Paul and the kids have been several times before (visits were a favorite outing of Paul’s while I worked on my dissertation), but yesterday’s walk was a compliment Kate’s unparalleled music class, which had been studying the bayou and marsh.
This little guy is along the likes of what you might normally see on a walk through the bayou. He was one of several of his size we saw.
But THIS guy, this 13-footer, HE was the main attraction. Not just because of his size…
But because he was eating another alligator. And doing is RIGHT off the path.
He had killed the little gator the day before. It’s normal for them to hide the carcasses between meals. He was pretty irritated with us (hissing, growling, rising out of the water like so) because he wanted to hide his meal… and he couldn’t do it with us watching!
Further down the trail is a floating dock. Alligators like to sun themselves here… but there weren’t any when we found it.
Canoe and kayaking is not possible in the bayou right now, because of the invasive species of lilly that is in the water (see the green?) They cut it completely out last summer — and it’s already filled it to choke out boats.
Our friend moved to a more secluded spot. He was still pretty pissed when we walked by on our way out.
I tried to explain to Will that this was a Mommy alligator eating her 8-year son for not listening, but he wasn’t paying any attention.
Also, the ranger explained that this was a male alligator. They are pretty territorial. Females, however, are highly maternal — they protect baby gators for the first three years of life, keeping the bigger males away from the area where they have young.
Jean LaFitte offers several hiking paths through different south Louisiana ecosystems, as well as dedicated and friendly park staff. A beautiful visitors center, entertaining and informative movie, and detailed educational programs are extra lagniappes for the visitor. A great place for families!
Okay, so we’re not completely oblivious. Breesus was presiding as King, so we knew it was going to be a mad-crazy event. The Saints homecoming parade drew the biggest parade crowds of any event, ever, according the local media.
We volunteered to work the school parking lot (a block off of Napoleon, which is the street where the parade was to begin). Though the Archdiocese demanded a hefty sum of 50% for us to use the parking spaces the school rents from them (ahem) it is always worth it to help our little nonprofit school bring in funds, so of course we wanted to help. At first, the plan was for me to bring the kids home after the morning parades for nap and let Paul walk up to the school. But the fun of the morning put us into some sort of ecstatically-impaired state of mind where our sensibilities left us completely. We threw the ladders and wagon and bags and signs and kids into the truck and illegally rolled ourselves slowly down back streets until we arrived at the school.
Then the plan was to meet up with friends who we knew were on the route and let the kids run around until parade time (it was still more than 2 hours before the parade start time). Paul would work parking until right before the parade and then join us. In a normal situation, this would work perfectly. Except that it was Bacchus and the people were already DOZENS deep. The streets were already filled with Mardi Gras mess, and the people were Very Serious about their tent cities.
Thank goodness we found Emmy and the kids — and thank goodness that her friends, Erin and Chuck, were kind enough to 1. share the space; 2. help watch the kids, and 3. accommodated Will, who instantly fell in love with their adorable baby boy and tried multiple times to fold him up and put him in his pocket (Honestly though, who could blame Will? That kid is great.) Chuck masterfully maneuvered our ladder and wagon in with the mix so that all the kids could sit up safely — nearly eye-level with many of the riders — allowing them to see and keeping them safe from the crowds. I stood beside on a step stool, often with one of the kids standing with me, talking to the kids and keeping an eye on the straps and bars (I get a little freaked out when the kids get antsy.) Still, the crowd was so tight that one man held on to the side of my step stool to keep from getting shifted too much in the jostling crowd.
Or, maybe because he wanted to be that close to the view of my rear-end, depending on your perspective.
Despite the crowd, it was a fun night. The energy was amazing and for the most part, the people were all friendly and thoughtful. Another child in the crowd joined into an open seat in our ladder set-ups (another unwritten rule — when you have open seats, you ask other families if their kids want up — one more small child out of the crowd lets us all breathe easier) and he was hilarious. (“Here are your guesses for the next float, Ms. Holly. A porcupine, a giant heart with letters, or chickens in a pot of soup.”)
