Hitting the Ground Running Tuesday, Mar 15 2016 

It has been about a day and a half since we collectively arrived in New Orleans. Is spite of flooding in the south and related thunderstorms, neither Southwest 737s or minivans, ran into weather delays. A burning tractor trailer in East Tennessee led to frustrating delays for of the two groups; however we were all safely in New Orleans by late afternoon on Saturday, March 12th.


Kyle and Bill, Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade 2016

Two of the groups arrived in time to take part in the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade Uptown. And, as they would find out firsthand over the next 24 hours, in New Orleans participation in parades is strongly encouraged. Whether it catching throws or passionately engaging with marchers for St. Paddy’s or dancing in a second line, you are generally part of the event.

At 5:30 in the afternoon, all four groups converged on the North Rampart Community Center, which is tucked in the the northeast corner of the French Quarter. Director “Coach” Parker welcomed us and provided the students with combination tour, orientation, and history lesson. The class was impressed with the facility; it would take a while for them to realize how good the location is.

In what has become a New Orleans trip, first-night tradition, the students headed over to the Joint, in the Bywater, an excellent barbecue place in a town not famous for its barbecue. With our arrival, the line quickly went out the door onto Mazant Street. It took a while by the end of the line the choice of smoked meats began to dwindle, but everyone was seated, fed, and left quite full, thank you. A few students braved exhaustion and took a brief walk into the Quarter, but most took advantage of hot showers and the potential for a full night’s sleep.


Jazz Mass at St. Augustine’s, March 2016.

The next morning, most students ventured two blocks into Treme to attend the Jazz mass at St. Augustine’s Roman Catholic. I warned them that it was long, but for me it is a “not-to-be-missed” part of any visit to New Orleans, and I guess it’s hard to hide that level of sentiment. The students immediately felt the community and faith of the congregation of this, the oldest African-American Catholic Church in the nation’s first black neighborhood.


Students with Mardi Gras Indian, March 2016

It was the perfect start to a day that appeared focused on both Treme and New Orleans parade culture. After mass, the class gathered at Congo Square in Louis Armstrong. This spot was where African slaves were permitted to drum, dance, and sell their wares on Sunday. And in the process, contributed to the preservation of African rhythms that became one of the catalysts for the development of jazz. And while waiting to link up with this Sunday’s second line parade, students were treated to the sights and sounds of Mardi Gras Indians who had marched down from Bayou St. John.


Second Line, Esplanade Avenue, March 2016.

The Keep ‘N It Real Second Line appeared to be more elusive, or at least, it took longer for it to make its way towards where we were waiting. We ended up walking over to Claiborne and St. Bernard. Students first appeared taken aback by the singing, dancing, twerking, horn playing crowd that enveloped us, but most second lined through the Seventh Ward and Treme, and a few followed it all the way back to Bayou St. John. It was a big hit.


Li’l Dizzy’s, March 2016

Appropriately, we reconnected at Li’l Dizzy’s, an Afro-Creole restaurant on the edge of Treme. Once again, we were treated to the best gumbo in the City, along with fried chicken, greens, macaroni and cheese, and bread pudding, all washed down with brewed ice tea. We tried valiantly, but the buffet won in the end. Some went back to the Center to rest after a full day of activities, while others followed the siren’s song of the French Quarter.


Harry “Swamp Thing” Cook, Hot 8 Brass Band, March 2016.

At 10pm, we met up at the Howlin’ Wolf in the warehouse district for a performance by the Hot 8 Brass Band. Most had stereotyped images of brass band music, likely picturing a cross between marching band and traditional jazz. They were totally unprepared  for what hit them. In the end, most was stay through both sets to funked up music in a packed, brick room. For them a day of music, dancing, and traditional Creole cooking, would come to an exhausted, yet satisfying end. A day in which entertainment tested endurance and highlighted new and unexpected experiences.

And then there would be work.


