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‘GANGS’ OF NEW ORLEANS

Outside of the black neighborhoods in New Orleans, few know the tradition of Mardi Gras Indians is so rich and complex. But University of New Orleans history professor Al Kennedy does, through more than 70 interviews with Donald Harrison, who rose through the ranks of several of the city’s highly hierarchical Indian “gangs,” as the Indians themselves call them, to become a big chief. With Harrison’s life as the backdrop, Kennedy’s new biography/history, Big Chief Harrison and the Mardi Gras Indians (Pelican Publishing), throws back a veil on the colorful, intricately beaded subculture. The exact origins of the Crescent City’s Mardi Gras Indians are lost to time — there is no contemporary written account — but the oral tradition among its adherents is strong, and Harrison, as steeped in French existentialism as he was in the mores of New Orleans’ black neighborhoods, had a fierce respect for the “elders” who came before him. Harrison died in 1998, but his accounts for Kennedy will long serve as yet another testament to the unbelievably vibrant and diverse character of a great city. Big Chief Harrison and the Mardi Gras Indians retails for $35 and is available at virtual and brick-and-mortar book sellers everywhere. — Walter Pierce

ITS A CINCH

The first thing you have to figure out about Annie Odell’s Bootie Belts, made out of vintage ties, is how to wear them. I passed them around the office, most folks threaded them around their waists, but I saw one guy who did the traditional thing, hung it around his neck looped with a four-in-hand. Either way, the nifty little Velcro-zipped pocket on the end is handy for holding the essentials: credit card, $20 bill, cell phone and lip gloss, all anyone needs for a day at the festival or a night on the town. Odell is a New Orleans artist and member of the Louisiana Crafts Guild. Her Bootie Belts, $35, are available at Sans Souci Fine Craft Gallery, call 266-7999 or go to www.louisianacrafts.org, for more info. — Mary Tutwiler

HOW’D YOU LIKE THEM ERYSTERS?

Fried. Oh so delicately in a thin crust of cornmeal. My favorite downtown plate lunch place, Antler’s, has just added fried oysters to the poboy menu and are they good. I crunched down on the poboy one day and just jonesed for those crispy oysters so bad that day two resulted in another order. This time, in an attempt to save myself from collapsing at the computer after lunch, I asked for the just-out-the-fryer oysters to be scattered over a green salad, along with a twist of bacon. Bleu cheese dressing on the side. Antler’s was accommodating, lunch was swell. Hurry up, however, the oysters are only on the menu through Lent. Poboy or salad, $9.95, call Antler’s, 234-8877, to order ahead. — MT

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