Thursday, March 27, 2008

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.

No comments: