me that’s 7 years old, pigtailed and bewildered and grieving. When I tasted that pound cake and then spat it out, all I could think was, “Oh, please, don’t make me go back there.”

***

When I recently moved, I found my old junior high yearbook. These days, I honestly feel popular, likeable and extremely blessed. I love my job, which gets me out into this vibrant community where I meet the most incredible people. I have a kind, funny, handsome husband, and we have a perfect, adorable, brilliant daughter. I have an amazing, loyal, diverse group of friends.

But flipping through my yearbook, a thick musty smell rising up from the thin faded pages, all I could remember was the summer Kelly told me she didn’t want to be my friend anymore and then Morgan said she didn’t either. The time I impulsively and inexplicably told my orthodontist to put green rubber bands on my braces and then spent an entire month being teased and laughed at for having “nasty moldy teeth.” The constant taunts of, “Hey, Summer’s Eve, are you feeling not-so-fresh?” The boy who told the entire school that I was a terrible kisser, even though we hadn’t kissed. The fact that I joined the Library Club so I could spend my lunch hour shelving books instead of acknowledging that no one wanted to sit by me. The aching. The awkwardness. The acne.

Suddenly, I was mired down in the pain of early adolescence, and somehow the pleasant trappings of the successful, happy life I’ve built for myself couldn’t make up for the fact that the only people who signed my yearbook that year were teachers.

No matter how far I think I’ve come, how together I seem, there’s still a part of me that’s 12 years old, with braces and the remains of an unfortunate perm, skinny and lonely and shy. When I slowly paged through my yearbook, all I could think was, “Oh, please, don’t make me go back there.”

***

When Treme came on last Sunday night, I didn’t even make it through the opening credits without crying. The image of Katrina swirling in the Gulf, the water rushing in … I made it through that, through the obvious triggers. But when they showed all of the pictures on the wall, I knew in my gut what the next shot would be: those same photographs after the storm, waterlogged, streaked with wavy lines of color that almost look like tie-dye. How many of those pictures have I seen, have we all seen?

All through the 90-minute episode, the smallest things kept rocking me back on my heels, taking me back to late 2005. They were things that would be meaningless to outsiders: a shot of an alley cat reminded me of the packs of dogs that roamed the city back then; the scene in Lil Dizzy’s made me remember how the restaurants were almost all buffet-style, with paper plates and plastic forks and how grateful we were for it anyway; the fancy restaurant scene reminded me of a piece an old teacher of mine –– indeed, one of the ones who signed my yearbook –– wrote for Slate about a meal he had at Herbsaint and how hopeful it had made me that the city could get back to normal; the frantic, manic energy that everyone moved with back then. Even the bit about lemon ice got to me because I remembered, so clearly, sitting in Washington Square Park in mid-September 2005 with a group of friends and eating lemon ice. The trip to New York City had been planned as a celebration for my 25th birthday, tickets booked long before Katrina, and I’d gone anyway, despite being in no mood to celebrate. At the time I’d planned the trip, I’d been crazy in love with New York, desperate to move there, eager to get back. But just then, sitting in the twilight of a chilly Northeastern autumn day, I started to cry. I was in one of the best cities on the planet, surrounded by all of my favorite people, and I couldn’t have been more miserable. All I wanted was for New Orleans to be OK and for me to be there.

I know why Treme starts when it does. That’s where the drama is; that’s where the story is. But God, it hurts to watch.

A few days after Katrina, when it seemed like nothing would ever be right again, I flipped my wall calendar to the last page, as far forward in time as I could go. On Dec. 31, I scrawled, “Will it be better by now?” Months later, when I flipped the page from November to December and saw my desperate scribble on that last square, I cringed at my naïveté. No, it wasn’t better; it wasn’t going to be better for a long time. It might never be better. And right then, right at that turn of the calendar page from November to December, is when Treme is set.

I know how far we’ve come. We’re not fighting to justify our existence anymore; we’re just existing. We’re not wondering if the Saints will come back; we’re celebrating their Super Bowl victory. It’s dramatic irony –– of the happiest sort. What we know –– and what the characters don’t –– is that it’s 2010, and New Orleans is still here. That we had Carnival that year, and it was the best Carnival ever. That Brocato’s is open. That homes have hot water and power and walls. That days go by when we don’t think of Katrina. That everything we were fighting for back then was worth it, that we made a difference, that we were right not to give up.

But no matter how far we think we’ve come, how together we seem, there’s still a part of us that’s back in late 2005, moldy and shaken and shocked and lost. And when I watched Treme, all I could think was, “Oh, please, don’t make me go back there.”

