Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Faubourg Treme

Sunday I went to see a film at the Sonoma Film Institute, which is located on the Sonoma State University Campus. It was called "Faubourg Tremé: The Untold Story of Black New Orleans". Here's the synopsis they wrote:

"This first-person documentary by New Orleans natives Dawn Logsdon and Lolis Eric Elie brings alive the long history of Black New Orleans through an in-depth look at one historic neighborhood, the Faubourg Tremé. Elie, an award-winning New Orleans newspaperman, bought a dilapidated house in Tremé in the 1990's, and through the process of renovation became obsessed with the area's mysterious and neglected past. Progressive and racially mixed from its founding in the late 1700s, Tremé represented the largest community of free Black people in the antebellum Deep South. Elie interviews residents, artists, scholars, even a few historical reenactors to uncover Tremé's prominent place in the national struggle for civil rights. Shot largely before Hurricane Katrina and edited afterwards, the film is both celebratory and elegiac in tone." (2008, 79 min.)
It can be ordered from the website.

It was a great film. Well worth seeing. In fact, I will probably buy a copy. It truly captured the community spirit that exists throughout the area. Treme is now known as the 6th Ward.

There are many small neighborhoods within the larger suburban area. They are often named after a street or subdivision name. Within those neighborhoods, families have lived for generations. They don't leave. Where else is there to go? Part of the tragedy of Katrina is that these traditions which have lasted for sometimes more than 100 years, were disrupted in such a way that they can never be regained. In some ways they limited people, because it's hard to break away from family. These neighborhoods functioned like traditional villages. Everyone had their place. Secure, yes - Progressive, usually not. They had a culture all their own which was rich and unique.

I lived in New Orleans and nearby suburbs for 8 years from 1981-1989. It was quite an experience and one I will never forget. For part of the time, I lived across the river in Westwego, a small township at the end of the Huey Long Bridge. Though minuscule in size, it had it's own court and judge, and police department. If you lived there you had to pay for a special sticker for your car. I was surrounded by people who considered me a 'Yankee.' One of the customs was that as family members matured and married, they just moved into the house across the street or next door to their parents and so just yelled out to each other when they wanted to talk. My husband, from New England, and I had a lot of trouble with this.

There were many little parades which started from the parking lot of the Catholic Church at the end of the block and wound through the 5 or 6 square blocks of the town. They had bands and tiny floats and threw candy at you. Mardi Gras behavior happens frequently down there.

Westwego was segregated with blacks on one street and whites on another. When my husband and I rented to a black family, the neighbors called the police every day until our tenants just couldn't stand it any more and moved. One time I had a tenant (white) who didn't pay his rent. I went to the 'judge' who ordered an eviction, then came to the house in person, opened the door of the apartment and proceeded to throw the tenant's furniture out into the street. I couldn't believe it. This would never happen in California. I protested that this was not okay with me, but the judge said it was entirely within the law.

I never thought I would be able to leave New Orleans because it grabs hold of you in a way that cannot be described. I felt glad to leave when I did. But....I have always missed it for a quality that is way beyond words. It's a feeling, a sensation. With the destruction of these neighborhoods, the dispersal of all these people and whatever 'they' decide to put there in place of what was .... it is over. On the other hand, New Orleans being a very Plutonic place, has risen out of the ashes (read floodwaters) like the phoenix, many times before. It won't be the same, but it could be wonderful.

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