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Watching Treme this season has really pulled at my heartstrings and got me thinking about death and mourning in NOLA. There have been several funerals, wakes and memorials for members of the community. There were a few last year as well; death and NOLA seem to go hand in hand at times, especially post-K.
While I knew about the tradition of a jazz funeral and the procession and second line that followed, I was unaware of the tradition at Mardi Gras of scattering ashes in the Mississippi River during the Sainte Anne’s parade. I need to make sure to go to that next Fat Tuesday.
The Krewe’s website explains: “Before dying, friends asked to participate posthumously in one last Ste. Anne celebration, and so, after Rex passed on Canal Street, the Ste. Anne parade-goers would make a turn and carry their ashes to the river. On the banks of the Mississippi, Schindler, Poché and others would first dip the ribboned hula-hoops in the water and sweep them back over the people gathered behind, sprinkling droplets over the crowd in a kind of baptism. Then they would set the ashes of their friends upon the water.”
This scene was captured beautifully this season when Toni took Creighton’s ashes to be scattered (if you don’t watch Treme, two main characters). There was something so sacred and beautiful about the ribboned hula hoops sprinkling the water…very similar to a baptism ritual in Christianity, or a blessing in many churches. But to me scattering of ashes…dust to dust…is so poetic.
The show also re-enacted the funeral of Dinerral Shavers, a member of the Hot 8 Brass Band who was killed at the end of 2006. They seem to have done it right as they do with so much of the show. Not only is it based on the descriptions of those that were there, but Glen David Andrews who was one of the last to see Dinerral, and Dinerral’s own sister who gave her eulogy again, played roles in the show, as did members of the Hot 8 Brass Band. There is a moment during the funeral when the musicians all lift their instruments above their heads; completely chilling and spine-tingling.
On the latest episode of Treme a wake of sorts is held for one of the musicians who died at the end of the previous episode. A few songs really stood out for me in this episode…One is Jon Cleary’s Frenchman Street Blues. It’s a song he wrote for a friend’s funeral and he revives it for a tribute to Harley.
Sprinkle my tears on Frenchmen Street. Don’t be upset at the news. Don’t cut me loose with a soulful song. And don’t play no Frenchmen Street Blues. It’s been a ride on the river breeze. With leaves and fields so green. I join the spirits lookin’ down on the smilin’. On the back streets of old New Orleans.
Will the Circle Be Unbroken was the other one that stood out. It reminded me of this scene towards the end of Boys on the Side…one that never fails to make me cry. It also builds on the theme of death and mourning.
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