The parade itself was mostly standard fare of floats and parades and riders — with added coolness of confetti, search lights into the night sky, and several “mega” floats pulling dozens of riders with several connected units. Combined with the incredible crowd, it was sort of breath-taking to be there. Especially at the start of the parade.
A woman nearby had a mini-Lombardi trophy. Several folks came over to take pictures with it — including these kids. The cuteness!
What we didn’t see was that further up the parade line, friends of ours had made a NINE FOOT LOMBARDI TROPHY. (Photo from Cade‘s collection.)
But back to the parade. Breesus went right on by us, just like that.
A friend of mine from college is shocked that Paul doesn’t get stopped in the streets regularly for being mistakenly identified as Drew Brees. I wasn’t sure there was much resemblance and then I saw Breesus’s new Dove commercial. (Note: this is really worth watching.)
After seeing that shower scene, I whole-heartedly agree. Paul is a dead ringer for Breesus.
Being a big Krewe, the mega-bands were out, too.
It was a beautiful night, full of crazy energy and madness. A wonderful way to cap off our Mardi Gras parades for the season!
You think it’s not for you, this Mardi Gras thing. Maybe you don’t see yourself as much of a drinker. Maybe you’re a little put-off by the whole girls-gone-wild thing; you weren’t the type to want to do Spring Break in South Beach even when you were in college. So you figure that Mardi Gras isn’t for you. And also? That city? New Orleans? Well, you saw the pictures and heard the stories and it’s a mess. You can’t figure out why people would even want to live there, let alone visit.
You’ve thought at least some of those things, I feel certain. I fully admit that until I moved here, I thought THE VERY SAME THING. Actually, both Paul and I did. And now we can say that we were very wrong.
New Orleans is an absolutely fantastic place to be, especially during Carnival season — and especially for families. As an example, here is our family, enjoying parades this past Sunday morning. Music, laughter, conversation, floats, horses, football, dancers, prizes, and of course, beads.
Too cold for the parade in the park, so the kids’ donned their class-made costumes and home-brought throws to an indoor audience. Paul made Will’s parade (bonus: live band); I made Kate’s (bonus: singing by Kate’s class).
If you’re the sensitive type, the kind that can’t handle any sort of recognition of the fact that we all own private parts, or worse, sometimes bring them out to play, then I urge you to stop reading now. Because this may press a button or two. Not because I’m talking about something related to our current Carnival season. Because I’m going to talk about my cat.
The cat likes stuffed toys. Scout has been with us for over 11 years now, since that snowy February night when he was rescued from an abandoned lot, less than a pound and only a few weeks old. From the start he has been a knead-er, pushing his little paws and purring until he is content to curl up and sleep. Often, he does this on a blanket or bed. But when we’re not around, he likes to knead stuffed toys. We’ll come home to find tufts of fuzz in a trail through the house, leading to where Scout has kidnapped Snoopy or left Pluto in a mess of polyester orange fur. Making sure anything soft and impressionable is off the floor is important in our house; lest the cat decide to get cozy and half of your teddy bear goes bald.
It seemed like a fairly benign quirk. Then a few weeks ago, Paul and I entered our bedroom one afternoon to find Scout on our bed, kneading away at a stuffed Lady, from Lady in the Tramp, one of Kate’s favorite toys. We quickly pulled Lady away from the assault and accidentally flipped Scout over in the process.
He landed on his back with his belly up. Showing clearly that he was very very visibly… excited.
And then. With us there staring away at his little red thing pointing up at us, he started to shake. SHAKE. I am not making this up. The bottom half of that damn cat was TREMBLING.
O. M. G. The cat was getting off on our daughter’s stuffed dog.
All this time, and the cat was going to our kids’ synthetically-filled plushies to get laid.