Louis Prima’s New Orleans Friday, Jan 2 2015 

A few days ago, I stumbled over an article in the Louisiana Cultural Vistasa journal sponsored by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities. It was by a fellow archivist and friend, Bruce Boyd Raeburn, director of the Hogan Jazz Archive at Tulane University. It was about Louis Prima, a genre-bending singer and bandleader, who fascinates me. I knew he was Italian-American and from New Orleans. He is perhaps best known as one of the first big headliners in 1950s Las Vegas and for being the voice of Ape King Louis in the 1960s Disney feature, The Jungle Book. However, it was Bruce’s 2006 article that made clear how much of New Orleans Prima carried with him when he left his hometown in the 1930s.

louis prima

Prima, the son of a Sicilian grocer, grew up in the predominately African-American neighborhood of Treme. And while he was unquestionably Italian, it is clear that he absorbed the music, the Creole food, and the patois of his neighborhood. Undoubtedly, it served him well growing up and later in life, but it was the source of some confusion when he tried to launch his career in New York in 1934.

Prima came from a musical family; his mother encouraged him to learn the violin, which he played in St. Ann’s Parish. At the same time, Prima was influenced by local musicians, such as Louis Armstrong and his own brother, Leon, both cornet players. Leon and Louis left New Orleans for greener pastures and Prima eschewed the violin for the horn, jazz, and the club scene. In 1934, while playing in a dive on Bourbon Street, Prima caught the eye of bandleader Guy Lombardo. He thought so much of Prima’s act that he got the young entertainer a gig at Leon and Eddie’s on New York’s 52nd Street.

Prima made the trip to New York and introduced himself to club owner Eddie Davis. What Davis saw was a swarthy, jive-talking musician from New Orleans and retracted the offer because he thought Prima was black. Clearly, Davis could not comprehend the melting pot that is New Orleans and the power of neighborhood over ethnicity. In spite of the setback, Prima had the last laugh as he ending up launching his career at the Famous Door, just two doors down from Davis’ club. He took the town by storm and the rest, they say, is history.

Prima went onto fame in music, film, and later, in Las Vegas. In spite of the confusion at Leon and Eddie’s, Prima continued to draw from the music and musicians of his New Orleans. He went on to write such standards as “Sing, Sing, Sing,” which he recorded with his New Orleans Gang; however, the tune would become emblematic of the Swing Era, when Benny Goodman covered it in 1937. In addition , Prima became one of the first Italian-American entertainers to promote his ethnicity and it became an important part of both his professional identify and repertoire. And he continued to do so throughout World War II, despite increased anti-Italian sentiment.

Prima went on to fame as a performer at the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas with his fourth wife, Keely Smith. He surrounded himself with a musical ensemble, the Witnesses, led by New Orleans saxophonist, Sam Butera. Years later, Prima and the band would record “I Wanna Be Like You” for Disney’s The Jungle Book. Both the recording session and the animation paid homage to the music and exuberance of the second line parades of Prima’s old neighborhood.

So, while Prima may have left New Orleans in 1934, it is clear that New Orleans never left him. For Raeburn’s article on Louis Prima, click here.

New Orleans Geography 101 Wednesday, Mar 6 2013 

UNH, Thompson Hall in the snow

UNH, Thompson Hall in the snow

In New Hampshire right now we are experiencing wet, sloppy snow and rain. It and the wind will continue for 48 hours. By the time it ends, you, students in the New Orleans class should be in the Mid Atlantic heading south towards the Crescent City.

With GPS and Google (we won’t mention the geographic fiction of maps  that Apple produced and withdrew), I feel as though has been a spatial disconnect from one’s orientation and the century’s old art of producing two-dimensional geographic representations, i.e. maps. It does remind me that long before my longstanding boycott of Exxon-Mobil (since they escaped culpability for the Exxon Valdez oil spill), I was a huge fan of Exxon road maps. I collected them; I archived them; I studied them.

This mania is clearly passe in a number of ways; however, I think it is important for you to be able to picture where you are, both in terms of the trip southward and when you are in New Orleans. I have advised your leaders to take you west, away from the population centers on the east coast. This will put you going through much of Pennsylvania and seemingly endless chunk of Virginia before you enter Tennessee. Although, this will keep you from east coast traffic jams and a myriad of tolls. The proposed route is as follows, using Google maps. Envision this route in the context of mountains, road signs, and chain restaurants along the way. Before you know it; you’ll be in New Orleans.

