The Land of Creamy Beans February 13, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Rebirth, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Carnival, drum, Federico Fellini, Marcello Mastroianni, marching, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, oak trees, palm trees, parade
It is not necessarily the big moments, the arrival of the Krewe of St. Anne at Frenchman or the first steps onto the Fairgrounds at Jazz Fest, in which I find myself most perfectly at home in New Orleans. Rather it is in the little moments that make up life here, the odd bits of life in New Orleans that are the sub-title of this blog.
In the months that have passed since I rolled over the Causeway on Memorial Day 2006 some of the sense of wonder at being here after a 20-years’ absence has been replaced by the commonplace that I am, in fact, home in New Orleans. Most days I drive down the usual routes — Carrollton Avenue, say — and it is as if I had never left, had never walked out of one home and turned down the street to view the Capitol rising down Massachusetts Avenue North East, or bundled up in the foyer of a Fargo, N.D. home to go out and shovel snow off of my driveway.
There is a familiar parade of sights–Brocato’s and Venizia, Jesuit High School, the Rock ‘N Bowl in the mostly unchanged strip mall where my mother once purchased our school clothes at the D.H. Holmes discount store; crossing the Palmetto Canal, then past the seminary to the leonine pillars at Pritchard Place and the arches at Fountainbleau and then I’m in Carrollton: passing Palmer Park to where the restaurant names change but the buildings stay pretty much the same.
And them I’m rolling home like a small boat in a light swell, dodging potholes like a river pilot navigating sandbars. I might look up from the traffic and see on one hand the branches of a row of oak tree branches extended over the streets like the hand of a priest murmuring a blessing over a small child; on the other side, a procession of the bowed shapes of palm trees slouching on the neutral ground like women waiting to cross, the trunks in the arc of a body with a hand on one hip pushing the other out in a saucy pose, the crowning leaves like an elaborate Sunday crown. And then, the odd bit: something as simple and strange as a man standing like a saintly scarecrow, arms out and hands filled with breadcrumbs, his body covered with pigeons.
At that moment I almost expect to hear a shout of azione! and see Marcello Mastroianni stride into a scene suddenly reduced to black and white, raincoat draped over his shoulders and a cigarette hanging from his lip. He is watched intently by man with a high, furrowed brow and a full, combed-back haircut last seen in a faded photo on the wall of Brocato’s, who peers at the scene over a cameraman’s shoulder. The bird man in a fabulous landscape of trees receding into infinity is reduced to the backdrop of something more than the merely fantastic, becomes part of a pattern that is as comfortable with the irrational as any other state. It feels as if I have been tipped out of a cart, transported away from my routine commute between Carrollton and Mid-City and into a sound stage bounded only by the imagination, arriving suddenly and without warning in the New Orleans of dreamy dreams.
Some days the moments are not quite as mystical but are instead as perfectly New Orleans as any instant could be. Last Sunday as I was taking down the Mardi Gras beads I had wrapped the columns in front of the house with I hear a sound I at first feared might be gun shots. Then two children with drum heads and sticks marched side-by-side up Olympia Street to the corner of Toulouse, beating a march time. They were led by a third child in front with a whistle and, from the motions he made with his arm and the way he rocked his head first one way and then the other while tilted back on his shoulders, an imaginary drum major’s staff and feathered hat. He would blow a few notes on his whistle and the drummers would answer with a few beats of the drum, over and over in perfect parade order. They marched into the middle of the intersection, and with a wave of the imaginary staff and a long, shrill whistle burst, they stopped. The leader, after some pointing and prodding and appropriate huffing on the whistle, got them turned around and they marched off back up Olympia: tweet, tweet, tweet, DUM da dum dum; tweet tweet tweet, DUM da dum dum…
I looked at the beads in my hand after they had vanished, shaking my head slowly and smiling as I silently reminded myself: no where else, man, no where but New Orleans.