<I know, I need a moment, too…. but I promise, just stick with me, a chaser is coming.>
Since then, our efforts to protect the kids toys from the love, I mean loooooove, of our cat have improved. But we still find him occasionally curled up on Will’s pillow, surrounded by rolling paper with catnip scent in the air, laying a little TOO close to that Ugly Doll. During Mardi Gras, the volume of throws being brought in by the kids makes it more difficult to keep the house to a PG rating.
So when Will walked in tonight from the Morpheus parade, I think I heard Barry White go into overdrive in the cat’s head:
As Kate would say, I KNOW.
So here’s the story of Long-Fellow (as named by Will.)
It started earlier today when I spontaneous cut a piece of cardboard, painted it black, and started cutting up beads. This was the result.
The sign was a huge hit with Kate at d’Etat. But Kate got cold. Granted, it was pretty cold out tonight, even if we did bundle the kids as warmly as possible.
Yes, Kate wore a princess nightgown over her layers and coat. It was a compromise.
Anyhow, towards the end of d’Etat, Kate got a little tired and cold, so the sign went to Will. I walked home with Kate while Paul stayed with Will to watch Morpheus.
A rider passed Will a stuffed toy and Will said “Merci” and showed the sign. Then, he blew her a kiss. The float stopped and she melted.
She motioned him over to the edge and pointed him our directly so that everyone would know that she had something for him. Then she pulled out the snake’s head and handed it down to Will. But she kept pulling and pulling and pulling and Will turned in circles as the snake wrapped around him.
And that was how Will came home — completely wrapped up in a stuffed snake now known as Long-Fellow.
Will was not the only one to take home a prize throw. Kate, who rebounded after the home-visit, requested “The Girls Parade.” So we piled up and went back out to take in Muses. Muses was on the main parade route and had many, many more people than the previous parades. It was packed!
When so many had doubted the possibility, belittled the successes, and ignored the reality — in that moment, with the whole world watching, our Saints emerged on top. The similarities between that story and our own are so obvious that it shouldn’t be a surprise that yesterday, today, and tomorrow are not because or about or for some sport. What is there not to get?
The scoring drink was New Orleans rum, fresh pineapple juice (yes, Ann Marie juiced a pineapple, do not doubt this woman’s dedication to doing things right), lime, and bitters. Good thing that we decided to celebrate in this way, or else the moments of the game may have been more of a blur — because what a game!
Thanks to the short-cut Emmy had learned earlier in the day from a friendly taxi-driver who was stuck in traffic near her (think: banging on window ‘hey lady, you must take secret road! trust me!’) we made it around traffic, into downtown, and safely within a parking space in record time. Then hoofed it down to Canal.
Which, to the first time in my memory, was completely closed to traffic.
I’ve heard about destruction in celebrating groups; when Virginia Tech won a key basketball game while I was a student there, I remember some car destruction and something about a street light coming down. That sort of thing is what police ready for after big game wins, so I hear.*
This didn’t happen here, at least not last night. And I doubt that it is the sort of thing that locals would do; there are other ways of celebrating.
Like doing the jitterbug. To hip-hop Saints re-mixes.
But then a dixieland jazz song starts. And you may need to learn some crunk moves. Someone in the crowd will teach you.
I know this sounds flip, but I’m really reporting what was happening. What happens here. The sort of party our City throws.
Here’s the thing. In other places, you get up and get dressed or cleaned up or whatever so that you can walk out of your house and go see something, go experience some cultural thing. In New Orleans, we get up and get dressed and go out of our homes and we ARE that cultural thing. It happens because we create it.
There is something very satisfying about living here that fulfills a natural and often forgotten part of life in the United States: that we long to have responsibility in making happiness and celebration in our communities. Purposefully making time and putting energy into merry-making seems very irresponsible in the specter of the American work-ethic. Energy into something that seems so opposite from work comes across as lazy and extraneous; and over time, I think we forget to really appreciate the beauty of life and the necessity of celebrating a moment.