New Orleans neighborhoods

New Orleans neighborhoods

Once you get to New Orleans, you need to have a good sense of where you are in the City. And New Orleans Online has a wonderful collection of New Orlean maps. Just as Ignatius Riley traipsed around New Orleans in A Confederacy of Dunces, they should help you be aware of what it means to be in the Lower Ninth, the Marigny/Bywater, the Garden District, or the French Quarter. When in New Orleans, it is as easy as remembering that St. Bernard lies east of New Orleans (in the Lower Ninth we’ll very close), Lake Pontchartrain is to the north, the Mississippi lies to the south, and Jefferson Parish guards the western border. It is tidy, compact and portions of it are under sea level.

St. Louis Cathedral, March 2010.

St. Louis Cathedral, March 2010.

The French Quarter is much smaller still. It WAS the city for the first hundred years, and it continues to span from Canal Street to the West, Rampart Street to the North,  Esplanade Avenue to the East, and the Mississippi forms the southern border. Across those borders lay the Central Business District (west), Treme (north), the Marigny (east), and Algiers/Jefferson Parish (across the river).

I’ll leave it for you to discover such places as Uptown, Mid City, and Gentilly. We will be heading to each of those, but it up to you to be able to fix them on a map. Like Ignatius, you’ll find that each nook and cranny of New Orleans holds it owns charms and surprises, both good and bad.

Fine in the Lower Nine Monday, Mar 12 2012 

Ronald Lewis and the House of Dance and Fathers, March 2012

For the first time, the entire group went into New Orleans. And heading from Slidell, we logically, and by planning, went from east to west. First stop was the Lower Ninth Ward, arguably the part of the City hardest hit by the flooding after Hurricane Katrina.

We began our visit at 1317 Tupelo Street, home of Ronald Lewis and his backyard museum, the House of Dance and Feathers. I first met him last summer, but I got to know him several years ago in Dan Baum’s wonderful book, Nine Lives. Ronald’s voice, as relayed by Baum, captured me, and before they read the book, I wanted my students to meet Ronald and hear him and his wisdom in person.

Students with Ronald Lewis, March 2012.

Ronald was heading off to speak at a onference at Tulane, but he took the time to talk about his lifetime in the Lower Ninth, the Mardi Gras Indian and second line traditions, and his collection which represents both. The students were mesmerized, both by his experience and his knowledge. And his warmth. It was a great introduction to the Lower Ninth before heading over to the levee along the Industrial Canal, where the worst damage occurred. It is always sobering, but it was heartening to see slow, steady, and sustainable progress in a place where an entire neighborhood was swept from the face of the Earth.

Students with parade loot, March 2012. Photo by Cora Lehet.

After our informal tour, we parted ways, the students to get a bead fix at the Metairie St. Patrick’s Day Parade and me, to go to the Keep N It Real Social Aid and Pleasure Club second line in Mid City. The students had a ball tastefully collecting beads and throws from marchers at the parade in Metairie. And they caught cabbages, carrots, potatoes and onions thrown from the two level parade trucks — it is not a parade for the inattentive. It would be interesting to get a total weight of the beads they brought back and I heard a couple complaining of sore necks resulting from wearing so many beads. Needless to say: a good time was had by all.

I joined Kyle and his friends for the second line, which started at Bayou St. John and Orleans Avenue. In keeping with the Nine Lives theme of the day, the To Be Continued Brass Band played behind the dancers. Their formation, under the direction of band director Wilbert Rawlins, Jr., was also chronicled in the book; a story, which to me, created some of the most moving parts of the book. So, here they were, the driving for for the throng which pointed itself towards Treme. And one which would not stop dancing, drinking, and eating until several miles and hours later. We followed for a couple of miles before taking

Second Line parade with TBC Brass Band, Mid City, March 2012

the car to catch up with them as they entered Treme. Highlight: the band and marchers version of  “A Closer Walk with Thee” that segued into “I’ll Fly Away.” Priceless.

