The End of the New Orleans Class…for this Year! Thursday, May 23 2013 

Graduation at University of New Hampshire was this past Saturday and I had a chance to say goodbye to a number of former students. It also marked the end of the spring semester and the close of the eighth installment of the New Orleans class. For the past couple of years I’ve been on the lookout to see if the class became old hat to me or if I would tire of annual trips where I spend a good deal of time herding college students. Neither has come to pass.

Congo Square in Armstrong Park, March 2013

Congo Square in Armstrong Park, March 2013

I can accept some credit for that, as I constantly tinker with readings, assignments and course topics. The students also help, as each class has its own personality and just enough challenges to keep me on my toes. And then, there’s New Orleans itself, which has shown great promise and progress, but still displays the dysfunction and trials that haunted it prior to  Katrina. Thus the City remains a mutable  tapestry of wonder, beauty, and unapologetic chaos.

The trip to New Orleans over Spring Break is the centerpiece of the course. The weeks prior are concentrated on providing a basis of knowledge for the trip: the geography; history; music and culture; literature; and its own special language, or more correctly, languages. I call it “New Orleans boot camp,” grueling, but rewarding when it’s over. It provides the factual pegs upon which students can hang their experiences once they get back to New England. The second half of the class provides the opportunity to meld the facts with these experiences. We use them analyze what we saw, what we experienced, and use them to interpret for ourselves both the wonders and harsh realities of New Orleans. What may have been romanticized before the trip is tempered by stark truths. However, most students still come to the end of semester with a love for the City.

Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

As much as the trip is central to the course, it seemed even more so this year. Previous classes have worked in neighborhoods from the Upper Ninth to Carrollton, as well as in Slidell, LA and Waveland, MS. And we almost always stayed at locations distant from the work site. This year, we had the opportunity to work with lowernine.org. About a third of our group stayed there and the rest at nearby All Souls Episcopal Church. For the most part, our work was but a few blocks away in the Lower Ninth. Students generally find the work rewarding and eye-opening, but if their trip journals are a good indicator, which I think they are, this experience was a game changer. They undoubtedly embraced the sights and sounds of the French Quarter, but afterwards they returned to the blight, the potholes, and the poverty. When they returned to family and friends who asked: “What were you doing there? Isn’t it fixed yet?” they had answers buoyed by fact and steeped in experience. That is why we will be returning to the Lower Ninth next spring.

And no, a week is not enough, but that is all we have. I return home every year regretful of the many things that they didn’t see: a parade on St. Charles; Audubon Park; Super Sunday; St. Joseph’s Day; the jazz mass at St. Augustine’s; or a steaming hot Domilise’s oyster po-boy. I always vow to do better, but time and calendar always conspire to thwart me. Then, there’s the challenge of getting thirty students from two different locations, to one spot, on time. In addition, most of the students are underage, which in the new “improved” New Orleans, means they are unable to take in Kermit Ruffins at the Blue Nile or Rebirth at the Maple Leaf. And to paraphrase the old World War I expression: “How do you get them to Magazine Street once they’ve seen Bourbon?”

Second line on Broad St., March 2013

Second line on Broad St., March 2013

But I have learned that every year I get everyone back to New Hampshire safe and sound, it is indeed a good year. And this one certainly had some highlights for the class:

  • Second-lining on a Sunday afternoon;
  • An evening with Paul Sanchez, Arsene DeLay, and Vance Vaucresson in Gentilly;
  • Meeting with Ronald Lewis (and his granddaughters) at his House of Dance and Feathers on Tupelo Street;
  • the French Quarter Treasure Hunt;
  • Zydeco Night at the Rock and Bowl; and
  • Saturday morning at the French Market and on Royal Street.