This correction of priorities is something I learned living abroad. It wasn’t an easy lesson, either. It STILL isn’t. But it is the way of life in New Orleans, and gives us incredible rich experiences that remind us of what life is about and how we truly want each day to be.
And so we went. Into the Quarter and through the Quarter.
Stopping for high-fives, dancing with strangers, listening to musicians on the street, following bands in a second line.
This picture is silent, but the reality was full of voices and music and joy and laughter.
Here’s a video of a second line that passed us on our way to Frenchman Street.
Most bars and clubs were empty — everyone was out on the street — but we did stop into a few to listen to who was playing inside. (Including these kids below, who were very good and also seemed very young; I’m officially a woman who says things like, ‘does their Mother know they are out this late?’)
Paul took the pictures above and below.
But like I said, the party was really in the streets.
Eventually, we got back into the Quarter and into Jackson Square — note the quiet below — but Cafe du Monde, right across the street, was filled at 2:30am. We had to wait for a table and wave down a waitress. (Worth it; the cafe au lait helped get us the rest of the way to the car.)
How wonderful that we were able to celebrate the Saints with so many — and right here, in New Orleans.
Even if you’re not here, please do celebrate with us! Here’s the soundtrack. And here’s something else, something wonderful, to read. Geaux Saints! And bless dem boys and New Orleans!
* Something crazy did happen — along Bourbon and Iberville — though I don’t know much more than this report. We were around that area, at roughly that time, and didn’t see or hear anything alarming. What a shame that someone had to ruin the night for others and what a blessing it wasn’t any worse.
So there’s the one job that is going really well but applications for the new fellows are due Friday and the questions and the calls and meetings and the board and ad hoc committees and event planning and current Fellows and writing articles and doing interviews, well, it’s a busy work time — but then the other job is gearing up again, too, so Sunday I did the design layout for 15 or so groupings for this conference next month, but there are meetings and measurements and emails and phone calls to confirm all that — and then the dissertation, which I’m really working on for real and have to call back my committee chair after seeing him out at a bar last weekend so I owe him a call but can’t get over to do it — and then we bought a mattress for the first time ever yesterday and it’s a Keetsa and we’re so excited — and we also got a ‘returned, no box’ TV on big time clearance from Sam’s because we’re hosting the Superbowl party on Sunday and yes I ordered fajitas from Whole Foods and picked up some chips and drinks but need to clean out the back room of dangerous tools and other things so that the kids can play — and my mother-in-law and her friend arrive on Friday and she’s a gardener and all the flowers are dead from the freeze and still sitting there dead on the porch can you imagine the horror — did you call Sears, the ice maker is broken and it’s under warranty — and it’s Carnival season, which is actually a whole season, not a day, sort of like Thanksgiving, Christmas, Halloween, and the Fourth of July, all wrapped up together except that they go on every day for more than two weeks — and there’s sittings for photography clients, yes clients, how did that happen? — wait, did you see this video, you have to see it — who dat nation united — and oh, the kids have appointments and school conferences and nightly homework, and soccer practice and soccer games — and Paul just signed on for more work — and then after the more work, an old boss calls and wants Paul to contract for even more work — Will, do you have clean uniform shirt to wear to school today — oh, by the way, maybe I’m in DC the week of Mardi Gras — and can I come and have a meeting at the school of social work about more teaching? — and did we put cash in the envelope for the field trip, I don’t know — what’s for dinner — did you pick up the drycleaning, I didn’t know there was drycleaning — he hit me Mommy and I didn’t do anything — Paul why is the phone not working — have you seen the warranty for the ice maker anywhere, I swear it was in this file — wait, is the vacuum clogged again, can you check it is making this sound — why is the fridge thumping — taxes, taxes, did you sign the forms wait I’m not done where are the forms — did you hear the dryer buzz– oh no, Kate, that took paint off the wall — it was my night to make dinner, why didn’t you tell me — the cat just threw up on our bed — let’s go buy a TV, why not — my head hurts, take some medicine — it’s just a lot right now but I’m okay, thanks for asking.
