Old and New, Uptown and Down, Big and Small: Two Carnival loops

Update on Sunday: after posting this on Saturday morning, we heard last night that another fatality has happened on one of the mega float parades, this time during Endymion. This is a terrible situation for the victim’s family and also for the driver and the riders. It is clear that we need to do something more to protect everyone.
Update #3 and #4: Over the weekend, at least 2 riders fell from Uptown floats and 2 people fell from balconies overlooking St. Charles parade.) #dumpsterfireofaCarnivalseason

 

Now, back to the original post:

 

 

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Image of the Berkana Two Loops theory

 

 

First, Happy Carnival to all.  We are now in #deepcarnival which is the time between Muses Thursday to Fat Tuesday, where everything we do has something to do with preparing for guests, working on costumes, visiting with friends, or making plans for Tuesday.

I am most definitely a downtown Carnival person although I have spent many happy days over the last 40 years of my Carnival era on St. Charles and Magazine, catching float parades. I was also known to be regularly on MidCity parade routes with fond memories of Krewes of Mid-City, Carrollton among others  – although not in the more recent Chad-filled years (shudder).

So even though I will always be a downtown girl,  I do appreciate some of the parade energy that now transpires above and on Canal Street, and would love to see small parades come back to all neighborhoods – altho with limits to the number of riders and the height and length of floats. I even considered joining Muses in its first year and I continue to be impressed by their verve and design sense, including their prized, handmade throws made from recycled shoes, their inclusion of exciting dance troupes, and especially their parade in 2006 which was beautifully appropriate to the grief that we were all feeling. And like Muses and Zulu, some of the other krewes do try to do their part in supporting public needs. However, real community effort from others is often murky or their pro bono work pretty brand-new, especially considering their long history.

Notwithstanding what the float parades contribute in return for the use of our public space, one should still read this post as in favor of the downtown Carnival that emerged post-1972*, and in opposition to the mega float parades held Uptown of recent years.

(*That date, by the way, was chosen as it was the last year of the old-line float parades traveling through the French Quarter which is what led to the new.)

I’m linking to a wonderful piece by Charles Cannon written for The Lens about this being the golden age of carnival, which I wholeheartedly agree with. We both also agree that it is mostly a downtown golden age, especially in terms of addressing diversity, in its DIY attitude, in reducing the explosion of cheap, Chinese-made trinkets thrown that clog our waterways, and in powerfully satirizing the powerful and ridiculous which, by the way,  is often the same group.

From his piece:

Krewe du Vieux is quite conscious of itself not just as an insurrection, but also as a resurrection, an effort to recover from the anti-carnivalesque aspects of the 19th century Uptown Carnival model. Their mission statement expresses this ambition explicitly: “We believe in exposing the world to the true nature of Mardi Gras — and in exposing ourselves to the world.” Since Katrina, Krewe du Vieux has been joined by several other downtown parading clubs — ‘ti Rex, Chewbacchus, Red Beans — each of which follows the Krewe du Vieux model far more faithfully than the Uptown one, especially by keeping dues affordable.

But the ultimate expression of the carnivalesque instinct in our time is what happens downtown on Fat Tuesday itself. Here the line between spectator and performer is almost totally erased as thousands — whether costumed, masked or merely bystanders — converge in the streets in a utopian vision of mass civic participation. And on this day — if only for a day — we also witness New Orleans’ idealized sense of itself come down to earth to shape the city’s social reality.

 

(And as much as Charles is right in that KDV has a significant place in the origin story of post-72 Carnival, I’d say that the gay French Quarter Carnival community, the Society of Saint Ann, the revival of the Baby Dolls, the Skull and Bones Gangs, and the continued development of Mardi Gras Indian tribes are truly the founders of this golden age. And I know he’d readily agree with me.)

Let me now address the image I have at the top of this post and link it to Cannon’s theory. The two-loop framework (which I use with farmers markets and food system leaders quite often) is focused on how “change happens in human systems out of a spontaneous series of local actions, and how these actions facilitate the development of integrated networks of relationships in the pursuit of mutual interests and goals.”

Each loop has a growth side (i.e., germination, innovation, maturation, and rejuvenation) and a death side (i.e.stagnation, disintegration, and decomposition).  It is also important to remember that the “new” loop is not always seen as a positive development, especially by those who feel the need to “give hospice” to the old. In fact, the new is not even “seen” for a long while by many of those focused entirely on propping up the old.

