Saturday, October 22, 2016

Celebrating a life

I got a message on Facebook - there was going to be a Second Line parade this Saturday to raise awareness of the need for more funding for the Public Defenders office - a shameful situation in the state of Louisiana and particularly in Orleans Parish. In the local office, only eight attorneys are available to handle up to 350 defendant's cases.

The parade was to start in the Treme, at Kermit Ruffins' Mother-in-Law Lounge on Claiborne. I parked past Esplanade on Villiere Street, and walked up to Claiborne; I heard the sound of a brass band and thought - Oh, I missed the start! So I hurried up and joined the throng parading under the I-10 bridge.

It was a respectable crowd, many people dressed in white suits with bright pink accoutrements - hats, feather boas, scarves, parasols. There was a Mardi Gras Indian chief in bright pink regalia, and, dancing in the lead, a Spy Boy in white feathers dashed with hot pink and green. There was also a horse-drawn coach, with a carriage that looked like a hearse.

I thought to myself, well, it's probably symbolic of the death of equal justice. Right? I didn't see any signs indicating support for the Public Defender's office, but I know that I am new to this city, and still learning how folks do things down here.

The parade crossed under the bridge and reversed itself; then wrapped back around and went down St. Phillip Street and disbanded right in front of the Charbonnet Funeral Home. That was when I put it together.

Family members
I spoke to a lady who was fanning herself with a stiff cardboard panel showing a photo of a pretty woman against a pink background. "Pardon me," I said. "Is this second line part of a funeral celebration?"

We are so used to parades here, now - parades to celebrate the annual milestone for a Social Aid and Pleasure Club, or to celebrate a wedding, a conference at the Convention Center, or the life of a celebrity musician. But second line parades are also part of a long tradition of celebrating the passing of loved ones. Often called "jazz funerals" this tradition couples the solemn march and hymns of a funeral with a joyous and rollicking celebration of the life of the person who has passed.

Big Chief
Looking for equal justice, I had instead stumbled into the Second Line celebration of Angela Montana-Clark, also known as "Angie B," a member of the Montana family of Mardi Gras Indian renown. It's OK for strangers to join in, as long as they are respectful - indeed, there was an entire Japanese film crew shooting the whole thing. I stayed around to watch and listen as family and friends sent Angie B off to a good home.

Spy Boy
That's the thing about New Orleans. You find yourself what you think is just a party, and then you learn that there's something deeper lying beneath. And you have to respect it. That's the richness of this city.

Another marcher, also documenting the parade.
Oh - as I was ready to head back to my car, I could hear the brass band of the Equal Justice parade over on the other side of Claiborne Avenue. Good for them - take it to City Hall. But I was already full of blessings for the day.

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