For a bunch that drove between 26 and 30 hours to get here, the students showed a lot of resolve in getting up and out on a Sunday morning. One group was out before 9:00am, heading to the Quarter and French Market prior to tracking down the Metarie St. Patrick’s parade. I think the other three groups were heading into the City by 10:30am.
I went with two of the groups to the Lower Ninth Ward. We caravanned in, so Chelsea rode shotgun with me in case we had to connect to the two vans by phone. Chelsea was in the class last year, so we both were pleasantly surprised by the number of new houses we saw as we crossed the Industrial Canal. Nevertheless, once we parked near the intersection of Galvez and Tennessee, the progress is engulfed by the broad expanse that still exists. Students continue to be stunned by the magnitude of the loss and by how much more needs to be done. We walked the neighborhood in the quiet of a Sunday morning, uninterrupted save the occasional purr of a lawn mower or passing tour busses. The levee provided a place from which to view the new homes, with remaining houses, rebuilt or not, far in the background, away from the levee and the source of the deluge.
One group left to catch the parade, while those of us who had attended the Irish Channel parade were satisfied to sit this one out. One can use only so many green Mardi Gras beads. It reminds me of 2006, when I spent a week gutting homes in Chalmette; we found stores of beads in almost every home. In some cases, multiple trash bags full in storage sheds or collapsed attics. It was a sobering lesson in the uselessness of many of the things we tend to hold on to.
We drove back across the canal and I showed them Musicians’ Village and the nearly completed Ellis Marsalis Music Center. We then headed down Elysian Fields to the Marigny neighborhood. It was a beautiful day to take in the more placid sights and sounds of the residential areas of it and the French Quarter bordering Esplanade Avenue. In the daylight the multicolored Creole cottages, ironwork, balcony planters, and shop windows of Royal Street stood out above crowded tourist venues and displays of public drunkenness. Once we passed the St. Louis Cathedral, we had to stop for various street performers. We did end up spending way too much time, waiting for sandwiches at Johnny’s Po-boys; but eating them on the levee with the calliope from the Natchez stern wheeler made up for trouble.
Meanwhile, the other three groups mopped up at the parade. Beads, plastic flowers, and various vegetables rained down. The vegetables were given away to become dinner for locals. Although, in some sort of cosmic reparation, parishioners form a nearby Catholic Church adopted one of the groups, fed them lunch and steered parade booty their way.
In the evening, we gathered at the Praline Connection on Frenchmen Street for our annual class dinner. We literally took up half the restaurant, but the wait staff was both patient and helpful with students unfamiliar with Creole cuisine. Orders spanned the menu, from jambalaya to fried catfish and stuffed peppers.
After dinner, the groups went their separate ways to explore the French Quarter during the waning hours of the weekend. After another evening exploring, they returned to Marrero; some wrote in their journals, others looked for the reported ghosts. All went to bed knowing that in a few hours they’d head back across the river to begin the work week.