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In terms of Carnival, the two-loop theory is clearly in play and can be seen roughly in line with the uptown/downtown traditions. Uptown Carnival, which centers almost entirely around float parades, and flags hanging from mansions denoting “royalty” grows larger, more unattainable, and ever more cumbersome. This year, they had to cancel an entire night of parades because of high winds. It is true that a walking parade might have also canceled due to discomfort or even danger from flying debris, but the fact that the authorities noted that the high profile of the tractor-pulled floats is what made them too dangerous to roll was telling. Additionally this year, a pedestrian has been killed on the Uptown route by a float.

Over the last few decades, in the name of safety and capacity, the police have asked almost all float parades to move to the St. Charles route, leaving only one mega-parade still in MidCity: the aforementioned Endymion which arguably should also move to that route as its size seems to be more than the police can handle downtown, based on recent tragedies before, during, and after its parade, and especially with the St. Charles route also in action on the same day. (On that note, it is my sense that for now, the Uptown route should be expanded and alternate streets used for alternate nights so that the crowds can move and stretch out more.)

Even as the massive parades grow larger and louder, my favorite downtown parade honors a New Orleans tradition of school-aged children making shoebox floats this time of year.  By going small, the ‘titRex krewe is a wonderful example of the new and the innovative while it also ensures its own sustainable future by having rules about its size and design.

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Caesar Meadows’s annual comix for tR; part of the beauty of this is each has to be handed directly to a person.

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2020 tiny treasures from ‘titRex, honoring two New Orleans musicians lost in 2019.

Moving past the danger from the size of the floats, the mega parades’ throws are most often made of cheap plastic or toxic plush and thrown from high above at groups of people, leading to a frenzy of grabbing and angry responses from those stepped on or pushed aside for these handfuls. Whole bags of toxicity are often thrown, or the plastic bags they are packed in tossed to the ground in the thousands without regard to the damage to the waterways and fragile infrastructure of our city. In contrast, downtown walking parades pride themselves on handmade throws (see above). Below is a picture of the 2020 version of the annual Fitzgerald Letterpress MG Day postcard that is shared with all passersby during his Fat Tuesday meandering.

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Finally, in terms of paradegoers, the takeover of public space for days or weeks by families and clans who believe they have the right to spray paint grass and to set up entire, cordoned-off cities is clearly in lockstep with the megafloat parade system. The brilliant writer Maurice Ruffin pointed out the two versions along the Uptown route this year in a series of tweets:

Those entitled encampments, and the bleachers available only for fees or through contact with “connected” people,  illustrate the one central issue with the old and why more and more people are moving to the new. The divide between those who feel exclusivity or overindulgence is the goal of Carnival (or of any public resource really) and those who think revelry (or insert “social contract” here instead) is at its best when it is critical of unchecked authority and human-scaled is at an all-time high, maybe the highest since the national crisis years of the 1850-1890s. Speaking of that era, many of those newer to the area are clearly as shocked to see the old version of Carnival still as prominent just as they were in finding the number and visibility of the pro-Confederacy statues and names that remained (and remain) in public spaces around the area.

Even younger generations of those families native to the area have made it clear that they have no interest in appearing at their family’s secured space Uptown or in participating in the roles allotted to them at birth. One example was Rebecca Snedeker’s documentary By Invitation Only which showed her own Uptown royalty clan’s tone-deaf response to the racism inherent in their traditions. Interestingly, Snedeker’s mother, who took her turn as a Carnival “queen”of a old-line krewe, has also just published a book and had an interview, sharing her admiration for the new and moving the curtain aside a little more on the long-simmering issues with those traditions. Those women are also part of the new loop.

So the evolution of Carnival, as seen through the tension of old and new, continues and will no doubt exist for generations side-by-side.  Let’s just hope that the new that is centered downtown continues to influence the old Uptown version, and leads to another golden age that spans the entire region.

 

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The Death of a D.C. Funeral Home

At its peak, from the 1950s through the 1980s, Hall Brothers performed as many as 140 funerals a year.

In 2018, it handled four.

“They moved out or died out,” the owner, Richard Ables, 77, whose uncles founded the funeral home in 1941, said of his lost clientele.


The view beyond Hall Brothers’ front stoop — a new condo tower to the right, another rising to the left, a former Wonder Bread factory turned into a WeWork space down the street — in no way resembles what Ables remembers from childhood. In those years, he spent afternoons and weekends hanging out at the funeral home, stowing himself in empty caskets during games of hide and seek with his cousins.

In later years, they befriended a worker at the Howard Theatre who sneaked them in a side entrance to see the likes of Smokey Robinson and the Temptations, Chuck Brown, James Brown and Aretha Franklin.

