The Final Hours Saturday, Mar 19 2016 

IMG_0500

Students working with David Young, March 2016.

I’m finally taking a breather. Sitting in Community Coffee drinking my third cafe au lait today. I wonder if this has something to do with my trouble sleeping? I am taking a pause before some serious Mardi Gras Indian activity tonight,  as it St. Joseph’s Day; even though the date is more closely tied to the Sicilians, it is the Indians’ prime night for masking. That will be followed by some music and tomorrow, even a larger gathering of Indians. For now, I’ll enjoy the relative quiet of the coffee house.

About an hour and a half ago, I saw the 19 students and five student leaders cram their luggage, sleeping bags, beads, and themselves into four minivans for the 1600 mile trip back to New Hampshire. They’ll be leaving the warm weather of the past week for possible snow in Virginia and back home in New England. Many were wistful about leaving, but you could almost hear the gears switch from beignets to books and homework.

IMG_0489

Work at Flood Street, March 2016.

Thursday was St. Patrick’s Day, but celebration would have to wait; work assignments remained the same. The Zulus got more involved in construction on expanding David Young’s aquaculture system. On Friday, he took them on a tour of his organization’s gardens, orchards and ponds that are scattered throughout the Lower Ninth Ward. The crew working at the lowernine.org house finished much of the shingling of the damaged portion of the roof. Only the weather on Friday kept them from finishing the task. The Baratarians primarily continued prep work over on the home on Flood, but by the end of the week more of them had the opportunity to do some painting. The same held for the crew on Delery Street

Thursday night brought the Downtown St. Patrick’s Day Parade. We gathered at the intersection of Royal and Esplanade to watch this relatively modest, yet spirited parade. Afterwards, most of the students followed the parade into the French Quarter, while most of the leaders stayed in the Marigny. The air was heavy, yet thunder showers failed to chase revelers of fof Bourbon Street. Folks got to bed a bit later than most nights, but then, they had a partial day of work left and it was predominately a wash out.

IMG_0503

Backstreet Cultural Museum, March 2016

As the students crossed the Industrial Canal on Friday afternoon, they left the Lower Ninth, the taco truck, the sandwiches from the Arabi Market, and fine folks at lowernine.org. However, before they kicked around New orleans one last night, I took them to the Backstreet Cultural Museum, a Treme landmark just a couple of blocks from the community center. The museum holds dozens of beautifully crafted Indian suits and second line memorabilia. In addition, our guide had masked as an Indian for several decades and was a wealth of information about both the suits and the tradition.

While many students headed over the the Warehouse District, I met up with former student and leader Theresa Conn and her UNH roommate. We went to Adolfo’s, a highly regarded Creole-Italian restaurant on Frenchmen Street. We began with mussels in a garlic sauce. The entrees were magnificent, literally topped off with the chef’s “ocean sauce,” a peppery creation with a mound of crab meat, plentiful shrimp and crawfish tails.

IMG_0512

Kermit Ruffins, March 2016

After dinner we parted ways and I crossed the street to see trumpet player/vocalist Kermit Ruffins at the Blue Nile.He played a healthy collection of his best-known songs, but as the clock rolled past ten, I knew I had to go back and get some rest. More storms had rolled through so that I had to dodge showers while walking back to the community center.

Because the students had done most of the cleaning of the community center on Friday afternoon, there was little to do Saturday save packing the vans. Everyone went into the Quarter for one final time, mostly to finish shopping for souvenirs and visit the French Market. The Meters got a late start, because as

IMG_0521

The Meters, March 2016

winners of the scavenger hunt, they received a breakfast on me. I picked the Flora Gallery and Coffee Shop on the recommendation of Kyle Murphy. It is a funky place on  the edge of the Bywater at the intersection of Royal and Franklin. The service was a bit slow for a group our size, but I believe the students appreciated both the relaxed time and the resident cats, before getting back in the van for the trip.

I met all four groups back at the community center at noon to see them off. They left on time without a hitch. And now I can begin worrying about their well-being on the return trip. It will be great to see them in class on Thursday, but for the time-being, I’m going to enjoy a couple of days of down time.

IMG_0522

Flora Gallery and Coffee Shop, March 2016.