Last week, I joined A-M, an actress/singer friend of mine, to take part in an “Improv Anywhere” style event. On the request of another friend, we crashed her hospital nursing department’s Employee of the Year luncheon. A-M was the crazed fan. I was the paparazzi. The shtick was that A-M (character name: Nola Bee) was a hospital volunteer and completely head-over-heals for the Employees being honored at the event. Mz. Nola Bee brought a book — complete with staff pictures and areas for signatures — and dutifully requested each to sign with me snapping away (“she’s photographing for my documentary”). A matching red-wig for me and a few practice sessions and I think we could have pulled a Sweeney Sister routine out, too.
I can officially check “Crash a formal event” off of my bucket list. Maybe even add it to my resume?
Carnival is gearing up. Krewe du Vieux was over the weekend. Krewe du Vieux is one of the earliest parades and is known for its satirically-oriented adult theme. It’s not the parade to bring the kids to, particularly if you child wants to know why the Governor is in THAT position, for-goodness-sake. The whole leaving the kids at home situation has made it tough for us to go in the past. This year, a friend graciously offered her 16-year old for sacrifice: he watched 4 kids (ages 2, 3, 4 and 6 — two were his younger siblings, two were ours) waaaaay past their bedtimes. It felt a little like babysitting crashing; which, for the record is very worth it.
For us, Krewe du Vieux was a great night out with many friends.
Costumes are encouraged, of course, so we obliged. I wore my favorite purple wig (Kate: “Mommy, why isn’t your hair white?” Me: “Because I thought I’d make it LAVENDER, that’s a fancy word for light purple!”) I also used a purple and gold feather boa as a scarf (it was cold) and left purple plumes flying behind me wherever I went. Paul wore a Fleur-di-Lis cape and helmet. To my knowledge, no one got a picture of us and for that, I admit, I lose 2 points and do not pass go.
To be fair, we were busy. Friends, socializing, drinks, food, and parade and all.
The bar where we collected ourselves for the start of the night had food for sale outside, including FRITO PIE. I had never heard of this culinary delight before and I can honestly state our horizons have been significantly broadened. Open up a bag of Fritos, dump in a scoop of your favorite chili, and viola! FRITO PIE. A friend demonstrates it’s goodness:
It really IS good. I’m still craving it two days later. And with the assortments of bagged junk foods available, the creative options are endless.
After the parade and after-parades filed through, we made our way down Frenchman and eventually ducked into Maison, the very location of the coming Krewe du Vieux and Krewe du Jew (no, I’m not making this up) after-parties. A great brass band was playing and eventually we found drinks and headed up to the (relatively) quiet upstairs where we snagged chairs at the balcony.
The place was actually quite cleared out for over an hour (the crowded area shown above had a kid hulla-hooping in it for awhile).** We enjoyed more bar-eats and general conversation. And then I saw my Committee Chair. Yup, the very person who holds all the cards in my game of doctoral degree-seeking. Then he and his girlfriend joined us for awhile. At first, it felt a little like being out at a party with your parole officer, but hey, it’s Carnival time in New Orleans.
** We left when the Krewes were arriving — had to clear out to get back to the kids — but here’s a video of the fun when the Krewes entered!
It’s playoff day. The entire city is buzzing. Everyone is happy. Even people in work uniforms are wearing black and gold.
Football? What’s that? I’m talking about the Saints!