“If we saw a white person, we’d ask, ‘What are you doing here?’ ” Ables said of the neighborhood. “Now it’s the opposite.”

https://beta.washingtonpost.com/local/dc-politics/at-center-of-changing-dc-requiem-for-a-funeral-home-that-catered-to-blacks/2019/09/05/c03767ca-8614-11e9-a870-b9c411dc4312_story.html

The Patriotism of the 1619 Project

On August 20, 1619, a ship carrying about 20 enslaved Africans arrived in Point Comfort, a coastal port in the British colony of Virginia. 

If you have somehow missed the rollout of the New York Times 1619 project, I hope you will find time to get a printed copy, listen to the podcasts, or find  another way to catch up. This project – groundbreaking, truth-telling, and comprehensive – is a tremendously collaborative endeavor, created and led by brilliant journalist Nikole-Hannah Jones that offers a wide base of knowledge about America’s entanglement with enslavement, and how our systems have been designed to subjugate people, using the construct of race. The other great point made across the essays, the photos, the podcasts, and more is how deeply felt the patriotism is among black Americans who continue to patiently reach out to their fellow compatriots to try to explain what must be fixed.

Excerpts from Nikole-Hannah Jones’ August 14, 2019 NYT essay that introduced her 1619 Project:

They say our people were born on the water.

When it occurred, no one can say for certain. Perhaps it was in the second week, or the third, but surely by the fourth, when they had not seen their land or any land for so many days that they lost count. It was after fear had turned to despair, and despair to resignation, and resignation to an abiding understanding. The teal eternity of the Atlantic Ocean had severed them so completely from what had once been their home that it was as if nothing had ever existed before, as if everything and everyone they cherished had simply vanished from the earth. They were no longer Mbundu or Akan or Fulani. These men and women from many different nations, all shackled together in the suffocating hull of the ship, they were one people now.

What if America understood, finally, in this 400th year, that we have never been the problem but the solution?

..At 43, I am part of the first generation of black Americans in the history of the United States to be born into a society in which black people had full rights of citizenship. Black people suffered under slavery for 250 years; we have been legally “free” for just 50. Yet in that briefest of spans, despite continuing to face rampant discrimination, and despite there never having been a genuine effort to redress the wrongs of slavery and the century of racial apartheid that followed, black Americans have made astounding progress, not only for ourselves but also for all Americans.


 

 

Sept 6 interview w/ Nikole-Hannah Jones:

…what I’m arguing is that our founding ideals were great and powerful. Had we in fact built a country based on those founding ideals, then we would have the most amazing country the earth has ever seen.  But black people took those ideals very literally, and have fought to make those ideals real. And because of that, I say that we are — as much as the white founders whom we recognize — that we are the founding fathers of this country. So yes, it is patriotism, but not that type of blind, performative patriotism that is simply about trying to camouflage the nation’s sins and not trying to fight for the true ideals. But the type of patriotism, I think, that says: If you love your country, you have to fight to make your country the country that it should be.

Does any particular piece of criticism or praise stick out to you?

The criticism has been all about the framing, because people can’t actually criticize the facts.There was some critique that I was centering black people and not spending time on Native and Indigenous people, and I understand it to a degree. I did not want to render Native people invisible, but this was a story about chattel slavery. But I think it also speaks to how little good, comprehensive, smart, empathetic coverage we have of the two most marginalized groups in America, which are Native people and black people.

 

The 1619 Project at the New York Times

bye bye Dryades Public Market

I guess sticking a tagline with your name is good enough for people to think your business served a cross-section.

This is what every story led with: “Dryades Public Market … the grocery with a mission (italics added) in Central City is closing today.”

Maybe the name public market fooled some people; really there should be a way that they should have been stopped in using that. Unfortunately, there is not.

As someone long involved in local food systems, I watched this idea sited on the ever-valiant Oretha Castle Haley with hope but more trepidation, and even a little more skepticism. Here are 2 posts from my public market blog where I referred to this entity.

In the late stages of design, I had been contacted by the developer, but I pretty much ignored the emails. (1) I felt there were better minds likely in the fray already, (2) I didn’t trust the local partner to do right by farmers based on what was being reported to me by some of them, and (3) I had moved on to more national work and felt I couldn’t give as much local context as I once had.  Still, they kept calling, so I went to meet with them.

In short, they strongly suggested to me that they knew their local partner was full of shit but felt they were too far along to stop. (I also remember that they kept telling me how many parking spaces this place would have-in exasperation, I finally said that in terms of what they wanted to happen and in knowing the area, parking wasn’t going to be the draw that it was for their projects in NYC. That they needed to let that go.)

