Letter from Nola (and New Orleans, too)
Part 3 of 3
It’s been a few months now since we returned to New Orleans, and my worries have mellowed. Partly, as I have learned, it’s evidently in my nature to adapt. Partly, we have reconnected with old friends and made new ones, and I have been reminded (all grumpiness aside) what a profoundly welcoming place this is. And partly, I’ve been practicing a little mental gentrification jujitsu.
A hardcore downtown Manhattan scenester I used to know once informed me that the old saw of never going above 14th Street just didn’t cut it for him anymore — so he no longer traveled north of Delancey. Inspired by this absurd declaration, I have somewhat arbitrarily decided that the coolest stuff in New Orleans these days is all happening down-river of Elysian Fields. And more important: inspired by real estate agents who like to slap catchy acronyms on geographic territories they intend to commercially exploit, I have begun referring to this swath of the city as DREF: Down River of Elysian Fields. This hasn’t caught on … yet.
More seriously, there have been specific moments, as we’ve negotiated what I now think of as the overlapping worlds of New Orleans and Nola, that have reassured me that whatever this place is, it’s for me. Most notably: the night that E wanted to look for a parade.
I should point out that E has had none of my wariness about our return here. She was delighted about it, and in fact had been lobbying to move back for a while. And when we arrived, she immediately became our chief of exploratory endeavors and unquestioned social director.
So one night we were on our way home from some activity or event she’d come up with, and she mentioned a parade. Apparently it was an element of some arts festival, and would involve a march through Holy Cross and then along the levee into St. Bernard, where there was a party at an artist’s studio, or something like that. Frankly it all sounded a bit Nola to me, but I didn’t mind a little aimless detour to see what we could see.
Almost immediately, we spotted it — or so we thought. There was a procession of dozens, including a loud brass band. Bringing up the rear was a truck modified into a miniature version of a parade float, filled with people singing the familiar brass-ified version of “It Ain’t My Fault.” We got out of the car and followed along. The end of the line was a strictly-locals Holy Cross bar. Clearly, nobody here was going to the levee and across the parish line. Also: With the exception of a couple of young women in elaborate dance costumes, everybody involved was black, which to be blunt did not align with my imagined vision of a hipster arts-fest march. It finally dawned on us that this was some other parade.
We once again live in a city where it is possible to stumble across the wrong parade, by mistake
Fun as it was to reminded that we once again live in a city where it is possible to stumble across the wrong street parade by mistake, we headed home. I took Russell out. And as I peered down an empty Holy Cross street into the darkness, I could see a distant crowd, marching toward us. I called E. She arrived just as this — the parade, of course, that we’d actually been looking for — approached the edge of Jackson Barracks, a block from our house.
It was, in fact, a little bit Nola: At least a hundred young, costumed hipsters, overwhelmingly white, and (in an obvious misstep) lacking any brass band at all. Still, they were clearly having the time of their lives, without being remotely obnoxious. They were happy and charming and quite obviously meant no harm.
And in the rear, there was a full-on float, with music: An all-female group of singers in theatrically skimpy costumes, accompanied by a what amounted to a highly amplified karaoke machine. The procession smushed up to the corner where it would become necessary to veer off to walk toward the levee, and the leader of the singing group called for, of all things, “La Bamba.” This blared into the night and sounded surprisingly good to me. Not exactly a very New Orleans selection, but, whatever, great song — I was happy to sing along.
Still, we hung back a bit. I was not immediately sure how this was going to go over with the neighbors. The float was basically parked right in front of somebody’s house, people I see all the time. Things are usually quiet around here at night. People have to work in the morning. I didn’t want to end up being associated with an outsider, Nola nuisance.
A couple of guys came out of the house. They had phones. They started shooting video. They were laughing. The music squalled into the previously still night, and it felt like the most normal thing in the world. If a parade winds up in front of your house, what you do is you go out and enjoy it.
Okay. Maybe we were all just barely in New Orleans, but it turns out that “barely” still counts.