I stayed a few days later, so I had an opportunity at add to my list of highlights. These included: Super Sunday; meeting JoAnne Guidos at her Kajun’s Pub; attending jazz mass; getting to the know the Holy Cross neighborhood in the Lower Ninth; the Dirty Dozen at Tipitina’s; St. Joseph’s Night; the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade; attending the New Orleans Ladies Arm Wrestling competition at One-eyed Jack’s; going to a St. Joseph’s altar at a bar; and, of course, the aforementioned Domilise’s po-boy.

This is long-winded way of saying: “It doesn’t get old.” In fact, I’ll be back to New Orleans for a conference in August, but even when I’m there, I’ll still be looking forward to next year’s class and trip over Spring Break.

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End of the Week Monday, Mar 18 2013 

Friday morning meeting, lowernine.org, March 2013

Friday morning meeting, lowernine.org, March 2013

It is always with a certain sadness that the students approach the final workday of the week. They are tired. They have eaten (a lot of) food they are not used to. They are sleep deprived. And when you are in the Lower Ninth, one is constantly reminded of  the overwhelming need for continued assistance in rebuilding.

I joined the group at our last morning meeting at lowernine.org. Emily  handed out the assignments, which changed a bit. They needed six volunteers to help urban gardener and activist David Young with drywall and orchard irrigation. Yes, you read that correctly. He is setting up his home to house volunteers and those whose lives are in transition. And he needed to tie into a water source to irrigate a citrus grove, one of several groves and garden plots that he has scattered throughout the Lower Ninth. I asked for two volunteers from each van and helped ferry them across Claiborne Avenue to the hardest hit part of the neighborhood. The rest returned to their previous assignments.

Locating the water source for an irrigation system, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

Locating the water source for an irrigation system, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

I have also noticed that things seem to slow down on Fridays, and understandably so. For the most part, students are engaging in far more physical activity than normal. And there is that distraction of one’s last night in New Orleans before a 1600 mile drive back to campus. As it turned out, two of the groups were told to quit work after lunch. They went to see where the main levee break occurred and  Brad Pitt’s “Make it Right” homes. After our last lunch on the levee, my group continued to  cut and lay tiles until three; we then started packing up supplies and equipment to take back to lowernine.org for the weekend. We took a few pictures and said goodbye to Gerald and his father, who owned the home we had been working on, and to Eileen and Liam, with whom we had

With Clarence and Gerald Bridgewater, Gordon Street, March 2013.

With Clarence and Gerald Bridgewater, Gordon Street, March 2013.

worked all week. The three guys working on the irrigation soldiered on until nearly five, coming back muddied and exhausted from breaking through a sidewalk to connect to a water source.

Before heading into the City, the groups was treated to a feast courtesy of the fried chicken chain “Raising Cane’s.” The owner is good friends with the father of one of our students. As a result, we had chicken fingers, assorted sauces, cole slaw, Texas toast, and beverages delivered to All Souls. Everyone seemed quite satisfied and, more importantly, we didn’t have to cook!

I made it in in time for the Molly’s on the Market St. Patrick’s Day Parade, which I almost always go to, even though it always comes

The “Irish Zulus,” Decatur Street, March 2013.

off lame, but with just enough goofiness to be entertaining. My favorite new (to me) unit was the Irish Zulus, who wore orange wigs, grass skirts, green or orange tights, and were in white face. I also got a shot of lowernine.org volunteer coordinator Emily who was fronting of the Muff-a-Lotta’s, another local “marching” unit.

I met the Hot Seven team at Cafe du Monde where I treated them to beignets and beverages as the reward for winning the Great French Quarter Scavenger Hunt. It was actually quite self-serving of me, as I hadn’t taken the time to eat there myself for four or five years. It was delicious, as usual.

We parted ways, as I like to give them a certain amount of space, especially on their last night. I headed over to a normally quiet bar in the Marigny, but with the St. Patrick’s Day weekend, it was rockin’. I sat at the bar and enjoyed (some of) the karaoke. Then I noticed a guy at the bar about three stools down. He

"Van Two," near the French Market, March 2013.

