Roll call on Mardi Gras morning was at 5 am as I rolled away from the swamp to head on down to see the Zulu King! I rode my bike through the streets of New Orleans. What a thrill an Iowa farm boy weaving in and out of traffic jams to get to where the parade was assembling and where it started. The parade began with the 100 member Southern University band sending out a clarion call of brass that must have pierced the cold gray sky. The plumes on their marching hats conducted rays of sunshine as they marched under the live oaks. The first sun we had seen after a week of rain. Soon after came the Zulu king himself and of course the queen. Spike Lee was the honorary king and busied himself throwing beads. I caught a coconut!
Perhaps the biggest thrill of the day came as the sun was setting and I came onto a Mardi Gras Indian chief under the I-10 overpass near Cajun Seafood with his entourage of spy and flag boys! Soon he was confronted by another Chief and a taunting swirling dance of colorful feathers, beads, drum beats and singing ensued. Wild Tchoupitoulas! I was touched to feel up close the inter-generational family tradition of artful work that makes that dance happen year after year, generation after generation. I imagined the hours and hours of intricate sewing that went into the costume. The love and dedication of family members coming together after coming home from work in their Northside shotgun style home: Killin em dead with needle and thread! This was a life of creating not just passive consuming! I cried to see the chief's daughter come up to him with a towel and wipe the sweat from his face during a pause from carrying his head dress. And the future chief! A little guy who could have been barely two banging on a tambourine, exclaiming the rhythm that he heard from the womb! I could feel the strength and grace of it all holding this family together. I laughed to see the traffic jam on St Bernard Ave that the Indian face off caused. And yet no one honked this is just what we do in this neighborhood on Mardi Gras day. Indians!!!!!! Fighting in the streets!!!
After we followed the Chief on down the street toward his home in the twilight. I sat on the side walk just outside a home that had a makeshift sign tacked to the side of the house. I picked out the $7 plate of red beans and rice with a slab of catfish. Served up right from the home kitchen of Belinda and Troy. What a lovely end to a lovely day to eat my plate of food on the sidewalk as the neighborhood homes began to turn on lights. I got to talking with Troy and Belinda and told them I was gearing up to bring volunteers to plant cypress trees on the Northshore. I asked them if they could cook up some rice n beans with some volunteers and share with us a bit about the history of their neighborhood and issues facing it today. They were happy to oblige saying, " The church channel was saying to me this morning to expect a stranger coming with good news. We all can learn from one another."
"Mardi Gras is the love of life. It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods and our joy of living. All at once" Chris Rose
Love from New Orleans.