We go blue in the face talking about this adopted home of ours and in light of the questions — How can you live in New Orleans? Why do you stay there? How IS New Orleans these days? — I was hoping to find some words to describe what it’s like to be here right now. In this season, this day, this moment, where every living thing is thinking and wishing and hoping for the same thing. This particular marvel of unified thought and energy is actually quite common in New Orleans — we all come together each and every Mardi Gras Day, when we reach up hopeful hands for a Zulu Coconut — but in this instance, in this time and place, we are coming together in a whole different way. This is something that we can be proud of on a National scale. In a way and with a spirit that is unique. The examples are everywhere, but it’s still hard to explain; take this, written last month while we were still undefeated:
… These are strange and beautiful days in New Orleans, and they must be seen to be believed. … Last week, when I went down to experience the mania over the Saints’ undefeated season firsthand, I found myself not sure whether every street was a dream. Some moments made me laugh, and others were so full of a desperate love that I had tears in my eyes.
Where do you even begin? Maybe you describe the couture shops that have replaced the latest fashions on the storefront mannequins with Saints T-shirts? Maybe you tell how vampire novelist and native New Orleanian Anne Rice, never much of a football fan and now living on the West Coast, recently ordered a Drew Brees jersey with “Anne” on the back. Maybe you use numbers: 84 percent of the televisions in town were tuned to the recent Monday night game against the Patriots. Maybe you use bizarre trends, such as an NOPD cop telling me the 911 calls almost stop when the Saints play …
There are other things, too. The Cinderella story of our Saints resonates far beyond the football fan base. Read any article about New Orleans then go to the comments and it all makes sense. We see the hate: the assertions that the city should be left to rot, the value judgments on our population, the incredible lack of compassion and ignorance of fact. Yeah, we know it’s some Ditto-head in dark, lonely basement apartment, spewing hate while some porn site loads on another browser window. But we also know that this loser isn’t spouting off thoughts that haven’t occurred in the minds of more reasonable people. The fact that our team is composed of players who were similarly doubted, or misjudged, or miscast is simply part of our shared history, where defeat, resurgence, rebuilding, and celebration are all part of the package:
” … They are a motley group, undrafted guys and late-round fliers, players cast off from other teams. Brees landed in town after an injury convinced the Chargers that his best days were behind him. “When we came here,” he has said, “I was in the process of rebuilding, as well.”
Running back Mike Bell was out of football. So was cornerback Mike McKenzie, who watched the games from the stands with a mouthful of food before getting the call a few weeks ago. Darren Sharper arrived unwanted and has resurrected his career. Running back Pierre Thomas wasn’t drafted. Star wide receiver Marques Colston wasn’t drafted until the seventh round of the 2006 draft, and his college football program, Hofstra, just folded.
It goes on and on. This is a team of underdogs. …”
I know that folks love their home teams, their home cities, and all stuff that comes with it. Every place has something special about it. But today? This season? Well, the professional sport writers put it best:
May I root against the New Orleans Saints?
No, you may not. Rooting against the Saints is like rooting against Elin Nordegren. They’re the Sentimental Team of the Century; if Dick Enberg were calling the NFC championship game, he’d need a trailer truck of Kleenex. Even if you forget everything that New Orleans endured during Hurricane Katrina—and how could you?—they’re the Saints, the former Aints, one of the most hard-luck franchises in the history of hard luck. Not long ago, newborns came into the world in New Orleans hospitals with tiny grocery bags on their heads.
If the Saints win this weekend, we expect the Louisiana Superdome to levitate off the ground, stop at Parkway Bakery & Tavern for a roast beef po’boy and fly straight to Miami for the Super Bowl.
Around here? We’re preparing for take-off.
Wanna come along? This will help out.
You know the story, right? International health... work all over the place... drag my kids around in sacks through villages in Central America... yadda yadda. I decided to go for another degree, so in 2004 we moved to New Orleans with no intention of staying.
And then *blink*blink* New Orleans is a completely different place and we just can't leave. Suddenly I'm on TV talking about immigrants and health and Paul is starting a company. Or two. His side is high-tech, mine is community health and our lives are yearly evacuation, regular celebrations, and nonstop work here, there, and everywhere. Our door is always open. I only ask that if you decide to go ahead and make yourself that mint julep, you make one for me, too.