“Van Two,” near the French Market, March 2013.

opened a leather bag that was tied to his belt and took out a three foot long boa, the snake, not the thing made with turkey feathers. He let it wrap around his hand and crawl up and his arm for a few minutes and then, with some difficulty, got it back into the bag. I’m sure my eyes expressed my surprise, but the other folks at the bar just kind of shrugged and went on drinking.

After midnight, the entire gang met back at All Souls, slept quickly, and woke up to pack; me for a weekend in the Marigny, they for the trip home. I just needed to pile my stuff in the trunk of the rental car, while they had to get ten people and assorted bags into each van. After a while, it began to take on the appearance of making sausage, so I left to explore a little bit around the Holy Cross neighborhood and then drove in to meet up with them at the St. Louis #1 Cemetery in Treme. I arrived early and walked around to

St. Louis #1 Cemetery, Basin and Iberville, March 2013.

St. Louis #1 Cemetery, Basin and Iberville, March 2013.

locate tombs I wanted to share with them. So, one by one, I gave tours to the three groups and sent them into the Quarter for a glorious Saturday morning and later, to catch part of the Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Parade. And because I was meeting up with a friend for the latter, we said our goodbyes and headed in different directions.

Postscript: as of this writing, all of students are safely back in New Hampshire and presumably attending class again. I’m sure there are many stories about things that happened on the return trip that I don’t know about…and probably don’t want to.

You Ought to Be in Pictures Friday, Mar 15 2013 

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Mateen, cutting tile on Tupelo Street, March 2013.

As the work week waned, the student volunteers are just hitting their stride. Van 2’s sheetrock work on Royal Street is amazing. Even though it seems that every time I pull up to the house they are taking a break. They guys have been working with Tim to measure, cut and hang the board, while the girls have been mudding nail pops and seams between boards. It can be painstaking work, but they will likely be leaving before the next crew is left to mud and sand several times over.

Front room, Royal Street, March 2013.

The Van 3 crew on Delery seems to be settling into work on a mess of a house. A lot of it has involved removing and dumpterizing rotted and termite-eaten boards and studs, cleaning an overgrown lot, and listening to crew chief Darren yelling at them. A Ninth Ward-native, Darren works like a demon, and it took a couple of days for the students to realize that he wasn’t usually angry with them, he just had one notch on his volume control — eleven. They’ll come away with some great memories of week of work in the Lower Nine.

My group continued to cut and set the cement-like underflooring and laying tiles, although the lack of buckets and trowels or having a dedicated tile cutter slowed us down considerably. I took care of the former with a trip to Home Depot; for the latter, we worked out a deal with the South Carolina Gamecocks working with James on Tupelo, taking turns on lowernine.org’s only tile cutter. A couple of the guys take the measurements and walk over with the tiles to make the cuts. It is not the most efficient, but it’s what we got and it works. We had another breezy lunch on the levee and returned to laying floors.

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Post lunch rest on the levee, March 2013.

Mid afternoon I received a call from my UNH colleague Burt Feintuch, who is here working on a book of interviews with New Orleans musicians. He brought with him Gary Samson, former UNH photographer, who is providing photography for the book. The day they arrived, we attended Kermit Ruffin’s Tuesday night show at Bullet’s Sports Bar. They were between photo shoots for the book and Gary wanted to take some photos of UNH students hard at work during spring break. And who could deny a photographer between photo shoots with “Deacon John” Moore and John Boutte? We were able to get a few shots of students on two work sites before quitting time. Even though I try to document events with my compact Canon, I can’t wait to see Gary’s work.

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The uneasy intersection of college students and spicy crustaceans, March 2013.

After cleaning up, we went for a cookout at Laura’s house, deep in the Holy Cross neighborhood of the Lower Ninth. It included lowernine.org staff and long-term volunteers, students from UNH and USC, and some of the home owners that lowernine.org is working with. Laura had a huge pot of gumbo, rice, and salad. One of the homeowners brought two enormous poboys. Van 3 brought several pies for “Pi Day,” March 14th — it’s great travelling with nerds. I added 15 pounds of fresh boiled crawfish. She had a beautiful and over-sized backyard with a view towards the levee. We ate, talked, laughed, played volleyball, and stood around a fire pit that James had fashioned out of a dryer drum. And most importantly  we got meet and talk to the folks that lowernine.org had helped get back into their homes.

