Thursday, March 27, 2008

John Boutte (singing “American Tune” with Paul Sanchez at dba Thursday, March 20, 2008)

He sings with his eyes closed
voice streaking from stage to sky
and back again
then whispering like a wish

That voice
could make an atheist believe in angels
make a breath or a sigh
seem like something divine

Light a dark room
with all the colors of a song
because there are more colors in the blues
than just blue

Gets inside your mind
cuts like glass then
heals the wound
it left behind

Is a hypnotist's watch ticking
you under its spell

you don't even realize
that you have stopped breathing
and are leaning forward

on the edge of your seat
as if ceasing all movement
will enable you to capture

every single note that follows


Super Sunburned Sunday

I love parades. More specifically, I love parades in New Orleans. I love parades here so much that the following is a direct quote from an e-mail from one of my friends here (who does not share my passion for parades) after my St. Patrick’s Day parade adventures:

“It is good to see that you FINALLY AT LONG LAST got to attend a parade. I mean, my goodness, you poor thing. What's it been, over a month? That's inhumane. That's Gitmo-level shit right there, toots.”

Yeah, I am the uber-dork of parade-going.

This past Sunday was Super Sunday, an annual celebration/parade that falls on the Sunday before St. Joseph’s Day. Super Sunday features tribes of Mardi Gras Indians, decked out in spectacular regalia, who meet in the vicinity of the now-demolished C.J. Peete housing project in Central City to parade down Lasalle. The parade has no published route or time, and news of these details is generally spread by word of mouth.

The Mardi Gras Indians are a cultural phenomenon unique to New Orleans. The Indians have been parading since at least the mid-19th century. Formerly, these parades served as a means to settle scores, and violence was commonplace. Now the competitiveness between the tribes is mostly good-natured. The elaborate clothing is thought to be a mixture of Native American and African American traditions, and while the Mardi Gras Indians are not necessarily Native American, their traditions are a tribute to a shared history of discrimination and the aid provided by Native Americans in helping slaves to escape from their captors.

When my roommate and I arrived the streets were cluttered with spectators and Indians alike. Tribe members collected near Washington and Lasalle to begin the parade, stopping to pose spread-armed for eager picture takers. The Indian regalia are large feathered masterpieces with intricate beadwork depicting a variety of scenes. The costumes are massive, both wide and tall, and watching a group of Indians come marching down the street amidst the crowd was like watching a wave of colors break across a sea of people.

Interspersed with the tribes were various social clubs and brass bands, and this remarkable parade was also my first chance to second-line.

The second line is another unique New Orleans tradition where spectators become so involved in the music and the magic that they jump right on into a parade behind a band.

A second line is supposed to be a spontaneous event. Unfortunately, the rich tradition of second-lining has been cheapened and commercialized by the city government’s decision to require permits to second line, for a price, of course. How does one get a permit for something that’s by definition spontaneous?

Last year, an unpermitted second-line jazz funeral for a local musician was broken up by an excessive number of police who clearly thought those spontaneous paraders were the real criminals in the city, and the two ringleaders of the second line were arrested.

Glad to see they’ve got their priorities straight.

I’m assuming this past Super Sunday was all permitted and legal, because police even provided escorts and blocked streets along the route for marchers.

One of the brass bands, known as the Stooges, was led in the parade by Big Sam, a New Orleans trombonist and the main man in the band Big Sam’s Funky Nation. A crowd of second liners had amassed behind Big Sam, and I found myself pulled along with the tide of people. Watching a parade pass by is not nearly as fun as parading with it, dancing to the music and enjoying the day.

I followed Big Sam from the beginning of the parade route all the way to the end, to Taylor Park, which was awash with food and music and drink. My feet were sore and I was tired and hungry, but I felt completely satisfied at having participated in my first second line.

Unfortunately for me, I had left the house that morning without sunblock, a necessary item for someone as pasty white as I am. Being a redhead is a grand thing on St. Patrick’s Day, but it isn’t nearly so grand when one has been marching in the hot sun all day.

