If anyone has been paying close attention, they'll notice I've been out of the office since last Friday. This is because I had to learn the basics of macroeconomics for a test I had this morning. It was hard, and I only have so much available brainpower--I refuse to sacrifice quality for quantity. But if you have any questions about the difference between GDP and GNP, or how interest rates work, or who the Chair of the Federal Reserve is, ask away. I'll give you an answer.*
My one reprieve from econ was on Sunday--I had a class field trip. These aren't actually unusual for Tulane, last year I went to the aquarium and saw the fish. This year I went to Treme and witnessed a spectacle.
Life in New Orleans, if you don't go to Tulane, can be very difficult. I know that life anywhere can be hard, but New Orleans is a place where tragedy is a part of the everyday. Remarkably though, the city hasn't been defined by sadness--it might be broken, but it won't be beaten. There is an irrepressible spirit about the place, brought on in part by a variety of spirits without a doubt, but also a joy that it is harder to characterize and capture. The best example I can think of is what's called a jazz funeral--when someone dies in New Orleans, the procession is led to the cemetery by the front line, a band playing slow funeral dirges, and followed by the mourners singing. After the funeral, the band leaves the cemetery playing up-tempo jazz and they improvise bright and celebratory music, and the second line, the people following, join in with their own instruments and voices. In the midst of grief comes happiness, and a celebration of the person's life.
Eventually, second lines evolved into free-standing parades; so a band is followed by a parade full of community members with their own percussion instruments. Louis Armstrong marched many times in second line parades as a child through Treme. It's pretty incredible, really. That's what we went to on Sunday--the Sidewalk Steppers Second Line Parade. The Sidewalk Steppers are a Krewe (it's a social club), that spend all year planning this event with The Rebirth Brass Band (a really good New Orleans band). The Steppers and Rebirth are the front line, and then everyone from the neighborhood, and their families and friends, are the second line.
The Krewe Royalty ride on a float in front of the parade--this year the Queen was an old black lady dressed in that year's colors, baby blue, pink, and navy blue, with a huge feathered headdress and dripping in costume jewels. She was probably the matriarch of one of the Krewe's older families, and probably heavily involved in the planning process. She probably helped make all the costumes, and kept everyone in line, and did a lot of cooking. She was very beautiful. And very smug.
After the float are the Steppers, 8 men in baby blue tuxedos with baby blue top hats and huge pink and navy blue feathered fans--they're the only part of the parade that is kind of off limits to other people; two guys on each side hold skinny yellow cords to hold back the crowd. They keep them back so the men can dance, but not dance like we think of dance. It's a combination of acrobatic tricks and footwork and tribal dancing...but that's just the basics. I had hoped to avoid the word "swagger" in all of my writing, but they had swagger. It was just a sense of confidence in their movements that I don't think I will ever have. But man they could move. One of the Krewe members was in a wheelchair, his friend pushed him the entire parade route, almost six miles, and he danced the whole time. They turn somersaults, leapfrog, they shimmy, they shake, they strut, they flop on their backs in the middle of the street like they're having a seizure. They move like Michael Jackson and Richard Gere combined, they all have like 8 inch verticals. It really is something else.
Behind the Steppers is the band. Rebirth is pretty legendary--they're well-known in a city of well-knowns. And they deserve it; they hardly let up over the course of a 7 mile parade. Apparently, they don't do as many second lines as they used to, but they come out every year for the Sidewalk Steppers because all the guys grew up together in the same neighborhood, so the parade is a lot like a family reunion. They make the most incredible music, layers upon layers of joyful, joyful noise. The snare comes in--rattling and shaking, snarling and snapping in between the steady, even beat of the bass drum. The sousaphone plods along next to the bass--the trumpets blare out proudly over and through the notes of the trombone, twisting and turning out bright and shiny melodies of joy and triumphing over pain. It's infectious music, it shapes the crowd following behind. You can't not move to the beat; it's as if the sounds grab each person and force movement.
The crowd behind stretches for a long time, until you can probably only barely hear the band. But everybody wants to be a part of the line so they just keep adding in. It's hard to not smile at the people dancing in the street, dancing out the sunroofs of their cars, waving out their windows and balconies, dancing on the rooftops, dancing with their kids, dancing with their dogs slung over their shoulders, waving bottles and hugging people, swarming past the band and the steppers to walk by the Queen in her float, dancing and moving and grooving to the beat. Even though I was by far the minority skin color, I didn't feel like an outsider, because there was an overwhelming sense of community in the air--it wasn't an exclusive music.
Speaking of the air, it smelled like barbecue. All along the parade route there were people grilling and smoking every kind of meat possible. Most of it was for sale, and a lot of it was old family recipes, which are by far the best. I wanted to try everything, but I also didn't want to lose sight of my professor and class. It's all fun and games until the parade's over and Lauren's lost.
The second line is a centuries old tradition and really, really fun, and it was nice to see a side of a community that gets a lot of negative press. Sometimes, although I live in a Tulane bubble, there is a pervasive and sad racial tension in the city--but things like the second line help close that gap, t he music brings a sense of positivity to an otherwise tough situation. That tends to be the way life is handled in the Big Easy.
Sidenote: apparently it's not that difficult to keep horses in the city, because there were a lot of people on horseback. Unexpected to say the least. Also, I was able to spot a lot of weaves, which I'm getting much better at. For along time I was under the impression that black women had very long hair--this is not usually the case. Once again, rent the documentary Good Hair. It will change your whole outlook. Also, today I was not questioned about the authenticity of my hair, which was kind of a relief.
*It might not be the right answer. In fact it probably won't be. But the chances of you knowing the right answer and correcting me are slim, so I'll always come up with something.