My decision to attend the University of New Orleans for my masters degree was an important one. It was during a time when I needed a serious life change. I wanted to go to a place that was unfamiliar but held as much history as the home I was leaving behind. New Orleans was indeed different. The music. The lingo (which I have to remember on each return trip). The food. The culture. It was all so different. But it was familiar. I would listen to some of the accents and they would remind me of how my grandmother used to sound. Surprisingly, I could understand some of the patois, even though it was not Gullah, because it was similar to that of the low country even with the French influences. They also use piliau so of course I would love the jambalaya. I’m a red rice kind of girl, remember? Add some different spices and there you go! The music – oh the music – what can I say about the music? The first time I heard that New Orleans bounce music on the radio I was floored. It wasn’t GoGo, it wasn’t House music. I was like nothing I had ever heard. I had to find a station that played some Biggie Smalls or something. Eventually though, I found myself bouncing right along with it. I love the live brass bands. I love the Zydeco. I can get down with some Mystikal, Juvenile, and Master P. (I think sis stole my cd though). Br’er Rabbit stories. They tell Br’er Rabbit stories according to the curator at the Laura Plantation. My daddy can tell a Billy Beaver story at the drop of a hat.
While in New Orleans, I met the best person I could for a girl who loves history (Not discounting my other NOLA buds – shout outs to ‘Miss A’, ‘Miss D’ and others…) For the sake of this post, I will call my friend, ‘Miss M’. Miss M knows as much about New Orleans as I do about Hilton Head, and that’s a lot. We met at some crazy function, which will remain anonymous in case those people are still in operation. Let’s just say that it’s no place for a devoted Catholic and A.M.E. So I think our agenda at that function was trying to sift through the nuts, not drink the Kool Aid, and find someone half-way normal. I think we took to each other immediately (along with another girl who ended up leaving school after the first semester) especially when we found out that we were in the same Planning Masters program. From that weekend, it was on and we were going everywhere, and everywhere had a history lesson. There was so much over my two years there so I’ll stick to the highlights. Some outings deserve their own blog post. There was the French Quarter. Going to the French Quarter required wearing the “French Quarter boots”. There was always a party going on there and people partied hard. I had to keep a straight face while having a conversation with a dude in a leather vest and matching thong. There were the clubs, shops, and restaurants of course, but there were also the magnificent “ah-kitecture” and the secret interior gardens. There was Louis Armstrong Park and Congo Square, which is an excellent historic site as it’s the birthplace of jazz. Too bad it’s always gated… There are the above ground cemeteries, which is a necessity seeing that the Crescent City is below sea level. I saw them on the way into the city and was intrigued. I never thought of a cemetery as a good place to visit, but it was really interesting. There is one site that is the resting place of the Voodoo Queen Marie Laveau, which is marked by a series of “x’s”. Saint Louis Cathedral would hold a special memory for me in the future. The Garden District held the sprawling mansions, City Park, and Tulane. Treme held Claiborne Avenue, dissected by the 1-10, which had its own Black American history and plenty of oak trees, now gone. Of course I can’t forget about the Mardi Gras Indians. I think the first time I saw them in full dress was at the Zulu Ball.
We went everywhere that first year. No matter our destination, there was the standing order – DO NOT BUY MARDI GRAS BEADS. Little did I know that there would be more than plenty. The first place we went that Mardi Gras season was to the Quarter. Miss M and my sis (who was visiting that weekend) got a few beads from the people in the balcony, but they didn’t get as much as those who bared themselves for all to see. I didn’t get any beads. Not to worry, there were more opportunities at the parades. I got plenty from Bacchus, Muses, Endymion, Thoth, Orpheus, and more. I got more beads that you could count, including a really huge one when a total stranger lifted me up to the float. The coveted beads were the ones with the name of the Krewe and I managed to get a few of those as well. All of this happened before Fat Tuesday even arrived. I had never heard of the parade we would head to that morning. I had awaken and gotten ready at an hour in the morning that usually leaves me very cranky, but we had to stake out a prime spot for this particular parade. I don’t even remember which street we ended up on, but at least we were up front. What parade was this, you ask? This was a parade where sure, you may have gotten a few beads, even some with the name of the Krewe and that year’s icon, but what you really wanted from the Zulu Parade were the coconuts. These coconuts were handed to a person, not thrown (Imagine the concussion. Worse, imagine the beat down). It’s a real prize, so much so that I saw this guy almost let this kid get squished by the rolling float so that he could grab the one that was being handed to him. It was unbelievable with all of the hands reaching for the painted prize.
I didn’t get one that first year. Miss M got two and being the friend that she is, gave me one. I did get a spear, which I still have. The next year, being a bit more savvy in Mardi Gras, I actually managed to get three. Take that! Over the years, I have collected about six coconuts, a couple given to me by Miss M, and a boatload of beads. Unfortunately, I lost a lot of them over the years with all of my moving around. I still have the really big one, although in pieces thanks to the snatching hands of a particular 18-month-old. I have not been back to Mardi Gras since graduating from UNO, although I’m itching to go. Maybe an early anniversary gift (hint). Meanwhile, I have to settle for the reports from Miss M on the parade front. Right now she’s throwing ‘bows for coconuts and I suggest those who are out there get out of her way.
The Big Beads
The Spear from the Zulu Parade