New Orleans is a strange, dichotomous city. For every major celebration that goes on here, be it Mardi Gras, Christmas, or Halloween, there are two, three or even four very different experiences of the event. First, we are a tourist destination. Tourism is a major part of our economy, and we love our visitors. Most tourists seek out the French Quarter, and head to Bourbon Street, where there is liquor, music and partying. On Halloween, Bourbon Street is a crowded swirl of chaos.
But as a general rule, locals do not go to Bourbon Street. We prefer Frenchmen Street, or the Bywater, or the Tremé for our celebrations. There we see our friends and family, rather than our cherished visitors, and our celebrations take on a much more local (and often ethnic, if you will) feel.
So on Halloween, I took a stroll down Frenchmen Street and into the lower end of the Quarter in the late afternoon. I was planning to stay out all evening and take a lot more photos, but it began raining pretty heavily by 8 p.m., and that put an end to that plan. I returned home a bit down, feeling like I had nothing to show for Halloween 2013, at least photo-wise.
But I was wrong. I realized that in the late afternoon I'd captured what might be the essence of Halloween, or any day, in New Orleans. Locals being themselves, and having a great time doing it.
One problem with Halloween in New Orleans is that it's hard to tell when people are in costume, or just dressed normally (like the couple above, for instance). People around here express their personal style every day. I was speaking to a friend recently who said "I was sitting by Bayou Saint John having lunch, when a canoe sailed past. The person in the canoe had on a unicorn mask. At that moment I realized I could never live anywhere else but here!" I agree. People in this city have a personal flair. No one here allows fashion magazines to dictate taste: they dress as they feel, they develop a personal style, and if a unicorn mask suits them that day, why they put one on and face the world.
But on Halloween, by and large people don costumes. Many costumes in the Quarter are makeshift, and joyously so. My friends who are busking musicians (musicians who play on the streets for tips and CD sales) all seemed to have thrown something awesome together at the last possible minute. Costumes among buskers ranged from face paint to using traffic cones as hats, from tin foil antlers to sports team clothing.
"Superband" (above and below) is a large, unwieldy mass of local buskers who decided about a year ago to just have fun and play together. Many of them tour throughout the summer, and return to New Orleans in the winter (just as I do), so membership in Superband depends largely on who is in town at the moment. One never knows which musicians will show up to play with Superband on any given day, but on this day, about 20 musicians showed up in costumes:
Locals crowd the streets to listen to bands like Superband, sitting shoulder-to-shoulder with our tourists. Today some were in rather adorable make-up.
I found a few great costumes walking around Royal Street, then as I turned on Dumaine down to Decatur...
Washington Square, a small park off Frenchmen Street, is a mecca for squatters and train riders, people who "hop" freight trains as transportation, coming to New Orleans for the warm winters. They often "squat," meaning they live in abandoned buildings. Since Katrina we have plenty of those. It's a lifestyle these people choose, and are happy with. This couple are train riders who created makeshift costumes while sitting in the park (if you look closely in some of the photos, you'll see a homeless man sleeping with his dog in the background):
She showed me a patch she'd been sewing. The skull signifies Day Of The Dead (the day after Halloween, and the day I sit writing this); the lines indicate train track, the symbol train riders display to show that they "hop" trains, or "hobo," as a lifestyle. They are very proud of this symbol:
When the rain began I headed indoors. But here in NOLA, Halloween comes early and stays late: tonight and tomorrow we have Day Of The Dead celebrations, a holiday even bigger than Halloween down here.
I leave you with this final shot, taken on Royal Street. (All photos by Kenny Klein, taken on the afternoon of October 31, 2013).