Painful moments make up who we are, as individuals and as a city. The role that Katrina played in our history cannot be denied any more than the role my brother’s death played in my childhood. But has reliving it been as painful and visceral for anyone else? Does it feel therapeutic or more like needless dwelling on the past? I know the show is good for the city. But is it good for us?


 

Reader Comments:
Apr 16, 2010 12:17 pm
 Posted by  nolanative

Eve-
This is s agreat post. We have similar histories. We will have to share horror stories one day over a drink!

Apr 16, 2010 12:28 pm
 Posted by  Linda in Kenner

Eve,
What a wonderful, moving story. I'm sure there are more people than you can imagine who will identify with so many aspects of what you went through. You are such a talented and fantastic writer. Thank you for keeping us real!

Apr 16, 2010 12:42 pm
 Posted by  lapaul

Eve, if that's how you really saw Treme, you missed the essence of the show. Treme is not about dwelling on the past. It's about how New Orleans dug down real deep inside and found all its strength and became better than before. I don't think people are watching Treme and crying about Katrina. I'm not. And I live in Treme. In answer to your question, "Is it good for us?" Of course it is. It's lifting the profile of New Orleans on a national scale and allowing people to see what New Orleans really is and who we are. If you can't see that, don't watch it. But many, many other people feel very positive about this show. Asking whether it's good for us is counter productive. My suggestion to you would be to think less about yourself and more about New Orleans as a whole. Think bigger.

Apr 16, 2010 01:15 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I understand the pain that you speak about regarding Katrina and how watching Treme awakened that pain. It is a pain that will never go away, just lie dormant at times...sort of like herpes. Yes, Treme is good for the city but how can you (earlier poster) say to think less about ourselves and more about the city as a whole - the city is us....and our pain is the city's pain - and our resiliency is the city's. I love the people who have come here to help since the storm, but they will never know our pain - the loss of our history (12 feet) - it's only words now. So, if we choose to grieve, let us grieve - and then we will put it away for a while and go on with life.

Apr 16, 2010 01:54 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Goodness, I always, always love your writing. It never fails to make me laugh, smile, and cry. Kudos kudos kudos to you, Eve for another great post :-)

Apr 16, 2010 03:59 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

What a great article.

Apr 16, 2010 04:29 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Well done (in re to the story written)...I'd like to know how much damage the poster lapaul received from the hurricane. Not everyone could even live in their homes in mid Sept 2005. We were just allowed the privilege of "daylight" visits to the stench and destruction.

Apr 16, 2010 04:44 pm
 Posted by  LindaGayle

I went through Betsy and Camille in lower Plaquemines Parish as a teenager and I still remember those sights and smells and total devastation. Although I had no flooding in Katrina, the sights and smells and devastation were all too familiar. It really is an experience you NEVER forget. There are times I see scenes from Betsy (1965) and get physically ill, so lepaul, get over it. Eve, I love your posts!

Apr 16, 2010 06:59 pm
 Posted by  LorraineA

Wow! What a moving story. I'm not a native....just a frequent visitor whose heart was broken by Katrina. TREME is important if causes people to look back, reflect and rejoice in the resilience of your great city, its spirit and its amazing people.

Apr 17, 2010 09:36 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

I love all of Eve's columns. She is a terrific writer. Thank you for opening up to us all.

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Joie d'Eve

Living, loving, laughing, and learning in the new New Orleans

about

Eve is further proof, if any is needed, that New Orleans girls can never escape the city. After living here since the age of 3 and graduating from Ben Franklin High School, Eve moved to Columbia, Mo., where she received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Missouri School of Journalism and became truly, unhealthily obsessed with grammar.

She had originally intended to strike out to New York City and work in the cutthroat magazine industry there, but after Katrina, Eve felt a strong pull to return home, to her roots, her family, her waterlogged and struggling city – and a much more forgiving work atmosphere that would allow her to skip a routine of everyday makeup and size 0 designer label business suits and enjoy the occasional cocktail or three with an absurdly fattening lunch. She moved back home in January 2008 and lives in Mid-City with her two daughters, Ruby and Georgia; her stepson, Elliot; and her husband, Robert Peyton.

Eve blogs about the joys and struggles of living in post-Katrina New Orleans, the unique problems and delights of raising a child in such a diverse and challenging city – including her experiences with the public education system – and her always entertaining and extremely colorful family.

Eve has won numerous writing awards, including the Pirates Alley Faulkner Society Gold Medal, the Society of Professional Journalists Mark of Excellence award for column-writing and Press Club of New Orleans awards for her Editor’s Note in New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and for this blog, most recently winning the award for "Best Feature Affiliated Blog."

She welcomes comments, advice, empty flattery, recipes, drink invitations and – most especially – grammatical or linguistic debates.

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