We went into the City to listen to some great music and great musicians on Frenchmen Street, before polishing off three pounds of boiled crawfish. But the day was not over.

We reunited with the sunburnt and bead weary students at the Gentilly Baptist Church for a concert by singer, songwriter, guitarist Paul Sanchez. We were there as guests of Tom Brink and UNH Intervarsity, who are staying working in Gentilly. And it was fun for us to see and visit with friends and former students in a place far distant from Durham, NH.

Left to right: Alex McMurray, Paul Sanchez, and Arsene DeLay, Gentilly Baptist Church, March 2012.

And in keeping with the theme for the day, Sanchez has spent the last three years collaborating on writing a musical based on the book, Nine Lives. Alongside guitarist Alex McMurray and singer Arsene DeLay, niece of singer John Boutte, they would highlight and draw together our collective experiences.

For an hour and half, they brought tired students to their feet. Had them dancing. Singing. Sanchez opened with Arlo Guthrie’s “City of New Orleans” and later played one of my favorites, “At the Foot of Canal Street,” written in collaboration with John Boutte. My favorite part, however, were selections from the musical, including “Fine in the Lower Nine,” written in the voice of native son Ronald Lewis, and “It Could Have Been Worse,” which DeLay used to bring down the house. And it would not be the first time.

At about 9:30 p.m., the concert and singing and dancing and socializing wound down. What a day. The students still needed a beignet fix. I opted for a shower and some quiet time and instead headed back to Slidell. And when it was time to get up this morning, I was very happy I did.

Reader beware: 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 or edit them as I 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 if I can, I ‘d rather post as often as time allows, albeit imperfectly.

Things to Do in New Orleans — Part 2 Saturday, Mar 3 2012 

Preservation Hall Stars at Preservation Hall, March 2010.

Tuesday, March 13th will be our first day on the job. Expect to be on the road and ready to report for work before 7:00am. Breakfast and lunch makings will be provided at the Peace Mission Center. Remember: close toed shoes are required. At the end of the day, we’ll return to the Center to clean-up and have dinner. For that evening, I would suggest a trip to Preservation Hall, where Shannon Powell and the Preservation All Stars will be playing. It’ll require $10.00 and a substantial wait in line. And if that is not your cup of tea, Frenchmen Street is a musical smorgasbord where you can wander from door to door to hear what’s playing. And I suspect a few will end up at Cafe du Monde for cafe au lait and beignets.

Dr. Michael White

After work on Wednesday, we’ll be heading out to Xavier University to hear Dr. Michael White and his quartet, drawn from his Original Liberty Jazz Band. White holds the Keller Endowed Chair in the Humanities of New Orleans Music and Culture, but he is best known for his clarinet and musical compositions in the traditional style. This will be the fifth year we’ve had the pleasure of working with him to learn more about the origins of New Orleans jazz. (Thanks to the New Hampshire Library of Traditional Jazz for sponsoring this event.)

Thursday offers diverse choices. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band featuring Mark Braud on trumpet is downtown, while Geno Delafose and French Rockin’ Boogie are Uptown at Rock and Bowl off of Carrollton Avenue. A trip to Rock and Bowl is a must and zydeco is a great way to get your feet moving.

Friday will be our last day on the job and our last night in Louisiana. And it offers some great choices for entertainment.If you’d like to hear multiple trombones playing covers of Led Zeppelin and Allman Brothers tunes, then Bonerama at the Rock and Bowl is a must. They are unique, to say the least. If you’d rather stay downtown, I’d suggest Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers. Kermit, one of the founders of the Rebirth Brass Band, is a regular on the HBO series Tremehe is a party waiting to happen. Kermit will be at the Blue Nile on Frenchmen. And of course there are the usual attractions in and around the French Quarter.

Sylvester Francis at the Backstreet Cultural Museum, June 2011.

