Have you ever noticed how some folks are so comfortable living their lives based on perception that it’s hard to get them to see reality?
We see it all the time here in NOLA, where the perception among tourists is that we throw up and pee outside a lot around here, while the reality is that it’s the tourists who do the outdoors throwing up and the peeing. We locals know how to handle our liquor…and take our bodily needs inside.
I saw it yesterday morning when a friend who’s planning a visit here forwarded me Frommer’s Travel Guide’s latest take on New Orleans. I realized that Frommer’s perception of New Orleans is somewhat detached from reality when I read in the summary that (a) St. Charles ends at Tulane (which is probably news to folks who live past Broadway) and (b) the Quarter should be the focal point of any visit here.
But I became unglued when my friend highlighted what Frommer’s has to say about my neighborhood, Treme… and then asked me if she should stay in a hotel. In the Quarter. Because, according to Frommer’s, “Treme is usually plagued by severe crime and not advisable to walk through at night.”
As my sister would say, “Really?”
What upset me about this misperception is that I’ve heard the same thing from locals. When people find out where I live, they’ll ask, “Is it safe?” (to which I always want to reply, “No, I actually prefer to live in places where my life is in constant danger”). Or, “Wow. You are such a pioneer” (which seems weird given that Treme has been around for 200 years).
Now, I don’t want to speculate in this column on the underlying meanings behind such comments. And I don’t want to pretend that Treme has not had its problems. It has (though I do want to point out that, when it comes to crime, I feel safer in Treme than I do on Bourbon Street).
What I do want to do here is talk about the reality of the Treme that I know in hopes that it will shatter — or at least crack — some of the persistently lingering and outdated perceptions that Frommer’s and locals alike share.
The reality of the Treme I know is that it is, bar none, the most wonderful neighborhood I have ever lived in in my entire life. It is not the fanciest. It is the not the prettiest. It doesn’t even have the most services.
None of that matters to me. Because there is a spirit to this place, unique and special even in this city filled with spirit … and spirits. (Maybe it’s because Treme is still watched over by the spirits that the slaves and free people of color long ago summoned each Sunday to Congo Square.)
That spirit is quite intangible (as many of life’s truest elements are), but it’s here.
And I am lifted by it every day I live in Treme.
I was lifted by it on Halloween night when, walking home at about 1:30 in the morning, some neighbors on Ursulines asked me to join them for beer and fried chicken (which, in an only-in-New Orleans moment, they were enjoying from the back of a cement blocked boat).
I am lifted by it when I walk my Scottie, Tyra Banks, by the Craig School at recess and the kids run up to play with her.
I am lifted by it when I walk down St. Philip and hear the members of the Treme Brass Band practice from their homes.
Finally, I am lifted by the spirit of Treme when I go to a neighborhood association meeting and see people who were born in Treme working with people who are new to Treme, people who have good jobs and own their home working with students who scramble to make rent, people from all walks of life, working together to foster a neighborhood that welcomes all.
That’s the reality of my Treme.
But don’t take my word for it. Come on over and see for yourself:
Start your day at the newly-opened Cafe Treme with a great cup of coffee and the world’s largest apple fritter.
Stop by the newly re-opened Perseverance Hall some Saturday for great jazz at Louis Armstrong Park.
If you’re not busy on November 25, join me at the African-American Museum for the Kick-off Jam Session for Treme 200.
And whatever you do, come summer, you had better beat a path to St. Augustine’s for the Friday Fish Fry, where Miss Beverly and others will fill your stomach … and nourish your soul.
Or just stop by my place on North Robertson some nice evening and join my neighbors and me (and several bottles of wine) for “stoop night.”
Whatever you do, do something that will help you move past perception to see the reality of Fauborg Treme as it is today. You just might learn something about your own reality in the process.
Brett Will Taylor writes Love: NOLA weekly for NolaVie. Visit his blog at thestoryblogbwt.wordpress.com.