Lomographers of Acadiana: Tremé

(These are just some photos I took with my digital Polaroid, I haven’t got film developed yet.)

After re-scheduling once because of the holidays and again because of a member’s work schedule, we had our “December” meetup the second week in January. In my quest to explore all the neighborhoods in New Orleans, we met in Tremé, which incidentally celebrated its 200th anniversary last October. It was the main settling place for free people of color prior to the Civil War; and remains racially diverse and of historical importance to the city’s African-American, Creole, and brass band cultures.

I’ve been told, and read in online articles, that Tremé is a sketchy neighborhood, but I think that’s a lot of pearl-clutching nonsense. I felt perfectly comfortable there, and no one gave me a second look. That’s not to say there aren’t pockets I probably wouldn’t wander around alone at night, but the same can be said for all of NOLA, or any big city.

wing shack snack, originally uploaded by pinstripe_bindi.

This is where we met for lunch. The name is actually Wing Shack, but it’s spelled on everything as Wing Snack. There are about 20 different flavors and most of them are “dry”, meaning they aren’t serving you shitty overcooked wings covered up with a lot of sauce. I got the garlic parmesan wings, ranch fries, and ghetto punch, which all the Yelp reviews recommended. I think it’s Kool-Aid mixed with pineapple juice? It’s sweet enough to make your teeth ache, but in a good way.

This part of Tremé is probably what people are referring to when they say it’s not the best neighborhood in the city. It’s right off the freeway, which brings crime into any neighborhood–you pay and pick up your order via a bulletproof rotating door, which I’ve only ever seen in episodes of The Wire. But still, on a Saturday afternoon, it doesn’t feel dangerous. And anyway damn, those wings are worth possibly getting grazed in a drive-by.

There is currently a renovation effort underway in Tremé, and one of their aims is to remove the freeway on/off ramp, to cut back on crime. North Claiborne Avenue was one of the most prosperous black business districts in the country prior to its being built in 1966. I doubt that was a coincidence.

underpass, originally uploaded by pinstripe_bindi.

Wing Shack is just a carry-out place, so this is where we actually ate: under the freeway overpass. There were a few people there, eating wings or drinking beer or whatever. It was kind of like a park. I don’t know who’s responsible for the murals, but I suspect Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, whose headquarters are in Tremé.

st augustine, originally uploaded by pinstripe_bindi.

We went to St. Augustine Church, which is the oldest African-American Catholic parish in the country and was one of the earliest integrated churches in the south. Although how it happened is kind of funny: free people of color used to buy extra pews for slaves, and when white people heard about it THEY started to buy pews, because damn if the church was going to have more black than white congregants. It was integrated out of spite.

st augustine 1, originally uploaded by pinstripe_bindi.

It was locked, so I don’t know what it looks like inside.

treme, originally uploaded by pinstripe_bindi.

Being an older neighborhood, Tremé is on higher ground than a lot of the newer ones, and was largely unscathed by the flooding after Katrina.

backstreet museum, originally uploaded by pinstripe_bindi.

Around the corner from the church is the Backstreet Cultural Museum, which is dedicated to preserving the African-American culture of the neighborhood. It has displays of Mardi Gras Indian suits, and exhibits on social clubs and jazz funerals.

indian masks, originally uploaded by pinstripe_bindi.

Masking started as a way to honor the Native Americans, who along with slaves invented jazz in Congo Square, and sometimes sheltered runaway slaves. The suits are made by hand and must only be worn once. They can weigh up to 70 pounds!

peacock headress, originally uploaded by pinstripe_bindi.

castle breastplate, originally uploaded by pinstripe_bindi.

This was my favorite: an elaborate, 3-dimensional front piece shaped like a castle, complete with turrets, a courtyard and moat, and a model horse in the doorway.

marie laveau, originally uploaded by pinstripe_bindi.

We ended the day in St. Louis Cemetery No. 1, which I always thought was the French Quarter, but apparently it’s kind of a boundary area. Which makes sense because the Iberville Projects are behind the cemetery, and that’s where Storyville used to be, and Storyville was part of Tremé. (Parsing all the different NOLA neighborhoods is immensely satisfying to my inner OCD.)

I haven’t been there since before I moved to Louisiana, and it seemed smaller than I remembered it. But when I stopped to think about I realized of course it’s just one square block, like all the old neighborhood cemeteries. (The ones out on City Park Avenue are a different story altogether.) I think it seemed bigger because Mom and I went on a walking tour, and it took a long time to see it all. It’s extremely dense.

The cemetery is also a place I’ve been warned away from, because of the aforementioned projects. Everyone always says to only go in a group. But again, on a Saturday afternoon, that’s needless paranoia: that cemetery was full of people.

I was kind of depressed at how much Marie Laveau’s (alleged) tomb has deteriorated. People keep drawing on it and scratching off the mortar, and it looked like the offerings hadn’t been cleaned up in weeks, some of the stuff had mold growing on it. Clean it up or Marie’s gonna getcha! (Incidentally, the only grave in the country that’s visited more often is JFK’s.)

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