I think Sunday was the best day of my trip to far. The hardest, the longest, the most tiring, the most frustrating, the most overwhelming…but still the best.
One thing I really wanted to do while I was here, was to join a second line. A New Orleans tradition, they are essentially a brass band parade, where the “first line” refers to the band and the members of the club or group, and the “second line” is those who follow them.
The clubs and groups that put on the parades are essentially formed for pleasure and social aid, to support the communities they represent, and every year they put on a parade in that community. The Dumaine St. Gang were celebrating their 20-year anniversary with a parade at midday on Sunday, beginning at the Treme Community Centre, and I decided to be there.
When I arrived, the atmosphere was steadily building. Police had blocked off the street, and there was an assortment of floats and drink-sellers gathering. Many of those in the crowd were wearing t-shirts and large rosettes, commemorating the Dumaine St. Gang, or you could see they had dressed for the occasion. There was an air of excitement and anticipation.
The first figures to appear in the doorway inspired a huge cheer from the crowd, as they walked along the pathway, which had been cordoned off – the older women came first, wearing gold mother-of-the-bride suits and hats, followed by the younger women, dressed in matching outfits and holding goblets that looked like they had been painstakingly painted and decorated by hand.
Then came the King Cory and Queen Angelina Sever, who were led to their respective floats, and fussed over by their attendants, but not before having photos taken with many members of the crowd.
I’m not sure exactly when the music started, but it was then that everything started to change…and these guys came out.
And, let me tell you…if I hadn’t realised I was seeing something truly special by then, I certainly knew it now. The crowd were joyous, with many of them dancing by the sides of the procession.
And we started to follow them.
What you need to realise is that this is obviously a huge day for the community. The children have their hair done, and everyone is dressed up, and are welcoming and greeting each other. There are BBQ and other food trucks set up by the side of the road, and people on horses (yes!), and cars and bikes lining the sides of the road, and eskys on wheels being pulled behind the procession, and toys being thrown from the floats to the children. And, as you walk, you realise that there is a fresh audience at every stage of the parade, waiting with the same sense of camaraderie and anticipation.
I have never felt so white, or so ignored, or so rhythmically-challenged. Which was fine, because I had a strong sense that it was my place to just stand back and not get in anyone’s way, and to feel privileged to be there.
Now, I don’t consider myself an overly emotional person, and I would even go so far as to say that whenever I cry, it almost comes as a bit of a shock, because it’s always as though it gets the better of me somehow. But at some point, pretty early on, watching the Dumaine St. Gang got the better of me, and continued to do so, making me the crying, sweaty, sunburned, white women.
I’m not sure what brought it on, but I suspect this dancing boy may have played a part.
And this man with the cane probably had something to do with it too, because he kept up the pace along with everyone else, and I recognised what a big day that must have been for him. Or it might have been the little boy with the trombone, who kept looking up at the musicians around him, to copy what they were doing.
At some stage, I put my camera away, bought a beer and just tried to soak it all up. The air was thick with the smell of pot…I kept thinking I was seeing people smoking cigars, before realising that they were actually big joints. And soon, everything from a glass bottle and a lighter had turned into an instrument.
Back when I was a Drama teacher, I remember communicating to my students that performance isn’t about what you put on, but the layers you are prepared to take off. And it isn’t about an audience having the opportunity to judge you, but to what extent you are prepared to let them love you, because they really do want to love you. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but what I do know is that these guys perform in a way that strips everything back, leaving nothing but unity and humanity and love. It’s really something.
When the gang stopped at Impressive Barbers, for what was essentially a brief street party, I realised I was starting to feel the effects of the combination of the sun and the beer (and was likely embarrassingly tear-streaked), and decided it was perhaps to time to get my shit together and walk back, only to discover that I couldn’t get through the throng of people alongside the guide lines, and was subsequently carried a bit further along.
By the time we reached the corner of Ursulines, I discovered that we had walked quite a long way, which is really easy to do when you are carried along by the music and movement.
I have realised lately that my sense of direction is completely useless, because not only does it consistently point me in the wrong direction, but it seems to think it’s an actual instinct. Therefore, I don’t question it, I just “instinctively” head in the direction that I “know” to be right. Frankly, I wish it would pipe down, and do away with the need for my conscious brain to remember to step in and go, “Hey now, chances are you have no idea where you are or where you are going…best consult a map.”
Long story short(er)…I turned the wrong way onto Orleans from Broad and walked a long way before I realised.
Then I turned around and finally headed for the car.
Then I texted Eva to see if she wanted me to pick her up. It’s fair to say the results are pretty conclusive.
With that decided, I headed straight to the Superdome, to see the New Orleans Saints play the Carolina Panthers, which started at 3.25.
When I arrived, legs starting to feel pretty weak at this point, I was told I couldn’t enter with my (rather small) crossbody bag. Apparently, if your purse is much bigger than a phone, it has to be clear vinyl, which has led to a whole fashion line of bags that look like this:
So, I walked back to the car to drop it off.
Then back to the stadium, fuelled, by this stage, only by the determination to not miss out.
When I arrived, I bought jambalaya and made my way up to the nose-bleed seats at the back…it looked like this, and the atmosphere was extraordinary.
New Orleans loves their Saints and, of all the players, they particularly love their quarterback, Drew Brees. It looks like half of the stadium is wearing his jersey, and talking to him like he was an old friend:
“Drew, that play ain’t workin’, honey, you gots to find another one”
“Get ya head in the game, Drew!”
“Drew, you better get on top o’ this, or he’ll come atcha!”
During football season, New Orleans becomes the “Who Dat Nation” and, let me tell you, whether you are a football fan or not, it really is something to be a part of the “Who Dat” anthem in a stadium of that size. There is a recording of what it sounds like HERE.
Towards the end of the game, I was included in a collective high five, which thrilled me far more than I thought it would.
The crowd was so thick when we walked out, I almost didn’t have to walk back to the car.
It was a huge day, and it’s fair to say it knocked me around a little. There is only so much emotion (and walking) one can handle.
And the resultant exhaustion put me behind in my posts, but I believe it was worth every bit of perfectionist angst.