On Saturday morning we’ll return to New Orleans to visit the Backstreet Cultural Museum. Curator Sylvester Francis has accumulated an incredible collection of Mardi Gras Indian suits and second line memorabilia. He is a walking encyclopedia of those traditions. (Thanks to the UNH Discovery Program for sponsoring this visit.) It will also give you a chance to visit Treme, the oldest African-American neighborhood in the United States. For your remaining hours in New Orleans, I’d suggest a visit to the French Market near the river and a walk down Royal Street. The former is a great place to by gifts and souvenirs. And on Royal Street, late Saturday morning brings street performers and musicians. And be sure to grab a po’ boy or muffalletta before you hit the interstate

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.

Watching “Treme” in New Orleans Tuesday, Jun 21 2011 

It should be little surprise that I am a big fan of the HBO series “Treme.”  Well into its second season, the show focuses on the people who give New Orleans it character: the musicians, the chefs, the neighborhood folk and, well, the characters. The second season mirrors the second year after Katrina; it is ominous, dark, and violent, but in the midst of it all it is doing a masterful job of exploring the essence of creativity, whether it’s music or gastronomic delights or rapacious business dealings.

Mardi Gras Indian moccasins.

I usually sit in my living room on Sunday nights waiting for my latest injection of New Orleans to take effect, but this Sunday was a problem: I was in New Orleans. Well, on the West Bank in housing provided by the agency I’m working for. The price is right (free), but there is no television, cable, wireless, and the electricity is a little spotty. There are reputedly ghosts, but their entertainment value is nil.

I got in on Sunday, met my student who is working here during the summer. We had a shrimp po-boy and visited a home-grown Mardi Indian museum over in the Ninth Ward. It was the consummate start to a visit to the Crescent City. Even though my student and her friend are about forty years too young, I took them over to the Spotted Cat for a Sunday afternoon of jazz standards. It is standard operating procedure for me and maybe they were they were lying, but they claimed to enjoy it.

During the intermission, I talked to Yvette Voelker, the lead singer for the ensemble and member of the Pfister Sisters. The conversation turned to “Treme”   She told me about a “Treme” watching party at Buffa’s on Esplanade. Not only do the residents come to watch the show, they usually have musicians perform beforehand who have appeared on the show. And this week it was Holley Bendtsen, one of Yvette’s fellow “sisters.” Who could resist that?

So I said goodbye to my student and her friend, drove across the river, and moved myself into the “Haunted Mansion.” I went back and walked around the quiet, residential corner of the French Quarter before settling in at Buffa’s. I had some red beans and rice and yes a couple of local beers, and then the show began.

Holley Bendtsen and Harry Marrone, Jr.

Oh yeah, Holley’s set was wonderful and her accompanist, Harry Marrone, Jr., was great; but the real entertainment began when they dimmed the lights for the show. The crowd starting shushing each other like a third grade class trying to reclaim rights to an outdoor recess. Once the episode began, they watched intently, with occasional outbursts of laughter, applause, gentle cheering, and heavy sighs. It was an emotionally tough episode and unease permeated the room as the lights went up.

Someone from the bar got up then to say a few words and announce future entertainment. It was clear that he had been brought to tears, as was true for a sizeable minority of the crowd. Many sat quietly or offered hugs before paying their bills and heading off into the neighborhood. I quietly paid my tab and headed back across the river. The drive back gave me some time to reflect.

Crowd at Buffa's before "Treme."

I appreciate the show because of my occasional visits to the city and to what I feel is an accurate portrayal of the people. These folks lived it. They were displaced by the flood. They struggled with their local governments and FEMA. They watched the violence return. They are witness to the economically and politically induced gentrification in parts of their city. And they all know neighbors and musicians who act or play extras in the show.

So, David Simon and his colleagues, among other things, should be praised for the verisimilitude of their endeavor. And this isn’t just coming from critics in far-flung cities or pretenders like me; it’s coming from the people who love and embrace a flawed city so much that they came back from ruin and sadness. They live here and make merry once again, but the pictures and memories remain.

New Orleans on the Small Screen Saturday, Apr 23 2011 

It was about two years ago that I found out that David Simon was producing an HBO series on New Orleans. I had become a fan of his way back when he helped create the landmark “Homicide: Life on the Streets” back in 1993. And we were at the University of Maryland at the same time which has to count for something. So, I had over a year to wait for the finished product and even spent a few hours in between watching a couple of scenes being filmed during one of my visits to New Orleans.