Monday brought the real pain of the sunburn, but amidst my repeated applications of aloe, I noticed something ironic . . . that the silver fleur-de-lis pendant I wear every day had left its pale shape behind in the redness of my chest.

I guess that’s just another way of keeping New Orleans close to my heart.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Kiss for a Rose

Well, not really a rose. More of a paper flower, but who am I to say no to kisses from handsome (well, friendly and spirited, at least) Irish men?

I recently received an e-mail from someone who called New York's St. Patrick's Day parade "conservative," "militaristic," and "joyless."

I don't know why I always find myself comparing events in New York and New Orleans (they may as well be in different universes), but I do.

The Irish Channel parade last Saturday on Magazine Street was the polar opposite to "conservative," "militaristic," and "joyless." Even this neighborhood that is so prone to violence could not deny its party atmosphere and joviality. The very same neighborhood where I heard the gunshots from recent murders had no violent incidences or deaths that I recall seeing in the Times-Picayune. (The same cannot be said for our beloved Mardi Gras this year.)

After parking our car deep in the Channel near Tchoupitoulas (I just like spelling that name), my roommate and I were quickly offered a drink by the inhabitants of one little shotgun house. We declined after tasting the concoction, which they called "jungle juice," but their generosity in offering was to be a indicator of the entire day.

Walking past my old apartment on Magazine, we stopped to chat with the new inhabitants, who were outside enjoying the warm weather and the sunshine on the porch (the very same porch from which I blogged about my friend the gecko last time). Like my roommate and I, the new tenant was a writer too. There is definitely something about this place that draws us here.

Across the street from my old abode was a house party featuring a sign that said, "$5. Beer. Food. Potty." Where else can you get all that for five bucks?

Playing on the front porch of the house was my roommate Sally's lovechild, the New Orleans Rhythm Conspiracy, a band that she helped to create. A white bucket was strapped to the fence so that passers-by could contribute to tip the band.

And believe it or not, they did. They danced in the street and dropped money in the bucket. Someone passing by stuck a big green shamrock-laden hat on my head, which I eventually passed along to someone else.

Admittedly, this was my first time indulging in green beer. I try to avoid it, but for $5.00 I wasn't going to be particular. Green is my favorite color, after all.

The parade rolled eventually, led by groups of tuxedo-clad Irishmen carrying paper flowers to exchange for kisses from the ladies.

There is no better time to be a redhead than St. Patrick's Day, even when one is not Irish. I had accumulated at least five flowers before the floats ever came by.

Unlike parades in New York, spectators are not confined behind barriers like animals (except in the French Quarter). We run around like children, beg for beads and flowers, and generally maintain a certain level of genteel Southern courtesy that does not exist above the Mason-Dixon Line.

I am still trying to convince myself that I'm not a Yankee, so please just nod your head and play along.

The parade itself is very much in the spirit of Mardi Gras. In fact, I saw many of those same floats during the MG parades. Giant leprechaun heads and shamrocks and riders with green hair populated the floats. Men in kilts and tams marched along playing bagpipes and drums and passing out more flowers.

Imagine my glee when I learned that, much like Mardi Gras, the riders on the floats also toss loot. In addition to beads, flags, cups, and assorted undergarments, the floats toss vegetables, the most popular being, of course, cabbage. I caught one head of cabbage and countless bags of carrots. I missed all the potatoes, though. I just wasn't quick enough for a spud.

By the time the parade was over, my arms and neck were covered with beads, and I had accumulated seven flowers, two plastic Irish flags, two garters (though I gave one to a guy wearing green leotards and a green tutu), three plastic cups, and one pair of green panties, which I'm saving for a special occasion.

I wound up stringing most of my beads along the wrought-iron fence in front of the house. I already have too many Mardi Gras beads and no place for them. But I kept everything else.

Somewhere in the trip back to the car I lost one of my flowers, but I still have the memory of every sweaty, drunken kiss from a stranger.

After all, they're always after me lucky charms. . .