 

 

 

Advertisements

The New Orleans Class: Take Nine Monday, Jan 19 2015 

Chalmette National Battlefield, Chalmette, LA.

Chalmette National Battlefield, Chalmette, LA.

In March 2006, months after Hurricane Katrina, I went to New Orleans to volunteer for the first time. We were gutting houses, which was grueling and nasty work. After racing to the showers and the service laundry at the volunteer camp, we had some precious downtime before dinner. More often than not, I’d wander over to the Chalmette Battlefield, site of the Battle of New Orleans, and the adjacent Chalmette National Battlefield. There, on a decrepit bench under the live oaks, I’d read or muse in the company of the dead African-American soldiers from the Civil War dead, buried in the cemetery behind me. There, surrounded by so many stories, is where the idea for the New Orleans course first emerged.

When I got back to New Hampshire, I started reading everything I could find on New Orleans while piecing together a proposal for a first year seminar on the City. It was approved and in January 2007 I began teaching the New Orleans class for the first time. I had a full class of 25 and I proceeded to inflict my newfound knowledge on them with text-heavy PowerPoint slides. I tried to communicate all that knew and they tried their best to sort through it all. It was a learning process for all.

I returned to New Orleans that year and seven members of the class went to the Gulf Coast with UNH-Alternative Break Challenge, for which I had arranged volunteers slots with Habitat for Humanity, UNH Intervarsity, or on their own. We had a blast taking in the sights and sounds of New Orleans while working in and around Musicians’ Village in the Upper Ninth Ward. As I watched my students on the trip, I realized that they were able to link the classroom with experience, and in the process, their learning was much different than for those students who remained behind. When the Honors Program approached me to teach it as an honors course in 2008, I asked if I could require all of the students to go on the service learning trip. They* said “yes” and you can guess the rest of the story.

St. Patrick's Day Parade on Frenchmen Street, March 2009.

St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Frenchmen Street, March 2009.

So here we are, the day before the beginning of the ninth installment of the New Orleans class. Katrina has become more distant, the PowerPoint slides have grown lighter, and the service learning trip still has the power to be a life altering experience. Along the way, while centered around New Orleans, we’ve experienced the Crescent City, the West Bank, St. Bernard Parish, St. Tammany Parish, and Waveland, Mississippi. 200 students and student trip leaders, almost all former students in the class, have danced in second lines, listened to everything from traditional jazz to zydeco to sissy bounce, walked with Mardi Gras Indians, finagled “throws” in numerous parades (no flesh has exposed in the process, but there was some smooching with old Irish and Italian guys), and consumed hundreds of po boys.

And in less than two months, we’re going to do it all over again. For the second year, we’ll be staying at Camp Hope in Arabi, Louisiana. And for the third time, we’ll be working with the wonderful folks at lowernine.org in the Lower Ninth Ward. We’ll experience the Downtown St. Patrick’s Day Parade, Mardi Gras Indians on St. Joseph’s Night, some Afro-Creole cooking, alumnus Kyle Murphy’s French Quarter Scavenger Hunt and, weather permitting, the massing of the Mardi Gras Indian gangs on “Super Sunday.” And more importantly, we’ll work on homes in the still distressed Lower Ninth Ward and, in the process, meet some of the nicest and most open people in the world. In other words, the class will come alive. Within days of taking their mid-term exam, students will have hands-on experience with what they have learned.

New Orleans class, Camp Hope, Arabi, LA, March 2014.

New Orleans class, Camp Hope, Arabi, LA, March 2014.

And I can’t wait.

*The “they” was really Professor Lisa MacFarlane, then Head of the Honors Program, now Vice President for Academic Affairs/Provost at UNH. I am forever indebted to her trust, foresight, and ability to say “yes” so quickly. The result has been a singular and sometimes life-changing course at UNH. It never gets old for me and, I hope, the same goes for the students.

The St. Joseph’s-St. Patrick’s Day Mash Up Tuesday, Mar 19 2013 

Camellia Grill, March 2013

Camellia Grill, March 2013

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

Chef’s Omelet, Magnolia Grill, March 2013.

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.

Irish Channel St. Patrick's Parade, March 2013.

Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade, March 2013.

New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling, March 2013.

New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling, March 2013.

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.

