I hope my students had a chance to witness part of the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade before they left on Saturday. It’s not important, or meaningful, or culturally significant, but it is New Orleans at its goofy, frivolous best. It is a good example of the ingrained parade culture; it is imprinted on these peoples’ DNA. But then, they had a 1600 mile trip ahead of them. I only had to brave breakfast.
I picked up Kyle and his roommates and we headed down Carrollton to the Magnolia Grill, a hoary institution that has been serving breakfast and sandwiches since patrons wore bobby socks. And from the feel of the place it wouldn’t seem out of place today. Being Saturday morning, there was a wait, but it was a beautiful sunny morning. It had been nearly twenty years since I have graced their marble counters, but my memory reminded me that it
was worth the wait. It is seldom that you the chance to order eggs, sausage, toast and grits and feel virtuous, but when you are sharing breakfast with three 20-somethings, it makes it easy. I can’t truly describe what a chef’s omelet is; a picture does the job far better than I. And besides the Clover Grill, few places in New Orleans can serve a meal complete with entertainment.
We waddled out, picked up some liquid refreshments, and met up with some other City Year volunteers along Louisiana Avenue. Crowds were already lining the street, but we were able to snag some prime viewing spots in front of a police barricade on Prytania. We had to move for a couple of ambulances and an emergency oyster delivery, but we had prime spots from which to snag beads, cabbage and other assorted produce. Moon Pies, Ramen Noodles, drink koozies, and just about anything else drunks could throw from two story tall trailers. When it was over, we parted ways and I headed down to the Marigny for a couple of restful nights in a hotel in the Marigny.
After a short rest, I met up with another former student at the Spotted Cat. We walked and talked and caught up some more before settling in for some dinner, with traditional jazz at the foot of Frenchmen Street, right near the spot where a Spanish governor had five recalcitrant Frenchmen summarily executed; hence the name.
We finished dinner and Kendra offered that she was going to attend the finals of the New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling league with her roommates. I mean, who, on the heels of seeing a guy fondling a snake in a bar, could pass on that experience so I accepted the challenge. She explained that it was largely good-natured spectacle staged to raise money for women’s charities. So we headed over to One Eyed Jacks in the Quarter.
It was almost too weird to describe. A cross between professional wrestling and “Ru Paul’s Drag Race.” Muscle bound women, with great monikers, surrounded by themed entourages. My favorite bartender from Kajun’s backed up the eventual winner, “Seyonce” who bested “Mary Magdalene.” Seriously. After surviving that, I retreated to the quiet courtyard of my small hotel. Yes, there is such a thing as having too much fun.
For some cleansing on Sunday morning I attended the jazz mass at nearby St. Augustine’s, probably my favorite thing to do in New Orleans. As usual, the singing of the “Our Father,” brought tears to my eyes and the sign of peace went on for ten minutes of more. Then Kendra and I headed uptown for Super Sunday gathering of the Mardi Gras Indians, which customarily takes place on the Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day (March 19th), which is a major holiday for the New Orleans Italian population. No one is quite sure why the African-American Indians chose to piggy-back on this largely Sicilian holiday, but it makes for a wonderful cultural mash up.
This was my fifth Super Sunday and the biggest I have witnessed by far. Of course, I remember my first in 2007, only a year and a half removed from Katrina, the resilience and new energy that it represents is, I believe, a very positive sign for both the City and
its cultural foundations. We walked the entire route through some of New Orleans’ most challenged neighborhoods. The sights and sounds and smell of street vendors’ wares were indescribable. We had sausage sandwiches before the parade started and ended the parade with a couple of pounds of boiled crawfish. We stayed an additional hour. Indian gangs continued to return to the park where they performed once more before taking off feathered and beaded costumes that can weigh more than a hundred pounds. And while our fatigue could not match that of the Indians, the sun and activity had taken their toll. We parted ways and I headed back to my hotel and ate carry out for dinner.
I swore I would ignore the Downtown St. Patrick’s Parade, but tired or not, I walked the few blocks to Royal Street and watched as the much-smaller parade wound through the Bywater and Marigny. it was fun to watch with the crowds from the neighborhoods. And while far from sedate, it carried with a local charm. But afterwards, with the sun setting, I finally took refuge in my small hotel courtyard.
It had been a busy, sometimes frenetic, but thoroughly rewarding multicultural weekend.