Monday, February 28, 2011

Second Day: Breakfast, First St. United Methodist, French Quarter, The Oscars and Mediterranean Dinner!

We did not have to leave HONO until 10:45 am, and yet the little house was buzzing at 7:30. Being so unused to having an adequate amount of sleep, it seems us Juilliard students don't know what to do with ourselves once we get it. Coffee is brewed, pancakes are made, clementines are devoured. Breakfast of champions? Ay.

And then it's off to the church we go! Many of us are not Methodist, or even religious, and yet most of us decide to attend for our own reasons. Whether it's the fact that students who will be at the Dryades YMCA later in the week will be there, or because we are intrigued by what the sermon might be that day.

After the service, the congregation was invited into the multi-purpose room adjacent to the nave to watch us perform. About 20 members of the congregation watched as all the divisions were represented in short pieces (many of which were organized the night before). After the first piece, an explosion of sound filled the room. We were all stunned: they really love us! And then most of noticed - if not already - that it was our very own Josh Allen that was making that noise in support of our fellow classmates. Thereafter, the response to each piece went up in volume as more and more people had smiles on their faces and felt comfortable to really give the performers a hand. We finished with the entire NOLA team singing 'Lean on Me,' and were invited to mingle with the audience members and indulge in some food (and some delicious fruit punch).

Feeling energized from the performance, we made our way into the French Quarter for lunch beside the Mississippi River. Although the wind from the river made it challenging to keep our food in containers, it proved to be an scenic lunch spot. When we planned for this trip, most of us didn't realize that we would be in New Orleans in the heat of the Mardi Gras celebration. The French Quarter was filled with excited tourists, pining for beads and "huge ass beers" (direct quotation). As we walked through crowds of people clad in body paint and tutus, we marveled at the work of local artists that filled the streets. Yelling the word "BEADS" usually resulted in someone throwing shiny plastic at us from balconies. Derek even won a dollar...

Slowly but surely, all of us were inundated with insanely dressed dogs. Many of us questioned whether playing dress up with pets was a residency requirement during the fesitivites. We shorlty learened that Barkus - the annual Mardi Gras dog parade - was upon us. From a hot dog (where the dog was wedged between synthetic buns), to a giant Dalmation in a tutu, to a pair of Norfolk Terriers in matching joker outfits.

The actors even had the good fortune of going to Tennessee Williams house. Little did these actors know that this historic landmark was now occupied by actual residents, who did not take the screaming of "Stella!!" too well.

It wouldn't be right to leave the French Quarter without visiting Southern Candymakers. Their sign says it all: "Best Pralines." We left the Mardi Gras celebration with sufficient sugar highs and tired feet.

We came down from this high as we traveled to the Lower 9th Ward, a portion of New Orleans still seeing the effects of Katrina. We drove through at night, and the juxtaposition of the houses which haven't been touched in close to 6 years with the other houses built by the Make it Right Foundation - Brad Pitt's eco-friendly and futuristic venture - was jarring. Remnants of spray painted X's on the walls of damaged houses with water lines are reminders of the fatal nature of Katrina. As we rode in silence, our purpose for coming to Louisiana became a reminder for returners on the trip and an undeniable reality for the new members of the team. The culmination of this experience occurred when we passed by the completed home we help built last year. A woman sat on the front porch reading - most likely vexed by the two large white vans that slowly drove past.

Grateful to experience both the cultural exuberance of Mardi Gras and the stark reality of the Lower 9th Ward, we came back to HONO ready to eat, sleep... and admittedly watch the Oscars.

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