Jazz Mass at St. Augustine's, March 2013

Jazz Mass at St. Augustine’s, March 2013

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

Super Sunday, March 2013.

Super Sunday, March 2013.

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.

St. Patrick's in the Marigny, March 2013.

St. Patrick’s in the Marigny, March 2013.

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.

Everybody Loves a Parade Wednesday, Feb 20 2013 

To my current students (and others):

My dream is to create a January Term course on New Orleans street culture; the second lines, jazz funerals, Mardi Gras Indians, and participatory parades. But until then, I just get to enjoy the opportunities that present themselves during our spring break trip. And just to lay it out for you, here are the spectacles that await us.

Italian American Marching Club St. Joseph's Parade, March 2007.

Italian American Marching Club St. Joseph’s Parade, March 2007.

On the day we arrive in New Orleans, the French Quarter play host to the Italian American Marching Club’s St. Joseph Parade. The grand marshal of the parade is composer and actor Frank Stallone, Jr. (Sylvester Stallone’s younger brother). There will be plenty of opportunities for beads and kisses from old (Italian) guys.

Keep'n It Real Second Line, March 2012.

Keep’n It Real Second Line, March 2012.

The following day we can head up to Bayou St. John for the Keep’n It Real Social Aid  and Pleasure Club Second Line. The brass band has not been announced yet, but it will be worth following for a few blocks. For lunch, you’ll have your choice of po’ boys from the Parkway Bakery or grilled sausage or pork chop sandwiches along the parade route. Tough choice.

It’s rather quiet during the week, but on Friday evening we can watch the drunken block party that is the Jim Monaghan’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It begins and ends at Molly’s at the Market bar on Decatur St. I’ve witnessed it a number of times and I question whether it ever really leaves the bar, but I can’t be sure. The published parade route suggests otherwise, but I am not convinced.

Irish Elvis, Irish Channel St. Patrick's Parade, March 2008.

Irish Elvis, Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade, March 2008.

Before you all leave, I’d suggest hitting the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day Parade. It’s the one I enjoy the most. It seems to have the most history. It takes place under a canopy of oaks along St. Charles Avenue. And it will give you a great send-off for the long trip home. And you’ll leave with plenty of green beads and more kisses from old (Irish) guys.

And if tradition (and the weather) holds, the day after you leave will be the Mardi Gras Indians’ “Super Sunday.” it is a shame you will miss it, but I promise to take plenty of pictures.

We’ve All Landed Sunday, Mar 11 2012 

Before I begin, a public service warning: these daily posts during spring break are often done on the run, usually in a McDonald’s. I generally don’t have the time to review them as might usually, and the chances that I’ll go back and catch things is limited. In advance, let me apologize for typos (especially this year since I am using a netbook) and missing words. It goes with the territory, but it I can, I ‘d rather snatch the time to post as often as time allows.

Shrimp boats on Bayou Bienvenue, March 2012.

Now: yesterday was a roller coaster of a day. I started at a motel overlooking Bayou Bienvenue in Chalmette, Louisiana. I had a leisurely breakfast at the cafe of the casino attached to the motel. In this case, a couple of dozen video poker machines constitutes a casino. After a quick visit to the docks and shrimp boats behind the motel, I headed into the City.

It was kind of a gray day as I crossed the Ninth Ward and headed down Elysian Fields to the Marigny neighborhood.  I strolled down sleepy Frenchmen Street (it would be an entirely different story 12 hours later). It was one of those aimless mornings that I look forward to, especially in front of hectic week with work and events planned. I walked a lot and found nice places to pause and people watch.

Line at Cafe du Monde, March 2012.

I strolled through the French Market. I passed the University of Kentucky basketball fans lined up a half block to get a seat at Cafe du Monde (I guess I’ve never had a cup of coffee that good). I visited Jackson Square and the Cathedral and headed north to Treme. I crossed Bourbon Street without glancing either way and ended up in the newly refurbished Armstrong Park.

For a music lover, it was like a trip home. Before Katrina it was reputed to be to dangerous to visit and after Katrina, it was closed for years. So I jumped at the

Louis Armstrong statue, Armstrong Park, March 2012.

chance to walk across Congo Square where Africn slaves were permitted, every Sunday, to relive their dance and musical traditions. A statue to Mardi Gras Indian chief of chiefs Allison “Tootie” Montana, the Mahalia Jackson Center for the performing arts, statues of Louis Armstrong, pioneering cornetist Charles “Buddy” Bolden, and azaleas and magnolia trees to boot.

