Sunday, May 04, 2008

...and that was only my Saturday morning adventure -- preceding an unforgettable afternoon at the Sundance Kabuki Theater in San Francisco...

After spending several hours at the Cinco de Mayo celebration, Lucy (who shares my passion for NOLA) and I boarded BART to attend the matinee at the Kabuki to see the great documentary about the Tremé District -- where our traceable Charbonnet African American ancestral roots found their beginnings. Though our French ancestry goes back to the 1600's in Thiers, France, our earliest black history (dating from the mid-1800's) lies in the Tremé (pronouced Trah-may), the district adjacent to the Old French Quarter; and among the Islenos of St. Bernard's Parish, Louisiana.

It was in the Tremé that jazz was born and where the earliest examples of the country's civil rights movements found their beginnings. Where Plessey vs. Ferguson played out, and where Reconstruction so brutally reversed all movement toward racial equality and brought horrific lynchings to Congo Square.

What a strange afternoon ... with moments when I found myself quite literally sobbing into my hands, wiping away tears with my sleeve; times when the memories of 6 year-old Betty rushed to the forefront re-living the tragic Good Friday flood of 1927. The storm that catapulted my mother, Lottie, and her 3 little girls onto a train bound for California -- with all of her possessions in a cardboard suitcase. She had little more than the hope of survival in a strange place with (my grandpa) Papa George and the few family members who had escaped the south during World War I. Dad would join us later, after the waters had receded and an assessment made of what remained. Nothing.

It was interesting to learn that the Tremé was apparently not effected by the 1927 floods (according to the film), and that our home must have been in the 7th Ward at that time. I remember that we were living on Touro Street but I no longer am sure of the spelling or just where that would be located. Funny what our minds retain; even from the memory of a traumatized child of six.

It is a brilliant documentary that I'll not soon forget.

It was eerie to sit in that darkened theater knowing that I'm a survivor of the Katrina-like tragedy that occurred 80 years earlier! That watching what felt like my personal history being retold -- this time through Katrina and its victims -- clipped short my shallow breathing. Having difficulty -- moment to moment -- knowing just which decade I was in as I watched the awful images (again) of bloated bodies floating by in that devastating nightmare. Having the feeling of wanting to shout out to the audience that we cannot be destroyed; neither the Tremé nor I! That I can close my eyes and still hear the streets vendors from their donkey carts yelling "watah mel-on, red to the rine!" as if it is only yesterday. That I can remember those parties that lasted 'til dawn when you pulled the kerchief from your pocket to cover your hair for the early mass at Corpus Christi (built by our grandfather, Louis Charbonnet) that you'd attend before going home to bed; a story remembered from a visit to New Orleans as a teenager one summer after being sent home to re-connect with family and history. To get to know the family's matriarch, Mammá, of St. James Parish.

I was able to meet the filmmakers when it ended -- during the Q&A -- and learned that Gina Charbonnet and other members of our family were heavily involved in getting this remarkable artistic achievement to the public. There there were -- Charbonnets -- up there on the screen as the credits rolled by at the end, along with Wynton Marsalis et al.

I am so-oo-o proud!

Just went online to order copies for my sons and our grandchildren and will have everyone to supper one evening soon so that I can present them and have a formal viewing of this living legacy so lovingly caught on film by a new generation of artists.

Thank you world!

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