I was not disappointed by the result, but I realize that I am a small slice of an already modest audience. And admittedly, Simon and co-creator Eric Overmyer were asking a lot of those early viewers. They took people to parts of the city where few would willingly visit. At the same time, main characters were musicians, chefs, working class people, again, a part of the city they might encounter in passing. The show took on the rhythm and sensibilities of the city, both of which are foreign to most Americans. Likewise, characters on the show used phrases and words and even actions that required a glossary or subtitles.

The show eschewed narrative and focused on “getting New Orleans right.” Most natives I’ve talked to appreciated both the effort and the show, but many viewers turned away. And when they did, they missed a beautifully drawn, if glacially-paced story that all came together in the last episode. It all crescendoed in one of the best eighty minutes of television in 2010.

I’d invite new viewers and old to give it another run. The first year was probably hampered by some political correctness on the part of the production team, but it also mirrored the uncertainly and aimlessness of those first few months after the storm. No one knew what to do or where things were going. They were just glad to be back. To cook that first pot of beans in their kitchen. Dance to their first second line. Catch their first strand of beads.

And if the second year mirrors the second year after Katrina, it will be a lot different. The news stories went from “happy to be back” to the grim realities of life in New Orleans. Most of these challenges were there before Katrina and the struggle to recover exacerbated them. So, this year the story line will continue to deal with the preservation of a great city and its culture, but it will also deal with rising crime, drugs, corruption, and forced gentrification. And I suspect that as characters face senseless murders, unmet mental health needs, and the fact that America has lost interest in their struggle, viewers will be drawn to their plight.

The second season of Treme premiers at 10pm, Sunday night on HBO. Here is the teaser for the new season.

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.

First Day: Monday, March 15th Tuesday, Mar 16 2010 

We all got up bright and early so that we could get across the river for orientation. I got even earlier than necessary and made it through the tolls with no delay. I made it to St. Raymond’s in Gentilly before daylight and spent the time using their wireless connection. The three student vans made it on time as well.

We joined groups from Fordham, Iona, Arizona State, and AmeriCorps. They provided us with an introduction to Operation Helping Hands, collected requisite forms, and divided us into working groups. For the most part, groups were able to remain intact, but I and two students joined Jake and Mandie’s groups for a large painting job on a house in the historic Treme neighborhood. Trevor and Sasa’s group worked on a new, energy efficient house in Gentilly and Petter and Carol’s group was sent to work on a house in Marigny/Bywater.

We had the pleasure of working with Julia, our crew chief who is from Iowa. She divided us into painting tasks dependent on skill level and willingness to work in high places. We had teams scraping, priming, caulking, and applying paint. It was a great combination of hard work and fun. The homeowner is an elderly woman who doesn’t miss a trick; she is heavily involved in decision regarding trim colors and just about everything else, but she is extremely appreciative and a joy to be around. We broke briefly for lunch and got right back to work, but by 3:30pm folks started running out of gas so we began cleaning up for the day. We went back to St. Ray’s the traditional Monday meal: red beans, rice, and sausage.

Because it was sunny and warm, the entire group went to the Barataria Preserve, once the haunt of Jean Lafitte, now part of the National Park system. It’s about ten miles from where we are staying in Jefferson Parish. We saw alligators, white egrets, and a large owl. We then went into the City for a variety of activities ranging from coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde to listening to music on Frenchmen Street. I spent about an hour watching the filming of a scene from the upcoming HBO series “Treme.” The 20 second scene was shot at the corner of Chartres and Barracks and involved Steven Zahn putting a young woman in a cab. If attention to detail is a mark of success, then the show should do extremely well!

Most were back at a reasonable time; however, several of us discovered that someone had entered our rooms and taken valuables ranging from a laptop and iPods to a pair of compact binoculars. The students were understandably upset. We warned the other residents to be sure to stow valuables and filed a report with the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s office. We would contact the buildiong superintendent and Operation Helping Hands in the morning. Eventually folks settled down in anticipation of another day of hard work. Although, what I had once anticipated to be a reasonable bedtime went well into the early morning.