I returned to Jackson Square where I was to meet some friends later. There I stumbled on the other end of the New Orleans musical timeline. I got to see the Roots of Music band, the brainchild of Rebirth Brass Band’s snare drummer, Derek Tabb. After Katrina, when the future of New Orleans’ musical traditions were in question,

Derek Tabb conducting the Roots of Music Marching Band, Jackson Square, 2012.

he conceived of a program to pull inner city middle schoolers off of the mean streets and into the band room. There they would have a few precious minutes away from the drug deals and drive by shootings, incentive to keep up with their studies (they receive tutoring before band lessons), and they would later populate a long list of competitive high school bands in New Orleans. It has been such a success that they are having to turn hundreds of kids away each year.

But this 150 were as good (or better) than many high school bands. They performed in front of an enthusiastic crowd to raise money for a trip to the Tournament of Roses Parade, to which they have been invited. Tabb directed them through several spirited numbers (including a very challenging Rebirth tune) before they passed the bucket. And with a few more days like this, and they should be on their way to Pasadena.

Mena's Palace, March 2012.

I met my former student and New Orleans trip group leader Kyle, and his roommates. They have paused in New Orleans before heading over to Texas to visit friends for spring break. I took them over to one of my mainstays, Mena’s Palace at Chartres and Iberville, for their Saturday special of fried chicken with red beans and rice. Eight bucks — add fifty cents for white meet. We walked back towards my car so I could head up to Slidell to meet up with arriving students.

The Peace Mission Center, in Slidell, LA, was about a forty minute drive from downtown, including a trip across Lake Pontchartrain. Two groups arrived in the afternoon, unpacked and showered off over 24 hours on the road. The third group did not arrive until after night fall, long after we had headed into the French Quarter. Groups fanned out across the Quarter, some to test new dinner fare, while other took in the Italian Marching Club parade to honor St. Joseph’s Day. Well nominally.

610 Stompers, St. Joseph's Parade, March 2012.

The lure of beads has long worn off for me, but it’s fun to see students at their first New Orleans parade . However, this year’s parade fielded a surprise: the 610 Stompers. They performed at the Macy’s Parade at Thanksgiving and the normally-gratingly, talkative parade hosts were speechless. Basically, they are a bunch of New Orleans schlubs who decided to learn some dance moves so that they could get into a Saints game to perform. They did this during the Saints’ Super Bowl season and the rest, as they say, is history. There motto is “Ordinary Men, Extraordinary Moves.” And they did their routines, danced with the crowd and my students. It was all in good, weird fun.

Brass band and crowds on Frenchmen Street, March 2012.

I ended the evening listening to some music on Frenchmen Street. And the place was humming like I’ve never seen it. I stayed for a couple of sets and listened at several doorways, but the day and the crowds finally took their toll and I headed back across the lake.

 

Leaving Ordinary Time Tuesday, Feb 21 2012 

Today is Mardi Gras. The end of Carnival. The end of Ordinary Time. Ordinary Time?

The Roman Catholic Church recognizes two stretches of Ordinary Time during their liturgical calendar. The first runs from the end of the Christmas Season, Epiphany (January 6th) up to Ash Wednesday, the start of the Lenten Season. The second is longer and less eventful, running from the end of Pentecost (the end of Eastertide) up to the Saturday before the beginning of Advent, the four-week period leading up to Christmas and the beginning of the liturgical year. In the grand scheme of things, the first is definitely more interesting than the second.

The first span of Ordinary Time, especially in places that celebrate Carnival or Mardi Gras, is anything but Ordinary. The time is filled with masked balls, King Cake parties, and eventually the festivities, feasting and parades leading up to Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday/Shrove Tuesday/Pancake Day. Take your pick depending upon your local tradition.

In New Orleans, Ordinary Time ends exactly at midnight on Mardi Gras. It is so important that the police clear Bourbon Street, arresting those who persist in carrying their partying over into the early hours of Ash Wednesday. Nothing is left to chance or inebriated, self control. It. Is. Over.