After dark, about half of us went to Rock ‘n Bowl, off of Carrollton on the other side of New Orleans. It is one on the few music venues that is not 21+, which is good when you are travelling with a majority of first and sophomore students. And most important, it is the only place that I know of where you can listen to a Grammy nominated act while bowling. As usual, it reflected well on this idiosyncratic city, where college students meet with tried and true two steppers. Where zydeco and gutter balls commingle. The students’ bowling games appeared slightly better than their two stepping, but nevertheless, they had a great time. And so did I.

Guys vs. the girls Rock 'n Bowl, March 2013.

Guys vs. the girls Rock ‘n Bowl, March 2013.

The Scavenger Hunt Thursday, Mar 14 2013 

HQ, lowernine.org, Lower Ninth, March 2013.

HQ, lowernine.org, Lower Ninth, March 2013.

Day Three. Still breezy and cool, but with beautiful blue skies. Great weather for either working or kicking around the French Quarter and we did both. I was late for morning meeting when I tried to get into my car while talking on the cell phone — I hit the panic button on the key to the rental car and, well, I panicked. After what seemed like an hour with the drive through crowd at McDonald’s staring at me, I figured out how to get the alarm to reset.

I stopped by lowernine.org for a brief visit with Emily, who was at work for the first time this week. She is old friend from our Operation Helping Hands days and is the main reason we are here, working with lowernine.org. Afterwards, I headed over to Gordon Street where we were waiting for the proper tools to lay a tile floor. Van 3, over on Deleray was also in a holding pattern. However, Van 2 over on Royal was going  great guns, installing insulation and sheet rock.

IMG_0290Casey found out that the window in the van had been replaced (they forgot to call on Tuesday), so he, another student and I drove across to Metairie. On the way, I took them by Musician’s Village in the Upper Ninth, where I had worked in 2007. It looked great, quite functional, lived in, and like it had been there for longer than a few years.

We returned to find the work situation much the same. We positioned tile and tools to be ready, but the much -needed equipment did not materialize until late morning. Eileen and I decided for the group to take an early lunch break, because it would be crazy to mix up a batch or mortar and then leave it.

Some of us picked up poboys on the way, from a business establishment that would seem weird anywhere else. But in New Orleans, you just stand and say, well yeah, one stop IMG_0330shopping for poboys and retreads make sense. We carried our lunches over to the levee overlooking the river and the Industrial Canal. Across the river was the port/industrial area of Algiers and upstream you could make out the spire on St. Louis Cathedral.

It appeared a minor midweek slump had set in, which is normal. The group was a little less animated and tired of waiting, but after lunch and a snooze on the levee they were ready to learn how to lay floor tiles. We mixed up some mortar and after instructions and a demonstrations we rotated in and out of setting a layer of mortar and carefully placing and spacing the ceramic tiles. We only had tools to work in one room, but everyone tool a turn. Hopefully, we can get enough tools on Thursday to work in three rooms at once.

IMG_0352After work, the girls called dibs on the showers so four of the guys went over to part of the Lower Ninth where the break in the Industrial Canal did the most damage. I rode across from Tupelo Street and was amazed at the desolation and abandoned homes so far away from the canal. It was a constant reminder of those who have not returned and how much work is left to be done. When I got to my traditional starting point, the intersection of Tennessee and Galvez, I was stunned to see the footing for a home to be built on that very corner. Where a disembodied stoop had for years lay as a monument to government nonchalance and inactivity; where I have begun every tour of the neighborhood since March 2006. Next year there will be a family living in the shade of those live oaks.

