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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Poppy’s Drag Brunch Heats Up

On Thursday August 9, I packed up my truck for my usual trip to Ohio. I started to pack it around 6:15 a.m. to try to beat the heat and the street parade of hustlers eyeing my stuff. Even with that, the sweat that ran down my back and arms from the humidity and baked in heat of the asphalt made it clear that there would be no relief. As for the guy who threw trash into my truck bed, I told him off and even though he ambled off the block with a finger raised over his head, I felt better.  As Walt Whitman said, agitation is the most important factor of all.

That heat, the fact that I work from a laptop at home, and have a sister who has a generous nature and a comfortable home on the shores of one of the Great Lakes, means the pull to leave for a while is too great for me to resist.

But even though I am gone-pecan until the true fall arrives sometime in Mid-November with its wonderful slate of outdoor events and the arrival of citrus season, it doesn’t mean that New Orleans is ever far from my mind. I’ll continue to post about events and issues and have momentary pangs of homesickness too.

This is one event that I am sorry to miss:

Book signing with author Poppy Tooker
August 31, 2019 | 11 a.m. – 1 p.m.
The Shop at The Collection, 520 Royal Street
Admission to the event is free. The book retails for $29.99
and supports Crescent Care.
Join radio personality, author, and culinary activist Poppy Tooker as she and some special guests sign copies of her forthcoming book Drag Queen Brunch on Saturday, August 31, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at The Shop at The Collection, the museum shop of The Historic New Orleans Collection.
Drag Queen Brunch (Rainbow Road Press, 2019) features gorgeous colorful photography by Sam Hanna of dishes (both ladies and recipes) in some of New Orleans’s most iconic restaurants and courtyards. With every turn of the page, Drag Queen Brunch brings readers to the next stop of an unforgettable time with Tooker and a bevy of rollicking drag queens. 
The event is free, and coincides with Southern Decadence. The book will be available for $29.99. Refreshments from SoBou will be available for guests ages 21 and older. 
A portion of the proceeds from Drag Queen Brunch benefit Crescent Care, a healthcare initiative established by the NO/AIDS Task Force and the Lazarus House.
The Shop at The Collection — which has expanded to nearly 2,000 square feet — is located in THNOC’s new exhibition center at 520 Royal Street and is open Tuesday – Saturday, 9:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. and Sunday, 10:30 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. Customers may also shop online at www.hnoc.org/shop.

Poppy is my dear friend but even if that weren’t true, I’d surely tell you to go to her talks, buy her books, and generally listen in on whatever is in her ever-so practical, generous, slightly dangerous New Orleans mind.  She WILL make you feel better about the two-showers a day temps and help you once again love the diverse creativity of our place.

Her commitment to the LGBTQ community has been so steadfast for decades  you can be sure that her book and the brunches are both celebratory and deeply insightful to why the drag community deserves to be lionized as true artists. As for me, their work to bring glamour back to everyday life,  living ones personal life in line with the political, and their constant education on behalf of the LGBTQ community are some of why I’d say drag deserves the big table. I am sure Poppy will have more.

I’ll be writing at the site below while I am gone in case you are interested.

https://thestateofthebuckeye.wordpress.com/

UpStairs Lounge Arson 45th Anniversary

Wednesday, June 13 – Benefit at Bourre at Boucherie
From 5:00-9:00 p.m. during the Daiquiri Day’s of Summer, join Bourrée, in connection with LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana & St. Mark’s United Methodist Church, New Orleans as we remember The Upstairs Lounge Fire. All proceeds from their Daiquiri Sales that evening will be donated to help finance the Second Line Memorial for the 45th anniversary. Come support the community, listen to great live local music, have a daiquiri (alcoholic or not!), eat some boudin, and spread the love.

Saturday, June 23 – UpStairs Inferno Screening and Panel
5:00 p.m. at The Broad Theater (636 N. Broad St.) The UPSTAIRS INFERNO special screening will be held on the eve of the anniversary, June 23 at 5pm at The Broad Theater (636 N Broad St, New Orleans, LA 70119). Buy your tickets TODAY at http://Tix.UpstairsInferno.com. Director Robert L. Camina returns to host a discussion immediately after the film. He will be joined by special guests, Marilyn LeBlanc-Downey and Skip Bailey (sister and nephew of Ferris LeBlanc, one of the arson victims buried in the Pauper’s Cemetery).

