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  • There’s a giddiness that comes when you spot the Mardi Gras Indians from a couple blocks off. Their vibrant, hand-sewn costumes are like beacons on the streets of Central City. One Sunday a year they show themselves, parading a wide circle around this hard-up neighborhood, decorating its concrete and filling Washington Ave., LaSalle St., Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

    It’s like a dream filled with tambourines and feathers, people clustered on the neutral ground in the middle of the street to bear witness, dance, drink a cold beer.
  • In all the surreal glory of the Indians, though, what I treasure are the smaller, more intimate moments.

    The Indian with an elegant black swan on his headdress and a mouth full of gold teeth murmuring to me that he just wishes he had some ice. A little ice. Hundreds of feathers get pretty steamy on a 78 degree day. I wonder whether the Taco Bell we pass by might give him a cupload for free. Hard to deny anything to such grandeur.
  • The man in a wheelchair who wheels himself in celebratory circles as the Indians approach. They greet him personally with chants and flourishes.
  • The little girl who yells at an Indian over and over: “take your wig off! Take your wig off! Take your wig off!” He smiles at her, but doesn’t. He’s the one with the photograph encircled in ribbons on the back of his costume. It’s of a woman with a baby in her arms—his mama? Grandmother?
  • The little boys decked out in full costumes, plodding along, serious expressions on their faces. They’re somber in their role, even as other small boys run around them, free of the feathers and the ceremony.
  • Then there are the dozens and dozens of us who can’t help ourselves and fill our cell phones with images of Indian after Indian. They’re patient, bestowing pose after pose upon us.

    Mid-afternoon, we’re parading down the middle of S. Claiborne Ave., past the fast food joints and the strip malls, and I look up at the horizon.

    There are feathers touching the sky today.
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