After cleaning up, I left the students to their taco night and went into the City to meet up former students Kyle and Kendra, both to catch up with them some more and to enlist them into serving as judges for the evening’s contest. For a couple of weeks, Kyle has been working on a French Quarter Scavenger Hunt to challenge the students’ knowledge of New Orleans and to get IMG_0360them to see the City in a new or, at least different, light. We met the six groups of four at 8 pm in front of the Cathedral. We gave each a sheet with 35 things to search for, photograph, and bring back in two hours.  For example: take a picture of the Crescent City Bridge, take a picture with a bachelor/bachelorette party, take a picture of a street name that can be found in a jazz song, and take a picture of a Bill Ross lookalike. I would judge the last one as a tie-breaker. Kyle and Kendra, as residents of New Orleans, would judge the rest. The winning group would receive a trip to Cafe du Monde for beignets and coffee.

While the class tore through the French Quarter, startling tourist and residents alike, the judges and I rested a window seat at Molly’s on the Market. Again, it was a wonderful chance for us to talk and catch up. It also gave the leaders a chance to take some time off from their charges. We got back together in front of the Cathedral a little after 10. Kendra and Kyle judged the evidence and each group scored 20 or better, but the Hot Seven brought home the championship with 26 points. And none of the look-alike photos looked anything like me. Each of the groups is to create a slide show of their quest for class next Thursday. I can’t wait.

Not surprisingly, on the heels of such an evening, the whole bunch was ready to head back to the Lower Ninth for a good night’s sleep.

lowernine.org Tuesday, Mar 12 2013 

The first day. Stowing belongings while half asleep. Putting together lunch with 30 fellow students and strangers. Getting to lowenine.org late because of erroneous information. Rain. Wind. Uncertainty. It had all of the makings of the worst start to the work week ever. But it was not.

From past experience, the worst thing that can happen is to get to work that first day to find that they are not quite sure what to do with you: “Well, we would use you on this and that, but we already have a crew on this and that. Wait a few minutes while we figure this out.” I understand that this is the product of spring break, when organizations are awash with volunteers, but it is hard to communicate to students who have anticipated this moment for months. Working with lowernine.org was not like that.

Orientation with Laura, lowernine.org, Lower Ninth, March 2013.

Orientation with Laura, lowernine.org, Lower Ninth, March 2013.

We huddled together in the cold by the banana trees, waiting for our assignments. Laura introduced herself and the Lower Ninth. I think the reality of what the people here have faced Katrina really became a reality to the students. A wall of water. Weeks of flooding. 100% of the housing in the ward ruled uninhabitable.

Within 30 minutes we were spread out around the Lower Ninth. Shoring up flooring in an old double shotgun house. Preparing to install insulation and sheet rock in a home in the Holy Cross neighborhood. We spent the day ripping up linoleum and carefully removing baseboards to make way for a base and a tile floor through one half of a home on Gordon Street. We were almost exactly a block over from Ronald Lewis’ backyard museum on Tupelo Street, which we will visit after work this afternoon. Happily, I think most groups will stay on site and task throughout the week, which should provide them a sense of what a week’s worth of work can accomplish.

Removing linoleum, Gordon Street, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

Removing linoleum, Gordon Street, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

Even after seven years and nine visits since Katrina, the abandoned, overgrown homes and empty lots are haunting. The Lower Ninth is only 30% occupied. Government neglect, corporate racism, shady contractors, and socioeconomic realities have combined to create a perfect storm of dysfunction. And the people here have to live with. Still, most of what happens, comes from agencies like lowernine.org with volunteers like us.

We got to know the homeowner immediately, which is an important connection with the neighborhood and why we are here. And more importantly, for the students, we got to meet his 92 year-old father’s dog, Oreo. Work went in spurts, but it is clear we are readying for more work intensive tasks down the road.

Chalmette Battlefied, site of the Battle of New Orleans (January 1815), Chalmette, LA, March 2013.

