The Canadians, Decatur Street
We shared a table with a Canadian couple the other night, waiting for the parade to start. The man was already four scotches into the delay, but still seemed sober. His girlfriend was adjusting her scarf, watching out for him, watching out for herself, the surface tension inside her glass sliding down slowly. They were a slightly older couple from Toronto with one of those Train A/Train B origin stories: leaving lives set far apart only to meet and scream one alongside the other due to speed and time and distance. They were enjoying the merits of young divorces. Now they were in New Orleans to reinforce their romance and had freshly arrived at the only table that had two empty chairs, right next to us.
By 'waiting for the parade start,' I mean waiting for it to meet up with us. The parade had started an hour an a half ago, breaking open with a cheer as the condensed floats and marchers took their first steps forward, adding to the separation between each unit. A parade succeeds when its tensed spectacle can stretch into phrases.
But it must have been slow going for them down Royal Street, bottlenecked by their own spectators. A New Orleans parade moves in a straight line down a predetermined path, but it can still be subject to friction. Flame-eared devils slow down to pass trinkets to open hands. Bearded ladies pause to pose for pictures. Wider floats wait for the eager, rubberneck crowd to realign. It all takes time, and those of us at the far end of the route: the Canadians, us, and the fifty shiny strangers twirling cocktail straws and counting out their remaining dollar bills, we all chat and turn at every flash of light through the window and think of it as waiting for the parade to start.
The Canadians, though, have their own way of looking at things. They have been walking close together in unordained paths, speculating about their own spectacle. Walking as if they were powering the landscape with their footsteps, as if they were causing the whole city to move around the fixed point of their own awe. When they stop the city stops. When they push off with the balls of their feet, feel the strain in their calves, the storefronts grudge then budge then start to slide easy again. The city itself is a parade with sparkling streamers hiding whatever mechanism is underneath responsible for hauling it forward.
“The music always seems to be above our heads,” the visitors say to us. They mean as if it's coming from the balconies. They mean like slow afternoon radio on speakers hung up in shop ceiling nooks like fly paper. They mean like in a parade when you are standing in a gutter and the brass band is marching along the apex of the humped street.
The parade arrives, heralded by the cop lights, and the bar crowd swells the company along the sidewalk, slings arms around the old balcony posts and stacks plastic drinks on newspaper vending boxes.
We study the the backs of their bobbing heads and upthrust hands blocking any view of the marching brass bands, only allowing sightlines to their instruments: the big bell of a tuba oscillating like a summer fan, the dancing edge of a trombone, the top end of a bass drum jumping up above the surface when the big man holding it tosses it up to readjust the weight across his chest.
The sounds scatter and bleat but somehow are united, and the Canadians gather them up to carry home.