Walking tour through Mardi Gras
The following is an account of my experience participating in a walking tour of sorts. Although not exactly a sound walk or a derive, this tour challenged my ordinary daily orientation as it informed me of an alternate way of engaging with the place.
This past Tuesday was Mardi Gras. I had the opportunity to go back to New Orleans for the surrounding five days of this holiday. I am from there and try to return whenever it is possible, especially for Mardi Gras. I participated in a walking parade called the St. Anthony Ramblers (SAR). It is one of several hundred walking parades during Mardi Gras. These are different than the float parades in the way that they are organized. At least in SAR there are no designated royalty and the participants are neighbors and friends. Friends living on St. Anthony Street in the Marigny neighborhood started SAR nine years ago. A group of 150-200 people, including an eight person jazz band, walked through the neighborhoods (or Faubourgs) of the Marigny, Treme, and French Quarter. We started walking at 10am and continued on the 2-mile route for 5 hours.
The map of the route: click here
In the beginning, when we were close to our starting point, there were many people sitting on their stoops laughing and waving. As we got closer to the French Quarter, more people would come out and join us for a while. As we were all in full costume, dancing with a full band, many people were taking photographs of us. I had this funny moment when I stepped out from the street to take a picture of a costumed observer. I thought about the fluidity or shifting role between participant and observer.
Through out the day the route was punctuated by stops at various bars. Especially as the day progressed, these stops became increasingly chaotic resembling more of a street party than walking parade. At one point we were coming head on with another walking parade. A group decision had to be made- should we continue on and walk through each other or turn and take a detour. The decision was made to turn as it was later in the day and most of us were completely intoxicated and some may have gotten lost in the crowd.
Through the years SAR has walked a similar route. Since Katrina there have been so many changes to both the condition of the architecture as well as the general morale of the city. Like the rest of New Orleans, in the neighborhoods we walked through there were many unrepaired houses. I noticed the way light would shine through the holes in the houses in an eerie way.
I thought about the impressions the place has on my body. On one level there was a playful celebratory quality to the day but there was an intense undertone of loss and devastation. That I was dancing for most of the day along this pathway, I felt a certain transmission was enabled through the relationship between my body and the environment- as though dancing has the potential to download the subtle unseen emotionality of the city. Like lying still after a day in the ocean, for days after I felt a sadness or emptiness that accompanies loss.
I know that most of the people I was with are privileged in that they were even able to be present. Although many of my friends and family lost there homes there are so many people who cannot return to New Orleans. The feeling of the people I was with when they were walking this route was as though they were partying to survive, trying to reinfuse life in the city through dance and music.