Chalmette Battlefied, site of the Battle of New Orleans (January 1815), Chalmette, LA, March 2013.

We took a short break for lunch. Visited the corner grocery across the street. And several snoozed in the van. Afterwards I visited the other groups to see how their day was going. Unfortunately, work was easy compared to the confusion of organizing shower opportunities, with limited access to belongings, because of the afternoon program at the All Souls Church.

To avoid the confusion, I decided to take a short trip over to the Chalmette National Battlefield and Cemetery. Sam, one of the leaders, and a couple of students in her group, Jenn and Anna, came with me. As it turned out, we arrived just before closing, but one of the rangers gave us directions to park outside of the gate at the cemetery, which we did. The weather had thankfully cleared and the walk under the live oaks, surrounded by the mostly Civil War-era graves was quite moving. And I reminisced about that first March after Katrina, sitting under those same oaks, reading, thinking, and coming up with the idea for the New Orleans course.

IMG_0274We came back to All Souls and I cooked a batch vegetarian red beans and rice while, Theresa orchestrated two beautiful salads. I think sitting down together and eating took the edge off of a frustrating post-work experience.

Most of the students went into the French Quarter for beignets and cafe au lait. I literally walked the Quarter. I took Royal from Frenchmen Street and crossed to Canal, returning by Decatur. It was cool and not very crowded, unlike the Spotted Cat, which was packed. As a result, I decided to head over to Kajun’s Pub on St. Claude. It was on the way back across the Industrial Canal and one of those places I’ve meant to visit for years.

From all appearances it is a simple neighborhood bar, which on the edge of the Marigny makes a very interesting neighborhood. Its story is one of those wonderful tales that flow through the pages of Dan Baum’s wonderful book, Nine Lives, which chronicles the experiences of nine very different New Orleanians from Hurricane Betsy through Hurricane Katrina. And beside Ronald Lewis, one of my subjects is bar owner Joann Guidos. I won’t go through the details of Joann’s life journey; you should read the book for that because Baum does a much better job of it. Suffice it to say, she has built an environment that is the triumph of acceptance and tolerance; one that stayed open through Katrina due to her grit and many gallons of fuel for her generator.

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Chalmette National Cemetery, Chalmette, LA

I talked to the bartender, a history major at the University of New Orleans; naturally, we do make the best bartenders. She asked what I did and I told her about my job and my teaching and this class and that we are using Nine Lives, and on and on. She turned away to wait on another customer and furtively called upstairs for Joann to come down and meet me, which she did. And it was a most delightful experiences.

We talked about her path, the bar, and the book. I hated to leave, but it was getting late. She offered to meet and talked to the students in the class, which I am seriously considering, and I promised to come back over the weekend.

Potholes and pitfalls notwithstanding, it was a good start to the work week.

Rainy Monday Morning Monday, Mar 11 2013 

All Souls Episcopal Church, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

All Souls Episcopal Church, Lower Ninth Ward, March 2013.

We’ve been in New Orleans about 36 hours and the weather has caught up with us. There are showers around this morning and there’s a good chance of thunderstorms in the area. It looks like our first day working at lowernine.org will be affected in some way or the other.

I’m sitting in a McDonald’s in Chalmette. The sun is not quite up. The service is friendly, but the term “fast food” is relative here. Fox is on TV; country is on the radio. One is reminded of being in Southern Louisiana when a patron crosses himself before eating his sausage biscuit.

Where to start: it has been an interesting and challenging weekend. Van number 2 got here first and settled into their accommodations at lowernine.org. I picked up my friend Kyle on the way in from the airport and got into the Lower Ninth about 6:00 pm in the evening. We went through the walk through at the All Souls Episcopal Church and Community Center just as Van number 1 arrived. The third van came in a couple of hours later.

IMG_0167The accommodations should be a challenge. Cots and air mattresses in the common areas. The problem is, we have to stow all bedding and belongings during the day because it is a community center. And more challenging: 33 volunteers (including 12 from the University of South Carolina) and two showers with spotty hot water, to say it nicely. We worked out a schedule for showers and kitchen use with the USC folks and the work week will tell how well it works.

