I awoke on Sunday, March 22nd further from New Orleans than I had been in a week. I tried to take advantage of the breakfast bar at the Day Inn off of U.S. 90 in New Iberia, but the pickins were rather slim. I got a large cup of coffee at McDonald’s and started out for St. Martinville and Breaux Bridge and I-10 East towards the Crescent City.
It was a beautiful Sunday morning and the town square and Main Street of St. Martinville were resplendent. It is the town of Evangeline and St. Martin de Tours Church the home church to all Louisiana Acadians. I spent some time walking around town, but like New Iberia, it is a place I’ll certainly come back to.
While en route to Breaux Bridge, I called home to check on things. In the process, I had to drive onto the shoulder to avoid a procession of mallards that were crossing the road. After my heart returned to its normal rate, it hit me that the lead drake could have provided me with a lifetime supply of duck feathers for fly tying. Not that I don’t have enough stashed away as it is.
I hit I-10 outside of Breaux Bridge and covered the 120 miles to New Orleans in a little over an hour and a half. It was too early to head uptown for the Indian parade, so I went to the htoel to try to check in. About 150 rooms emptied that morning, so they laughed at my request. I turned north on Canal and took a right on Basin Street. For the first time in seven trips to New Orleans, I was going to visit the St. Louis No. 1 cemetery.
I parked on St. Louis St., next to the Iberville Projects and entered through the Basin Street entrance. I was struck by how small and claustrophic it was. The narrow paths marked by the detritus of decaying tombs. I know that a number of organizations are raising money to fix-up the cemteries, but clearly there is a lot of work to be done. I made the requisite stop and photographed the tomb of Marie Laveaux, the voodoo queen. I was good and did not mark it with three x’s for good luck. However, the tomb that affected me the most was that of Homer Plessy. It seemd both ironic and wonderful that the man who challenged racial discrimination in his native city, and whose Supreme Court case reafiirmed an additional half century of Jim Crowism, was buried in the middle of the city’s most celebrated cemetery. You figure he’s got to be up there laughing his ass off.
I grabbed a bite to eat and headed over to LaSalle and Washington for the Indian parade. As I was walking towards where it begins, I saw a stir in the crowd and saw the stooped and muttering form of Dr. John emerge from the crowd. Although he is one of my musical heroes, his demeanor did not invite face-to-face interaction. Instead, I stepped back to snap a quick photo.
The parade started shortly after 1:00pm, which by New Orleans standards is ahead of schedule. Vince, one of the Operation Helping Hands crew chiefs, called to ask where he should go to meet me. I guessed the corner of Jackson and Simon Bolivar. And, as luck would have it, we connected about five minutes before the procession reached that point.
This was my third parade in three years and I was overwhelmed. The number of participants, the number of brass bands (four), and crowds far surpassed the previous two parades. We spent about an hour and a half moving back and forth along the procession, taking pictures and marveling at the spectacle.
Unfortunately, we did not make it the rear of the parade until it was halfway between Simon Bolivar and Claiborne. At that point, we belatedly discoverd that the Rebirth Brass Band was bringing up the rear. The crowd was as magnificent as their playing, but it was too enormous and too hurried to be much of a second line. Vince and I followed the throng up to Claiborne, where the procession closed the eastbound lanes for several blocks. It was amusing to see cars backed up on Claiborne, as well as onto the exits and I-10 itself. At that point, we backtracked down Martin Luther King and parted ways.
By that time, it was nearly four, so I quickly checked into my hotel and hurried over to the Spotted Cat to catch the Rites of Swing and to me my friends Ani and Bruno. They arrived during the break, so we had a chance to catch up a bit before the second set. We stayed around until six and headed down Frenchmen to the Praline Connection. I need one more infusion of fried chicken and okra before heading back to New England. I walked them back to the ferry that would take them back to Algiers and uncharacteristically went back to my hotel room. I would end a spectacular day with the first full night of sleep I had in over a week.