French Quarter, New Orleans

French Quarter, New Orleans

I’ve been to New Orleans more times than I can count, but as I planned my first post-Katrina trip, I wondered how much of its long-familiar landscape would still remain.

My New Orleans ritual has remained unchanged in all of those years.  It begins with beignets and café au lait at the Cafe du Monde, followed by a stroll around Jackson Square and a climb to the crest of the levee, where I sit and watch the boats plying the Mississippi.

Larger-than-life Louis Armstrong parade mask.

Larger-than-life Louis Armstrong parade mask.

On this morning as I sit in the cafe, a van pulls up and its two occupants extract from it a gigantic paper-mâché mask of Louis Armstrong.

Both men seem improbably short to be walking the streets with it perched upon their shoulders, but an entourage shortly appears, dressed in Mardi Gras finery.

"Second Line" dressed for a parade.

“Second Line” dressed for a parade.

The mask’s occupant appears and suits up, then the troop sets off down the streets for reasons and parts unknown.

More "Second Line"

More “Second Line”

 

It’s a perfect welcome back to New Orleans.

 

 

Jackson Square is always a feast for the eyes.  Artists who hang their work on its wrought iron fences are regulars, but the supporting cast of characters is constantly changing.

 

Jackson Square play date.

Jackson Square play date.

 

 

 

Today, two mothers sitting in the shade watch over a play date and what can only be described as the mini-van of baby strollers.

 

 

Across the square, a group of choir boys files down the sidewalk.

 

Choirboys near St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, New Orleans

Choirboys near St. Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, New Orleans

 

Motorcycle cowboy, Jackson Square, New Orleans

Motorcycle cowboy, Jackson Square, New Orleans

 

 

 

The engine of a motorcycle with longhorn handlebars and an honest-to-God cowboy saddle clicks and cools as its owner sitting nearby with guitar and harmonica, picking out a tune.

Hey, buddy, can you spare some change for gas?

 

 

 

 

 

Garden District, Washington St., New Orleans.

Garden District, Washington St., New Orleans.

 

I decide to revisit old haunts in the Garden District and hop aboard the St. Charles Street trolley, hopeful that I’ll find the District as unchanged by Katrina as the French Quarter seems to be.

"Katina cross" marks a hurrican damage inspection.

“Katina cross” marks a hurrican damage inspection.

At first not much seems out of place, but after only a few blocks’ walk I come upon my first vacant house marked with the infamous X-code, or “Katrina cross”… which many have mistakenly taken for a demolition flag.

The markings in each of its quadrants actually record the date and time that the house was searched, the identity of the searchers, and a count of people found in the home…  whether alive or not.

Lafayette Cemetery, Garden District, New Orleans

Lafayette Cemetery, Garden District, New Orleans

The Lafayette Cemetery #2 is five blocks off St. Charles St., at the corner of Washington and Loyola, and even though I’ve seen the St. Louis cemetery – the heavyweight among New Orleans burials – on past trips I can’t resist walking its lanes to check out the stories told by its gravestones.

Back in the French Quarter, I stop by the Central Grocery for the world’s best-known muffaletta sandwich before wandering the streets.

Funeral procession, New Orleans

Funeral procession, New Orleans

 

 

 

A procession led by a brass band appears, and I realize that I’m about to see my first New Orleans funeral parade.

Although such funeral parades were a widespread practice among both blacks and whites in New Orleans at the start of the 20th century, whites stepped away from the ritual in the years before World War I.

 

 

It was not until the 1960’s that it began to spread across ethnic and religious boundaries.

Funeral procession, New Orleans

Funeral procession, New Orleans

 

 

 

 

 

 

It feels far less like a funeral than it does a wake.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Funeral procession, New Orleans

Funeral procession, New Orleans

 

 

 

 

 

Many in the procession are dressed in black, and the mourners hold pictures of the deceased high.

 

 

 

 

 

Funeral procession, New Orleans

Funeral procession, New Orleans

One woman walks, turtle-like, beneath the weight of an ornately framed painting of a saint with cherubs.  From time to time, one or another breaks into dance.

Funeral procession, New Orleans

Funeral procession, New Orleans

I never manage to learn the name of the deceased, but the rousing and worthy send-off tells me that he’s someone who will be sorely missed by many… and that I can cross one more item off my bucket list.