I appropriated the privacy of the small library, which seems right. Group 1 stayed back a while to orient the incoming group, while Kyle and I headed into the City. The first agenda item was something to eat; the food court at the airport was but a distant memory. He wanted a poboy I wanted the briny taste of a muffaletta. Kyle told me he had read of a “new age” poboy place on Conti off of Bourbon. That sounded kind of like “military intelligence” of “jumbo shrimp,” so I had to bite, so to speak.

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Queen of the second line, March 2013.

It was in the back of the Erin Rose bar; the dining room as about 10 X 10 feet and the menu was intriguing to say the least. I had a “Hot Muff”, a cross between a Cuban sandwich and a muffaletta and Kyle had something that involved sucking pig, I think, but it looked as delicious as mine tasted. While we were waiting with a group Asian twenty-somethings with Texas accents, when in walked this apparition; what I can only describe as a tricked-out, professional second line dancer named Jennifer Jones. As weird as that was, I had just seen her on a repeat of Anthony Bourdain’s “Layover” a couple of nights before. Kyle ate as I tried to talk to her and eat my sandwich at the same time. I took her picture and ventured forth to find the St. Joseph”s Parade — and lost. By the time we were ready to stop and watch it, it seemed to have melted away into the quarter and the after parade dinner/dance.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Tipitina's, Uptown, March 2013.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Tipitina’s, Uptown, March 2013.

While most of my students explored the French Quarter for the first time (with the few blocks on Bourbon to find eats I had pretty much reached my quota for the trip), Kyle and I headed uptown to catch the Dirty Dozen Brass Band at Tipitina’s. And it did not disappoint. While the personnel had shifted slightly from the last time, the heart and soul remained the same. They started at 11 pm; right on time for a 10 pm show and played through to 1 am. Because of the time, I crashed on Kyle’s sofa in Broadmoor.

By the time got to the Lower Ninth, the students were slowly emerging from their sleeping bags. We went to the local Walmart to buy groceries and provisions. And things continued to move slowly. We finally headed out late morning, with two of the groups exploring Armstrong Park and Congo Square on the edge of Treme. Afterwards, we all met at the Parkway Bakery on bayou St. John. Yes, poboys again. This time we went old school. I studied the menu over and over to find something new to order. The choices were myriad, but when you’ve tasted near perfection it’s hard to waiver; I went with the shrimp, fully dressed and a Barq’s. The wait was long, but it was worth it.

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With New Orleans class veterans, Kyle Murphy (2009 & 2011) and Kendra Hanlon (2010 & 2012), second line, March 2013.

Afterwards, most of us caught the beginning of the Keep ‘n It Real second line. It was overcast, but warm. The music was hot and the growing crowd was fully engaged. The students, Kyle and I were joined by another former student, Kendra. We all went well beyond the turn onto Broad Street. The students eventually peeled off while the three veterans soldiered on to the first stop before turning back.

We took in some music on Frenchmen Street: the ceremonial first Sunday afternoon at the Spotted Cat. We sat in Washington Square Park for a while, taking in the playing children, passersby, and chatty homeless. We met the entire group at the Praline Connection where students were introduced to the Afro-Creole menu and warm service. Among the etouffee, the ribs, the fried chicken, the red beans, and jambalaya were many smiles and full bellies.

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Dinner, Praline Connection, March 2013

I dropped Kyle off and headed up to Gentilly where we had been invited to a concert by Paul Sanchez at the Gentilly Baptist Church. Sanchez, along with singer Arsene DeLay and a couple of others gave us an hour and a half of mostly his songs, including a number of tunes from his musical “Nine Lives.” The students were rocking with the message of love and renewal and I got here some of favorites like “Fine in the Lower Nine,” Rebuild, Renew” and “Foot of Canal Street.”

