After parading ourselves silly through Carnival season then St. Patrick’s week, St. Joseph’s Day was the next citywide celebration in New Orleans. Celebrated predominantly in parts of Sicily, St. Joseph (of Mary and Joseph fame) is credited with ending a famine during the Middle Ages by answering the city’s prayers for rain. Since then, the people of Sicily and their New Orleanian ancestors have been preparing an annual feast on elaborate altars, turning no one away from the bounty and giving the leftovers to the indigent. Like with St. Patrick and his festivities, the vast majority of New Orleanians are neither Irish nor Italian, but they know a good party when they see it. I imagine they heard the word feast and the rest was history. No other city outside of Sicily takes the tradition so seriously.
Throughout the city, churches, homes and bars erect the traditionally 3-tiered altars and festoon them with red fabric, religious icons and flowers. To say that the altar offers a cornucopia of food is to understate both the quantity of food and the beauty of the display. We went first to the altar in the courtyard behind the gorgeous and iconic St. Louis Cathedral erected in 1727.
Kind women kept encouraging us to take more cookies. I liked the breads baked into hearts and crucifixes and the cake adorned with the image of trumpeter, Louis Prima. Music and food are definitely a religion here that crosses the boundaries of denomination, age, race and all that jazz. A Louis Prima cake on the St. Joseph’s altar behind the Cathedral is about as New Orleans as it gets and the baffled tourists who wandered in seemed delighted to have stumbled onto the feast.
But, we ate light as crawfish season has begun and though the early catch is notoriously small and pricey, we filled big salad bowls with crawfish and giant shrimp then ate ourselves silly.
Next, we walked to the Marigny to join the One Year Anniversary Party/St. Joseph’s Feast at the Lost Love Lounge. Kudos to the people who obviously put hours of work into constructing the altar as well as those who labored to make the beautiful meal. It was like a work of art. I felt like I should whisper in its presence.
It was so tempting to stay and join the meal being served at 7pm, but I’d never been to the Italian-American Marching Club Parade, so we made our way back to Bourbon Street. It’s rare for parades to work their way down Bourbon and I can say now that it’s not the greatest route. Though I loved the Chris Owens Easter Parade that rolls Bourbon and plan to attend it again this year, the Italian parade with its many, many stops at local generous bars fell to pieces by the time it made its way to our section of Bourbon.
Things started auspiciously enough with Ms. Jones, our second-line umbrella-pumping event regular, making her way down the street followed by the NOPD clearing the street with assistance from a tight nightclub-dressed neighbor. This city is full of symbiotic relationships and strange bedfellows. The NOPD figured out years ago that this “woman” commanded respect while entertaining the masses where Bourbon Street meets St. Ann’s at what locals call the “Velvet Line,” what others would call, “Boys Town.”
I only wish she would have stuck around because shortly after she and the Farhad Grotto Bug Patrol rounded the corner, things became slow and confused. Every 20 minutes or so, another float would roll by, mostly filled with white-dressed little girls smiling and waving, at breakneck speed. Talk about hurry up and wait. At some point, people had no idea there was a parade happening at all and blocked the streets again, not even moving as dance troupes or floats came at them.
That said, the dancers were plentiful and pretty, including Dance Connection, Gold Dusters, Renee Borne, Operation Dance, Pure Envy, Diamond Girls, Southern VooDoo Dolls, Dance Innovation and the fun and bawdy marching club, Muff A Lottas. And, for a girl who’d never seen one St. Joseph’s Altar, the parade brought me my third in one day – a huge display of mostly fresh produce in the shape of a cross, prepared by Rouses.
Lessons learned? Next year, we’ll either catch the Italian parade earlier, as we heard that it was a heck of a parade before all the distractions of Bourbon Street, or we’ll stay and fill our bellies at Lost Love Lounge. If those cookies from the Cathedral were any indication, the food is rustic and subtle and tasty as heck.