Sunday, June 24 – Service at St. Mark’s
An ecumenical service will be held at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church (1130 N. Rampart Street) at 5:00 p.m., followed by a Second Line parade to the site of the fire where a solemn reading of the names of the victims will be held.

Wednesday, June 27 – Panel Discussion
This event will take place at 6:00 p.m. at the Williams Street Research Center at 410 Chartres Street. The LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana and the Historic New Orleans Collection will host a panel discussion of historians and witnesses to the event discussing how it shaped the community locally and nationally. Participants on the panel include Royd Anderson, director of the documentary The UpStairs Lounge Fire (2013); Clayton Delery, award-winning author of The UpStairs Lounge Arson (2014); Clancy DuBos, the journalist whose story “Blood, Moans: Charity Scene” ran on the front page of the Times-Picayune the morning after the fire; and Robert W. Fieseler. The panel discussion will be moderated by Frank Perez, president of the LGBT+ Archives Project of Louisiana and co-author of the forthcoming book, Southern Decadence in New Orleans (LSU Press). The event will also feature a reading and book-signing for Fieseler’s new book.

Pride June 8-10

34411280_10156380164999337_4136195781134647296_nNew Orleans Gay Pride began in February 1971, when the newly formed Gay Liberation Front of New Orleans presented a “Gay In” picnic in City Park. This was the very first such event in the entire state of Louisiana.

Throughout the 1980s, several organizations spearheaded the annual events. The first street parade was held in 1980. In 1981, the event moved to Armstrong Park, and was emceed by New Orleans native Ellen DeGeneres. In 1988 “Gay Fest” was changed to “Gay Pride.”

By the 1990s, “Pridefest” was being sponsored by the New Orleans Alliance of Pride.

In 2005, Gay Pride was presented by the LGBT Community Center of New Orleans. In 2011, The LGBT Community Center decided to no longer produce the Pridefest event and gave all rights for PrideFest to the 2010 and 2011 local Grand Marshals.

In 2011, The New Orleans Pride Organization was formed as its own organization and acquired a 501(c)(3) status. The 2011 “New Orleans Gay Pride Festival” consisted only of a parade, pageant, and block party on Bourbon Street with 80’s pop star, Tiffany. In 2012, the festival officially became “New Orleans Pride.” Since then, The New Orleans Pride Board has restructured the organization to foster positive relationships between all communities in New Orleans.

The 2017 New Orleans Pride Festival was the largest Pride Festival to ever take place in Louisiana. More than 35 events took place over a three-day weekend, attracting people from all walks of life. The Festival brought in more than 82,000 participants, 3,000 of which were in the New Orleans Pride Parade, Louisiana’s Largest LGBT+ Parade.

Courtesy of https://togetherwenola.com/

Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation

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My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As someone who lives in the French Quarter and has heard the story of the early days of the gay liberation movement from dear friends and neighbors, many (too many) who are no longer here to enjoy the results of their energies, I was glad to see this book at my library. Partly because I remain so thankful that the gay movement made its home in my neighborhood where I spent much of the last 40 odd years, as it brought diversity, a welcoming and inclusive vibe, which meant this place has stayed a neighborhood even as it struggles with its white flight history role in a majority African-American city too often obsessed only with its tourist’s face.
Arriving as a teen to this neighborhood in those years that did not only include white, straight, middle-class people allowed me to expand my originally suburban outlook to be able to recognize a diversity of human connections and appreciate a multiplicity of lifestyles and thinking which has only helped me move through the world with a lot more gratitude and latitude.
I knew the story of the Upstairs Lounge and since the plaque has been added, I get to the site either to give a silent moment of commemoration or to show visitors or activists. Still, the book gave me more detail about the victims that I did not know, and also gave much more detail as to the horror of the event, for both those who survived and those who perished in the fire. I read this book in an evening, as it is well organized and written using recollections and first-hand accounts and only a little secondary information.
The only criticism I have is I would have liked to see an epilogue of the amazing transformation of the Quarter into the center of gay commerce and culture maybe even naming some of those leaders and even some of the businesses that still exist due to that leadership including our little Mary’s Ace Hardware, Bourbon Street Postal, tour companies, neighborhood bars, restaurants, florists, salons, and the rest and how that then spread into the rest of the city.
This book should be included in the required reading list for New Orleans high school students and added to the bookshelves of historical centers and libraries as an example of how many of our property owners (STILL) don’t maintain their buildings to ensure safety for those using them especially when those using them are on the “fringes” of society, how equity (in life or death) is (STILL) not given to all and how our city can do better with all of it by remembering The Upstairs Lounge tragedy.