The students, of course, headed back downtown. I followed them only so long to take a short walk on Frenchmen. I was tired form the second line and the clapping and the people watching. But I was not hungry. I had wisely taken the key so I headed back to All Souls, took a shower that might have been a degree or two warmer than body temperature and took it easy until they returned. I have to pace myself.

Besides, today we start to work.

Warning: my posts during spring break are usually the product of short blocks of down time, combined with reduced access to the internet. Because of time limitations (and poor eyesight) I most assuredly do not catch all typos and misspellings the first time around.  I apologize and please bear with me. I do hope to get around to correcting them during a more leisurely period.

The Algiers Ferry at Night Thursday, Mar 7 2013 

Members or the 2012 New Orleans class on the Algiers Ferry, March 2012.

Members or the 2012 New Orleans class on the Algiers Ferry, March 2012. All six leaders for this year are in this picture.

Getting Ready for New Orleans Saturday, Mar 2 2013 

I’ve done this so many times in the last few years it should rote, but the excitement takes over every year. Just tonight I’ve been rooting through the basement and closet pulling things out for our stay at the All Souls Episcopal Church in the Lower Ninth. It’s probably not going to be that different from Camp Hope in St. Bernard Parish, or Katrina Relief in Waveland, MS, or the the three years at Madonna Manor in Marrero, LA, or last year at Peace Lutheran Church, Slidell, LA (where the guys slept in a shipping container — no kidding), but you want to be ready.

tappan zee bridgeSo, even though tomorrow is laundry day, I have my fleece sleeping bag, blanket, wind breaker, fleece vest, and a disposable towel and wash cloth, in the washer. I want to be ready. I want to have that pile of stuff on the floor of the bedroom ready to go into my duffle bag. Then there will be a couple of trips to Walmart for travel-size toiletries and this and that.  And in between, I’ll have to work, buy more stuff for the trip, administer an exam, dole out travel money, spend time with my family, and pack. And I’ll panic a couple times in the process. But it will work out. It always does.

It will not be like 2006, when there were no retail businesses — anywhere on this side of the Mississippi. Even though we will be staying in the Lower Ninth, the poor step child to the rest of New Orleans, there is shopping nearby. And unlike some of the residents, we will have access to cars and vans.

tennesse welcomes youBut it will be different. We have spent nearly half a semester learning that, but there is nothing like seeing and living the real thing. I’ll miss what you’ll witness. You’ll leave New England for the hills of New Jersey and Pennsylvania  That seemingly endless stretch of I-81 that goes from central Pennsylvania into Tennessee. And there you’ll enter the Deep South and hills will give way to pine forests as the land flattens toward the Gulf of Mexico. I’ll get on a flight in Boston. Change planes in Baltimore and only know I’m approaching New Orleans as I descend over Lake Pontchartrain. And I’ll meet up with you on this side of the Industrial Canal.

Spring trip van, Abita Springs, LA, March 2012.

Spring trip van, Abita Springs, LA, March 2012.

The weather looks great for all of us. Clear weather for driving and flying. No snow. No rain. When you hit Tennessee, temperatures will be in the 60s. When you hit New Orleans, it will be cloudy, but in the mid 70s. After the last few weeks snow, ice, and cold, I think you can deal.

My advice to you: take it all in. Savor the change, savor the distance, savor the new sites and sounds. It will be different and even your leaders will not be prepared for all of the changes you encounter. These are things that you’ll remember and have the potential to change you. And that is a good thing.

So, sleep when you can over the next few days. Prepare and pack. But think about what you are about to do. And write about it. Absorb it. And learn from it. This is as important as anything you have learned in the course to date.

Downtown St. Patrick’s Parade, March 17, 2009 Wednesday, Feb 27 2013 

UNH students at the Downtown St. Patrick's Day Parade on Frenchmen Street, March 2009.

UNH students at the Downtown St. Patrick’s Day Parade on Frenchmen Street, March 2009.

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.

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