Italian-American Marching Club Parade, Bourbon St., March 2007.

The curtain closes.  In a season which recognized Christ’s 40 days in the desert, those seeking the fasting, prayer and penance of the Lenten season go to church to receive Palm Sunday’s recycled palm fronds in the form of ashes. A new season. A new holy season has begun.

But there are loopholes. While in past centuries believers gave up meat, eggs and dairy, during Lent, today’s Catholics must only give up meat on the Fridays. But these restriction, too, may be waived if St. Patrick’s Day (March 17th), St. Joseph’s Day (March 19th), or the Annunciation (March 25th) chance to fall on a Friday. Then, dioceses may choose to wave the Fast. And that is important in New Orleans, where St. Patrick’s Day and St. Joseph’s Day are important for Irish and Italian/African-American residents, respectively. In a span of a few days, St. Patrick’s parades, St. Joseph’s parades and altars, and Mardi Gras Indian processions will come and come. And while the religious connections may be tenuous, they are extremely important in their respective communities.

Uptown Indian Parade, March 20, 2011.

So, while the NOPD might clear the Quarter at midnight following Mardi Gras, the parades, the parties, and the beads continue, albeit at a slower pace.

Mardi Gras Indians, St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, 2010. Saturday, Jan 21 2012 

In March 2010, after a week of building and rehabbing houses, my students joined me on the streets of Treme to view the Mardi Gras Indians on the night of St. Joseph's Day. Several of the students had a chance to pose with Indians as they processed on St. Bernard Avenue. Photograph by Bill Ross.

A Very Treme Day Sunday, Mar 20 2011 

St. Joseph's Altar, St. Louis Cathedral, March 2011.

In most parts of the country, March 19th has little importance other than being just short of the first day of spring. But in New Orleans, it is the feast day of the patron saint of the Sicilians, Saint Joseph. It has something to do with ending starvation with fava beans, but suffice it to say for the people  who 100 years ago made the French Quarter “Little Sicily,” it is in the words of our Vice President “a big f**king deal.” And for reasons that have not been fully explained, Saint Joseph’s Day has resonated within the African-American community, as well.

The day began rather disjointedly. I left about the same time as the Los Islenos group, but the other two were still very much asleep. I thought I would see them around the French Market or Royal Street, but I didn’t have a chance to see them off. I did run into a few of the first group, but that too, is dependent on a rather crowded  piece of acreage. It was a spectacular Saturday morning and I spent it walking, my ailing Achilles tendon notwithstanding. I walked the French Market, spent some time watching street performers and, in what is getting to be something of a test, looked for photographic angles that I have not seen before. And I went to the St. Joseph’s altar behind the cathedral to register my prayer intentions, to get my lucky fava bean, and to snag some wonderful Italian cookies for breakfast. Cafe du Monde was way too crowded.

Courtyard, Hotel St. Pierre, March 2011.

After noon, I ventured over to Mena’s Palace at Chartres and Bienville, for my annual fried chicken and red beans and rice lunch. Chased by an ice cold Abita Amber, it did not disappoint. I then went to my car and drove over to the Hotel St. Pierre on Burgundy. Remarkably, I was able to check in and find a parking spot in their minuscule parking lot. I mean, it is the French Quarter. And that changed the trajectory of my day.

The Hotel St. Pierre is an old hotel and lacks many of the modern amenities of the colorless chains and therein lies its raffish charm. And after a week in group housing with 36 students, it has private and functioning bathroom facilities. And in all fairness, it has many other attributes, the primary one being its location — it is in the quieter, residential part of the French Quarter. And it is only two blocks from Treme.

Backstreet Cultural Museum, Treme, March 2011.

After working in the Carrollton neighborhood, I had planned on venturing Uptown to see the Mardi Gras Indians as they venture out on St. Joseph’s Day. The Carrollton Hunters tribe reportedly gather near where we were working on Hickory Street and I had all intentions of driving out there. But, my parking situation and the proximity to Treme changed my plans. Once again, I as going to head out to experience St. Joseph’s Night with the downtown Indians.

Downtown Indians, St. Joseph's Day, March 2011.