View all my reviews

LGBTQ History at Jackson Square and in New Orleans

My neighbor Frank wrote this piece which describes a little of the 1970s LGBTQ activism in the Quarter in response to the 1970s Sarah Palin, the horrid Anita Bryant. As someone who moved into and then grew up in the lower Quarter as a teen, I always felt welcomed by the gay community that was active around St. Phillip. My best friend Roger Simonson who had come out as a young man and had lived in the Quarter since the 1960s was known for his Royal street shop A Better Mousetrap and his later management of Roger Bogle’s Persian Boy gallery. Through his friendship, I was included in many parties and allowed in bars and clubs that did not encourage non-gay attendance back then.

The leaders of the gay community have tirelessly worked alongside the old-line preservationists on many community efforts that impact the Quarter. That dual leadership served the neighborhood well as it meant the issues of one group were not the only ones being met any longer and it allowed younger and less wealthy voices to be heard on political matters. Since the 1990s, many in the community moved to other areas of town, expanding the impact of that early Quarter activism into every part of municipal and social life. With the acceptance by most Americans (especially younger ones) of less strict gender and sexuality definitions or mores, the need for gay-only areas, clubs, and events has lessened.  As exciting as it is to live in a time when sexuality is not so closely monitored by a few disapproving Puritans, it is sad to lose the active presence here of some of those wonderful leaders even while I remain grateful to Frank and others for continuing to offer so much civic energy.

LGBT History at Jackson Square and in New Orleans

Easter Parades in French Quarter

Sunday, April 1st
1. French Quarter Easter parade
Begins at 9:45 a.m.
The Historic French Quarter Easter Parade travels from @antoinesnola at 9:45 a.m. in time to make the 11 a.m. Mass at the @stlouiscathedral . After Mass, participants take a walk around Jackson Square. This parade was previously operated by a group known as the Friends of Germaine Wells, a legendary FQ restaurateur who died in 1983.*

2. Chris Owens French Quarter Easter Parade
Begins at 1 p.m.
The French Quarter icon leads her 34th annual parade from the @omniroyalorleans , then it heads up Royal Street to Canal Street. From there, it takes a right on Canal Street before turning onto Bourbon Street, then heads on to St. Philip Street to Decatur to St. Louis Street and ends back at the Omni Royal.

3. Gay Easter Parade
Begins at 4:30 p.m.
The 18th annual Official Gay Easter parade travels from Bourbon Street to GrandPre’s, 834 North Rampart St. 29542956_10156087422210535_1266946249170490939_n.jpg29513122_10156087422380535_7696489678015272349_n.jpg29572974_10156087422425535_6266546642161562017_n.jpg

 

The first 2 parades are slightly connected in that the parade founders were and are two of our most vibrant and glorious women leaders, known for their business acumen but also for their joie de vivre and love and care of the French Quarter.

Germaine Wells was the daughter of Arnaud Cazenave, founder of Arnaud’s Restaurant. Wells, who reigned as queen of 22 Carnival balls, introduced her Easter parade in 1956 after seeing the NYC Fifth Avenue Easter Parade. The New Orleans parade, with horse-drawn carriages, throws of stuffed animals and candy,  Easter bonnets and fancy Easter baskets continues today.  Back then, it would start at Wells’ house on the corner of Esplanade Avenue and Chartres Street and stop at St. Louis Cathedral for Mass at noon and then to Arnaud’s Restaurant for lunch. Around 2012, the parade began to start and end at Antoine’s and became more commonly known as the Historic French Quarter Easter Parade.

Chris Owens began her own Easter parade in 1983.  Many histories identify the founding of her parade as coming after Germaine Wells’ passing, but that seems inaccurate as Wells died in December of that year. The Owens parade is beautiful and has an extensive route to try to catch a throw from the Grand Duchess of Bourbon Street. Owens is one of my favorite celebrities in town, not only for her amazing club act which I have been lucky to have caught more than a few times but also for her astute sense in building and operating a club,  managing retail and residential property to the impressive level that she has maintained for decades at St. Louis and Bourbon. All Hail Queen Chris.