“The Greatest Mardi Gras Illusion: The Happiness of the Poor”

Louisiana Recovery Rebuild New Orleans

06_rexMarch 8, 2011 In the Bywater – New Orleans Cheyenne, my old, arthritic Australian cattle dog, needed walking so we jumped out on the street early in a light, warm drizzle hoping to beat the crowds moving towards parades in a couple of hours. No such luck. Within a block from the house we ran into a curious tribe of more than 100 marchers with halloweeney kinds of shirts, calling themselves “The Bones,” accompanied by clanging street signs, pots and pans, noise makers, and smoke bombs.

They went to Rampart and I continued on course on my normal route towards the Press Street railroad tracks, the dividing line between Bywater and Marigny. A straggler group of twenty or so ended up somehow behind me so it seemed as if Cheyenne and I were acting as Spy Boy for this crew. Reaching our old shotgun double, I saw my daughter, Dine’, in the living room and called her out for a look. She hipped me to the fact that the Bones were trying to revive an old Mardi Gras tradition in the African-American community of neighborhood marchers.

The bigger news was the front page story on the thinly disguised police riot a couple of blocks from where I was standing on Sunday night around 10:30 PM that disrupted the Krewe of Eris. The Times-Picayune front page headline had been: “Police, marchers clash in Marigny: Six officers injured in melee.’ Dine’ had told me the story early Monday morning. Police had chased down marchers and bystanders and in several cases brought them to the ground and hit them with tasers. The end of her story had been that “it was one of the first times I was ashamed of New Orleans,” and that’s serious stuff in our family. The article didn’t spin the same cover-up as the headline had advertised, and quoted at length from a participant about the police’s unruly behavior. Another observer told the reporters about the police provocation with “ear splitting sirens.” Dine’ had seen a couple of marchers flick bits of their costumes at a police car, but that’s hardly damage. The police version has not come out yet, which local observers know always means that they are monitoring the story to see what they can get away with. In New Orleans only a fool would ever believe the police version of anything at this point. There is no sign despite and new mayor and a new chief that the police are anything but out of control still, despite tough talk and drum banging downtown.

At the end of her block all sides of the march converged. As Cheyenne and I tried to get by, we finally saw the Bones banner leading the way and both of us had to nod in resigned agreement as we read the white letters on the homemade black background: The Greatest Mardi Gras Illusion: The Happiness of the Poor.”

The folks uptown and in what’s left of city business will have their parties and toast each other at the balls. The hotels and restaurants are touting the late date as a boon for business.

Otherwise in the Crescent City, same ol,’ same ol.’