I left about 4:00pm and headed over to the  Backstreet Cultural Center, the epicenter of New Orleans parades, second lines, and Mardi Gras Indian culture. The presentation is somewhat amateurish, but it does it lovingly and with the most local knowledge available on the subject. The Indian suits on display are incredible, but static displays don’t do them justice. There was a woman from Arizona there, who was hell bent on seeing St. Joseph’s night on her own. And because it is Lent, I offered to accompany her to the suspected spot where the Indians gather. Oh Lord, why are you testing me me so?

Littlest Indian, St. Joseph's Day, March 2011.

She never stopped talking. And there are parts of her life’s story that are indelibly etched on my brain. I was so distracted that we overshot St. Bernard and I had the opportunity to watch her harass an antique merchant from whom she had no intention of buying anything. We were way ahead of schedule of nightfall, so I suggested we go to Sidney’s Bar on St. Bernard, which is owned by Kermit Ruffins. We went in, the only white faces within blocks, and she never stopped talking and opining about the music, peoples’ dress, etc. I ordered a Bud Light, in honor of the owner, and before I had taken a second sip, the man himself arrived to get “primed” for his second night at Rock and Bowl.  I talked to him briefly, but we had Indians to see.

Indian suit, St. Joseph's Day, March 2011.

After walking a bit, we encountered some Indians and her cluenessness was evident from the start. She had an uncanny knack for getting in the way of every possible situation and I marveled at the fact that no one stood her up and said: “cut it out, lady.” We eventually became separated in the growing melee; I tried to find her, but to no avail.

Indians under a full moon, March 2011.

On the whole, it was far different from last year. I suspect that the police were actively trying to keep the tribes from uniting on St. Bernard, Instead, they were in tight, poorly lit spaces. This limited their activities and viewing opportunities. And it seemed to increase the overall  tension of participant and spectator alike. It is nevertheless a singular spectacle and the enormous full moon only added to the mystery of it all.

I gave one last look for my partner, but could find her no where. I cut over to Elysian Fields and walked down to Frenchmen. The Spotted Cat was wall to wall people, so I went over to d.b.a. And to complete my Treme night, John Boutte was playing his weekly gig. I saw him briefly a few year’s back and have never been a big fan, but he was great

John Boutte, d.b.a., March 2011.

live and his band was fabulous. A lot of energy, a hint of Sam Cooke, but with a style all his own. I think his sister was passing around the tip jar and she made a point of catching my eye and shooting me a big smile. I was a little puzzled until I realized that I was wearing an old WWOZ hat — she thought I was with the station. And then it hit me that several times during the day that locals had assumed I was from New Orleans. Now I know the secret of passing in New Orleans.

It was getting late, so I headed back to Burgundy Street and the Hotel St. Pierre. And I enjoyed a soft bed and sheets for the first time in over a week.

Upcoming Fests and Parades Tuesday, Mar 8 2011 

We’re a few hours from the dawning of Mardi Gras 2011 and there are signs of life after Mardi Gras. Once the police chase the last celebrants off of Bourbon Street, it is time to prepare for Ash Wednesday, the first day of the Lenten Season. But this year, Ash Wednesday is closely followed by St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph’s Day celebrations. And this year, we’re talking days, not weeks.

Irish Channel St. Patrick's Parade, March 2008.

And the events come fast and furious. On Saturday, March 12th, the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade winds its way through the Garden District. It features Mardi Gras-style floats and trucks. And in addition to beads and traditional throws, the crowd can catch cabbages, potatoes, onions, and carrots – yes, every vegetable you need for your St. Paddy’s meal. And the following day, on the other side of the 17th Street Canal, Metairie hosts pretty much the same thing.

Later the following week, on St. Patrick’s Day, the Downtown St. Patrick’s Day winds through the Bywater and French Quarter. It is a more intimate parade, marked by pit stops at local watering holes. A great event for people watching and throws, but there’s not a cabbage to be found anywhere.

Italian-American Marching Club, March 2007.

Two days later, on March 19th, is St. Joseph’s Day.  One hundred years ago, Italian immigrants turned the French Quarter into “Little Sicily” and St. Joseph was their patron. St. Joseph’s altars are set up throughout the city in churches, restaurants and bars. And that night, the Italian-American Parade hits the French Quarter. And of course, it is also the night that the Mardi Gras Indians process through the African-American neighborhoods of New Orleans.