What they wanted was some help in figuring out how to still make the idea work. We tossed around some ideas, but the lure of the food hub concept was too hard for them to resist  (although my memory was my only suggestion was to dump the partner publicly and reach out to a cross-section of chefs/farmers/organizers to come up with something else. They were definitely not gonna do THAT at that stage.) So what New Orleans ended up with was 3 different plans in about the same number of years: the “food hub”concept, followed by the “food hall” concept (run by good people who brought in other good people but had to do it without the financials being figured out and without a rebranding kickoff), and the last which was a bit of a desperate dab of a high end specialty store and a hot food line. All in all, nothing worked, even with a lot of truly well-meaning people doing their best to make it work.

I see people on Twitter calling for this to be relocated or even revived because of the “food desert” issue, but it is hard for me to see how people think this idea can work for either of those issues. (Also see folks calling out for ALDI’s or Trader Joe’s to come in to the site. Umm, not only is the square footage not even CLOSE to their wheelhouse, but the characteristics of a successful site for either is not even close to being present in New Orleans proper. It sucks but that is what it is. Capitalism.)

Food desert as a term doesn’t adequately describe the problem and for most organizers across the U.S, has been replaced by food apartheid.  This situation also is better served by that latter term, as OCH has long been one area well known for across-the-board disinvestment by the usual money for the 30 years before Katrina. Now of course, every developer is there using it to build more upscale apartments and eateries which serve only the new population. That is apartheid.

I also see people on social media responding to the news of this closing asking for the “culture to be saved” as if DPM had ANY relationship to our diverse, locally relevant food history or public market/corner store/Schweggie history. Let’s be clear: this blip on our screen is a result of the post-2010 culture designed almost entirely by our “cultural” (read NOT) mayor Landrieu, and the many developers who now have a complete hold on the city. That era was all about “white box delivery” as the goal, with the content being figured out later. Meaning so not New Orleans.

Situating this high end “market” (it hurts me to even write that word in relation to DPM) on OCH, in the midst of the incredible work done by long time activists to fight for equitable development was in in itself a mockery and so out of scale to the rest of the street it was doomed to fail because New Orleanians cannot be fooled.  Because what is true of New Orleanians is that, in terms of good ideas, they don’t believe they start with buildings; they believe they start with relationships, and they could see that this one had few.

If you were going for some level of authenticity, you’d go to Cafe Reconcile, Ashé Cultural Arts CenterRoux Carre, Casa Borrega, Church Alley (before it moved), Zeitgeist (also before it moved), bank at Hope Credit Union and so on. If you did those things, I find it hard to believe you would also enter the clubhouse that was J&J/DPM and spend your money there. And many of those “unfooled” New Orleanians I talked to said exactly that.

And yes, I went. I tried. And I felt out of place, and manipulated by a few wicker basket of bananas and apples and fancy water and a jar or two of local honey being sold to me as a grocery store. I left angry and embarrassed as to what this neighborhood which has survived so much was being offered even as the money was falling all over New Orleans. A crappy clubhouse.

So let’s be real and call this what it was: a bad experiment unworthy of OCH and New Orleans, learn from it,  and move on to better ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Angels eat gumbo

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The Chase family is heartbroken to share the news that our Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother, Leah Chase, passed away surrounded by her family on June 1, 2019. Leah Chase, lovingly referred to as the Queen of CreoleCuisine, was the executive chef and co-owner of the historic and legendary Dooky Chase’s Restaurant. She was a major supporter of cultural and visual arts and an unwavering advocate for civil liberties and full inclusion of all. She was a proud entrepreneur, a believer in the Spirit of New Orleans and the good will of all people, and an extraordinary woman of faith.
Mrs. Chase was a strong and selfless matriarch. Her daily joy was not simply cooking, but preparing meals to bring people together. One of her most prized contributions was advocating for the Civil Rights Movement through feeding those on the front lines of the struggle for human dignity. She saw her role and that of Dooky Chase’s Restaurant to serve as a vehicle for social change during a difficult time in our country’s history. Throughout her tenure, Leah treasured all of her customers and was honored to have the privilege to meet and serve them.
While we mourn her loss, we celebrate her remarkable life, and cherish the life lessons she taught us. The Family will continue her legacy of “Work, Pray, and Do for Others.”

