by Ethan Clark
I know my last post was about Vi Landry's death and I'm not trying to dwell on it to bum out casual blogofneworleans readers, whoever you are, but I've been super ill this week and in between running a 102 degree fever while DJ'ing at the St. Roch Tavern on Saturday (as I do ever Saturday, hint hint) and breaking out in hives from head to toe (including one on the tip of my tongue) on Monday morning, the one thing I managed to do was bike down to the Bywater for Vi's Second Line.And may I say:I've been to a lot of parades, street parties, festivals, shows, whatever in New Orleans, all for a lot of different causes, and this was one of the most loving and beautiful events I've ever seen. About sixty or so people, mostly local Bywater and Midcity weirdoes: Local artists, punks and bohemian types mixed in with old neighborhood people who new Vi when she bar-tended at Vaughan's, or through her mom who lives on Alvar Street. Even Bill Moss, my old boss from French Quarter bikes, brought his trumpet down.
I never see that guy. There were also a couple of van loads of New Yorkers who came down all gathered on the corners of Dauphine and Press. As Vi's friend B.C. had said the day before at the funeral: "It takes a certain type of person to get a bunch of straight people and a bunch of freaky people in a room together, and Vi was that person." It was like a little replay of Mardi Gras's Sunday Night Krewe of Eris parade, only with a more serious tone.Friends had gotten together to commemorate Vi in every way they could think. A group had built a mock-up of a canoe (Vi had gone out and gotten a canoe while living in Brooklyn as a way to stay in touch with her Louisiana roots) which was being carried at the front of the parade covered in flowers, notes, candles and other offerings that people put aboard along the way. THis was being flanked by a little auxiliary canoe on wheels that had two flood-damaged trumpets mounted to its sides and was full of ice, water and booze. Some paraders wore shirts with an image of Vi surrounded by lilies on the breast. One New York friend had made a block print and printed patches with Vi's name surrounded by a heart, and several members of the marching band were rocking these on their suits and dresses and vests and hats as they bleated and banged out somber numbers like "I'll Fly Away" and "Closer Walk with Thee". We made our way down Dauphine Street to stop in front of Coffeea, where the band took a break then launched into more raucous and festive numbers. We headed over to Vi's Mom's house where she and mourning friends sat on the stoop and gratefully waved at the marchers and band as they played a couple of songs there. From there it was over to BJ's, then up to the levee and along the Industrial Canal. Seeing everyone running up the hill: A storm of colors, stripes, polka dots, petticoats, top hats, tails, Vi shirts, trumpets, trombones, bass drums, clarinets (well one, thank you Mr. Ben Schenk, and other Panorama members who showed up), and whatever else folks had thought to grab...At the Point behind the Naval Base where the Canal meets the Mississippi, as barges and dinghies puttered past us, speeches were made, songs were sung, tears were spilled and more offerings were added to the canoe before it was walked out into the river by a couple of guides (as the sun and temperature dropped) and set ablaze. It seemed like it might float back toward us, or even into the low hanging branches just up the bank from us, but it actually just lingered about twenty feet out as it burned, then collapsed in on itself and went out. As the band launched into "Down by the Riverside", folks danced and sang and popped champagne or, if they preferred, sat on the rocks and stared out over the river with their thoughts, and the charred boat actually caught the current and headed off toward the Gulf. "There she goes." I heard an older guy who I've seen over at BJ's say. After that everyone made their way over to Vaughan's where we were greeted lovingly by the owner and bartender. There was food and drink, more brass band tomfoolery in the street, and everyonw walked away, I think feeling not just full of love for Vi but for each other. Perhaps even a little more for each other than they had at the beginning of the day. It was definitely one of those times that makes both native New Orleanians and we that have chosen this lump of mud as home remember why we keep coming back.