34th Annual Islenos Fiesta Sunday, Feb 5 2012 

Annual Islenos Fiesta, St. Bernard Parish, Louisiana, March 20, 2010.

Moving Day Monday, Mar 22 2010 

Saturday, March 20th, was that day that most of us moved out of the not-so-cozy confines of Madonna Manor. We packed our belongings, packed our respective vehicles, and went into the City once again. The last two vans ventured in for one last visit before hitting the road. I had the weekend to look forward to.

I went with Sasa and Trevor’s group to the St. Louis Cemeteries just outside of the Quarter. I was excited to find the tomb where jazz guitarist and raconteur Danny Barker and his blues singer wife “Blue Lu” Barker are buried. And at St. Louis #1, we visited the highly decorated burial place of Madame Laveau, the so-called “Voodoo Queen.” From there we entered familiar territory.

It was a beautiful morning in the French Quarter. I spotted a number of students running in and out of the French Market and the souvenir shops along Decatur Street. Musicians and magicians and performance artists lined the streets. And the lines wrapped around Cafe du Monde as those on spring break, tourists, and NCAA basketball fans sought their fix of cafe au lait and beignets.

Around noon the remaining groups hit the road and headed into St. Bernard Parish for the Islenos Festival. Los Islenos first came to St. Bernard Parish from the Canary Islands in 1778 at the behest of Spanish governor Bernardo de Galvez. They settled the frontier east of New Orleans and helped provide New Orleans with a buffer against the British. Many St. Bernard residents trace their ancestors to these Spanish-speaking pioneers and the festival was created to celebrate this history. On the grounds of the Islenos History Center, there were crafts, Spanish and Islenos food, music, and both St. Bernard residents and visiting Canary Islanders in period costume. I enjoyed wood carvers, boat builders, historical interpreters and some very very good food: alligator sausage and grilled bananas wrapped in bacon leap to mind. Fredy Omar con su banda provided the music and the crowd provided a surfeit of dancers.

As much as I enjoyed the festival, the call of a hotel room with a clean shower and proper bed linens called. I drove back into New Orleans and enjoyed such luxuries for the first time since I left home. I ventured out for a bite to eat and to sample the musical wares of Frenchmen Street. However fatigue and the overwhelming crowds made me brave a light rain to cross the French Quarter and hotel bed resplendent with proper sheets. And I enjoyed them.

The Fests of March Thursday, Feb 25 2010 

Everybody knows about Mardi Gras in New Orleans: public¬†drunkenness, baring breasts for beads, decorated coconuts, measuring success by the tons of trash left on the streets. Well, that is at least how the rest of the country sees it. The reality is much-more textured and family friendly, but most folks don’t see that.

However, I have discovered in the weeks after Mardi Gras (the observation of Lent notwithstanding), there are a wide ranging number of celebrations found in Southern Louisiana. Some, like St. Patrick’s Day, are ubiquitous celebrations; however, many are somewhat unique to the New Orleans metropolitan area.

And most of these take place in March and often when I find myself there. I’ve become accustomed to planning my week, not only around music, but the parades and events that commonly mark the time period.

The first major parade is the Italian American-St. Joseph’s Parade, which takes place on Saturday, March 6th. It acknowledges the immigrants to new Orleans from Sicily, where St. Joseph’s intercession saved the island from starvation; as a result, he is Sicily’s patron saint. A day later, St. Bernard Parish rolls St. Joseph’s and St. Patrick’s Days together, along with a celebration of Los Islenos culture, which references the Canary Islanders who settled in St. Bernard Parish in the 1770s.

And then comes St. Patrick’s Day or maybe week is more appropriate. There’s Jim Monaghan’s Annual Irish Parade in the French Quarter on the evening of Friday, March 12th, the¬†Irish Channel St. Pat’s Parade on Saturday, March 13th, and the Parasol’s St. Patrick’s Day Block Party which winds through downtown on March 17th. And there are numerous other St. Patrick’s Day parades elsewhere in the region. All feature themed beads and throws and the Irish Channel Parade, like the Islenos Parade, features thrown cabbages and other vegetables.

Friday, March 19th, is St. Joseph’s Day. At Catholic churches, social clubs, and restaurants and bars throughout the region, the faithful set up St. Joseph’s Altars and dispense of baked goods, medals, and lucky fava beans. And that night, the Mardi Gras Indians process, uptown and down, challenging tribes in adjoining neighborhoods. And on a a Sunday near St. Joseph’s Day, the tribes process in daylight so that all may partake. Indications are that the uptown Indians will process on Sunday, March 14th and the downtown tribes on the 21st. However, these events are subject to changes in the weather and the independent spirit of the participants.

Times will tell how it all will shake down, but suffice it to say, there will be a surfeit of beads, feathers, and yes, cabbages.