'The Wire' Creators Tap Into New Orleans

David Simon's new HBO series, 'Treme,' uses fiction to honor that city's surreal, heartbreaking fact

Simon can’t pull through his keyhole precisely what drew him to New Orleans more than 20 years ago as a music fan: Those moments, transcendent and transitory, are big and shifty beyond even his skills. But what he can and likely will do is bump aside misinformed stereotypes of victims and heroes, replace them in millions of living rooms with credible tales of resilience and triumph, and seed a conversation about culture. That, and mightily entertain.

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Goni Montes
The Rebirth Brass Band, rising above
Skip Bolen
The Rebirth Brass Band, rising above

St. Joseph’s night, March 19—an Italian-American holiday appropriated as one of three times each year that Mardi Gras Indians come out in feathers and beads—is chilly but clear. A nervous energy spikes the mood, the residue of the Mardi Gras Day dust-up with police. Yet by 9 p.m., the Indians are out on the corner of Washington Avenue and LaSalle Street, the cameras clicking, the patrol cars keeping deferential distance. Two gangs, the Seminole Hunters and the Red Hawk Hunters, face off in mock battle—a glorious blur of deep green, lime green, lavender, and royal blue set to a mash-up of fierce chants and incantatory beats. As backdrop, unfinished two-story, mixed-income units, masked in Tyvek HomeWrap, loom from the site of the former Magnolia Projects, an unsightly reminder of a lost battle over public housing. Mary Howell stands amid a small group wearing Day-Glo green caps emblazoned with “National Lawyers Guild Legal Observers.” An older black man in a Lowernine.org shirt shouts, “Two-Way Pocky Way” (a Spyboy’s warning, some say, that rivals approach) to no one in particular. Two girls and two boys, none more 10 ten years old, sit on the curb, their blue-feathered fans beside them, one girl rubbing her eyes. And there’s Simon, wearing a black Kangol hat and a broad smile, his face just inches from a mass of feathers, perhaps making feverish mental notes or simply thinking what I’m thinking: You just can’t make this stuff up.

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