Grateful To You,
The Chase Family

In lieu of flowers please make donations to the Edgar L.“Dooky” Jr. and Leah Chase Family Foundation – P.O. Box 791313 New Orleans, LA 70179

 

Peter Boutte

As the pillars fall

And history fades away 

Angels eat gumbo

Megan Braden-Perry

Sad day, though we know Heaven is the best place ever. Rest well, Mama Leah. 💕

A true raconteur, freedom fighter, black Creole queen, and truly the grande dame of Creole cuisine. 

 

Jessica Harris, an author and expert on food of the African diaspora, in a 2012 interview:

“She is of a generation of African-American women who set their faces against the wind without looking back.

 

Jarvis DeBerry

Mayor LaToya Cantrell

Leah Chase served presidents and celebrities, she served generations of locals and visitors, and she served her community. She was a culture-bearer in the truest sense. We are poorer for her loss, and richer for having known and having loved her. She will be badly missed.

 

Ian McNulty’s lovely obituary

 

Poppy Tooker celebrates her friend on her show Louisiana Eats.

 

Dames de Perlage tribute to Chef Leah

 

 

What can we do? (a lot)

Recently saw a Twitter post  from a writer that went something like: race is an imagined point of reference, however, racism is not.

As I read that tweet, I wondered what the response would be if I shared that on other social platforms. I assumed much of it would be passive “likes” (you’ll have to imagine my eye roll) and “shares” (my more dramatic eye roll), including from some who seem to have not begun to examine how this society is designed so only whiteness –  either meant literally or operating in the white world as currently allowed – is “winning.” How it offers privilege and access that subjugates people of color even when the  white person is not acting in any personally racist manner. I say that because some  of those I would expect to share it have actually been heard by me to say the infamous “I don’t even see race” or “I don’t think race is the real issue, class is ”  or “I’m tired of this being the only discussion that is happening” (?!) and other cringeworthy statements.

On another level of this, this morning I had a convo with a neighbor who works with tourists which started out relatively calmly but soon included the removed Confederate statues, and led to her shouting to the air about how she had never owned slaved and “they” had received all of the reparations “before” now. How the black people “she knows didn’t want” the statues taken down. (Really, it was a set of statements I have heard in exactly the same order and level of vehemence dozens of times, which in itself, I find very puzzling.  Still, the outcome of our talk was that she thinks I am out of touch, and I think she is dangerous and easily led by those who need to use her for their agenda.)  All I can hope is that I made at least one point that may require her to look it up later and ponder it. It is why I have tried to become calmer when I find these folks in my path, and try to stick to one or two points that may connect.

So between the  outwardly liberal but casually racist,  and the working poor who vilify both those who fight the institutions of racism and those who must live within them, it is hard to see how to help.

Then I read this passage in Toni Morrison’s “The Source of Self-Regard: Selected Essays, Speeches, and Meditations” a book that is becoming as important to my core reference library as Jane Jacobs, Solnit, and Thoreau.

One likely reason for the paucity of critical materials on this large and compelling subject is that in matters of race, silence and evasion have historically ruled literary discourse….

…It is further complicated by the fact that ignoring race is understood to be a graceful, liberal, even generous habit. To notice is to recognize an already discredited difference; to maintain its invisibility through silence is to allow the black body a shadowless participation in the dominant cultural body. (emphasis added)

That passage was very helpful in ways to better understand the weakness of the white response to institutional racism and how even those with a strong liberal political platform subvert the discussion.

In this majority African-American city that I reside, evasion of the facts and the support of invisibility for people of color is the inertia we fight. What that means to me is a path forward for white allies is through statement of facts again and again. And not to pervert the honest discussion with a false equivalency like class divides as the only divide or to reduce the severity of the issue to the level of one’s own personal method of operating in the world.

These are the words that I now stick to when making the ask among white people to consider the warped reality that we benefit from: Deliberate. Privilege. Unequal. Negative meaning. Power of position.

And to lift the story of inclusion and diversity as often as we can, in every sector we can work and live. In my own work of food and farming, white-led organizations have long been those most recognized and funded, with people of color only a tiny smattering of the staff and partners. Doesn’t mean that those good folks were personally racist but it does mean that in the desire to move the dial on other issues, deep systemic issues of race were ignored. (Deliberate privilege to gain power of position.)

Now, the in the 5th decade of this work in the US, many of those organizations and others led by people of color are finally starting the big conversation of how racism is at the heart of production and at the heart of our political, legal, social, and economic systems. And this larger lens is scary and humbling but it also feels exciting and powerful. To listen more deeply and to participate in more approaches, and to accept that the privilege I have is not even fully understood in this half century of living and so cannot be said to be erased yet. I’m willing to do more and to do it as an ally still learning what I do not know. And to live in and celebrate Bulbancha.

Are you?