"Super Sunday," March 2007

To close the week (hopefully) is “Super Sunday,” the day the Mardi Gras Indians process for the rest of us. Early indications are that it will take place on Sunday, March 20th, but I am skeptical. Weather and other circumstances can lead to its postponement. And I never trust the date until the Mardi Gras Indian Council confirms it.

Nevertheless, I will be ready.

Last Day: St. Joseph’s Day in New Orleans Sunday, Mar 21 2010 

While it does not have the notoriety of St. Patrick’s Day, St. Joseph’s Day is big in many Italian-American communities. According to tradition, St. Joseph interceded on behalf of Sicily during the Middle Ages as the island suffered through a prolonged drought. Faced with mass starvation, rains came to Sicily and the resurgent fava bean crop saved the population. A hundred years ago, the French Quarter was commonly called “Little Sicily” because of the large immigrant population. And in New Orleans, Italian residents create altars to the patron saint in churches, private homes, restaurants, bars, etc.

However, as this was going on around us, we faced the last day of our work with Operation Helping Hands. I’ve always found the last day to be bittersweet; you’ve accomplished a great deal, but no matter how hard it gets, you’re going to miss it. You know there is a lot more work to be done and at least for the time being you are no longer going to be a part of it. And I think the students felt that as well. They were fatigued, but they felt a sense of urgency about the work. And when they realized that they could not complete painting the house on Bruxelles Street, their intensity began to wane and they were ready to let go. The same was true for the other groups in the Marigny and at the new house in Gentilly. As a result, I suggested that groups forgo a full lunch break so they could break off a little early. And given that many volunteers leave on Friday, the crew chiefs agreed.

Trevor and Sasa’s group accomplished a variety of tasks to help bring a new, energy efficient home to completion. Petter and Carol’s group became masters at drywall. When I visited them on Friday morning, they were sanding and adding new coats of mud; as a result, many walls on their home in the Marigny were ready for painting. And when I got to the house on Bruxelles Street, Mandie and Jake’s group had completed painting one long side of the house, and had primed both the front and other side. Before we left, we had come close to applying one coat of paint to both. And I was happy to see that a crew of students from Arizona State had begun painting the home of the woman down the street.

After we unloaded supplies at St. Ray’s, I drove to Midcity to join Petter and Carol’s group for a late lunch of po-boys. We gathered at the Parkway Bakery and Bar for yet another version of this ubiquitous sandwich. Along with their crew leaders Nikki and Mike, we took our sandwiches over to Bayou St. John to eat. And it is like comparing your children. I’ve come to the conclusion that the best po-boy is the one that you are eating at the time. Afterwards, we lay on the bank to soak up the sun and a week’s worth of accomplishments. And to punctuate the week, Allie was on the receiving end of a deposit from a passing seagull. I won’t describe the scene beyond her first words: “something just happened…”

While two of the groups cleaned up back at Madonna Manor, Mandie and Jake’s group packed up to head into town and hit the road. They had arrived in new Orleans early and wanted to do some sightseeing on the way back. The others wanted to stretch their visit as far as possible.

I returned to the city to listen to some music and to scout for Mardi Gras Indians. For some reason, these African-American maskers have adopted St. Joseph’s night as the time to carry out their colorful, mock combat. In full regalia, they meet other tribes to chant, play music, and show-off their feathered finery.

It was still very much daylight when Burt called to tell me that he and Jeannie had spotted some Indians near St. Claude Avenue in the Bywater. I rushed over on foot and we followed them down St. Roch, to St. Claude and into Treme. When we got to St. Bernard Avenue just below Claiborne Avenue other tribes joined in. I was able to direct the students to where we were located and we enjoyed this strange and beautiful spectacle. And as it grew increasingly dark, we decided to spend most of our time on St. Bernard and not to follow them into the depths of the surrounding neighborhoods. The evening was marred only by the appearance of an intentionally threatening motorcycle gang and some rather brutish behavior by the NOPD, who exhibited rather heavy-handed efforts at “crowd control.”

As it approached 9:00pm, we all decided it was best to head to the better lit parts of the city for dinner, music, etc. But I suspect memories of that singular experience on St. Bernard Avenue will long survive whatever took place afterwards.

Next Page »