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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Easter Parades 2019 French Quarter

The Historic French Quarter Easter Parade

The Historic French Quarter Easter Parade departs from Antoine’s Restaurant at 9:45 a.m. and rolls toward St. Louis Cathedral just in time for 11:00 a.m. mass on Easter Sunday, April 21.  After mass, participants return to Antoine’s to receive awards for best Easter attire and basket, among other things.

 

Chris Owens’ Easter Parade

It starts at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel Ballroom at 11:00 a.m. with a Hat Contest, Silent Auction, and Entertainment. The parade begins at the corner of St. Louis and Royal, then continues down Royal to Canal to St. Phillip Street and ends at St. Louis and Royal Street at the Omni Royal Orleans Hotel.

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20th Annual Gay Easter Parade

Starting at 4:30 p.m., horse-drawn carriages, floats, and riders in colorful costumes will parade through the French Quarter into the evening, stopping at gay bars and gay-owned restaurants and shops throughout the neighborhood.

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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/

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.

 

 

Krewe du Vieux’s Wet Dream

While it is true that Carnival always begins on January 6th aka Three Kings Day, aka The Epiphany (as befits its Catholic underpinnings) always kicked off by a citywide king cake frenzy and the Phunny Phorty Phellows‘ streetcar ride, the real Carnival spirit in the city begins once there are parades every weekend which for 2018, means today.

There are parades in the ‘burbs today but more importantly, it also marks the most elaborate walking parade held during Carnival, known as Krewe du Vieux. This parade is important for more than its mostly French Quarter route, it is also the most anticipated because of its skill in skewering the pompous, the inept, and the famous fallen alike.

The theme this year is Bienville’s Wet Dream which is a nod to the 300th anniversary of the city but also to the floods of the summer of 2017 which uncovered the fact that the city had never bothered to repair most of its generators that ran the Sewerage and Water’s pumps, and inexplicably had working generators and pumps offline during the tropical summer, swamping the city on 2 separate occasions. If outsiders want to know why we view our government with such cynicism here, it may be best explained by the fact that some of the pumps were not activated during those rain events because as the SWB later blithely explained those sites (near the lake!) required on site operators to turn them and – and those operators could not get there in the flood.

I swear.

We should expect the recent downfall of Chef John Besh to be a major theme, and the new mayor who had a bit of a government credit card issue, as well as the departing mayor who seems to have lost interest in repairing current infrastructure and instead wants to spend his final months in office spending millions for a security state with cameras everywhere and a new Disneyfied Bourbon Street.

I swear.

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2018 route

This parade grew out of the Krewe of Clones which paraded in the 1970s and 1980s. Like many krewes, there was a disagreement as to the style and tone that members wanted and so Krewe du Vieux was formed when some decided that success lay with the most debased, most ridiculous, and the most profane version.

It is also known for the profusion of brass bands that they hire:

Kinfolk

Young Pinstripes

All For One

Down N Dirty

One Mind

The Pocket Aces

New Breed

Bessarabian

The Stooges

The Paulin Brothers

Egg Yolk Jubilee

To Be Continued

Hot 8

21st Century Brass Band

The Free Agents

Lagniappe

The Jazzmen

Where Y’At

Big Fun

Da Truth

They became truly de rigueur in 2006 with their parade less than 6 months after Katrina and its C’est Levee theme that was impressively hilarious and pointedly mocking of the government that had failed us so completely. I still have throws from that year as do many of my friends and neighbors. From their 2006 release:

Lifes a breach, and sometimes you just gotta go with the contraflow. So pop a cold one (pop a looter too if you have to), torch the nearest mound of trash and roast some weenies, and pretend that convoy of National Guard hummers rolling by is just another parade.

For 2018,  its king is Rich Campanella, Tulane geographer, historian and obsessive researcher of the accurate history of our 300 years. His list of books is extensive, his articles are constant and on top of that, he is a nice guy always interested in hearing an opinion or a factoid on the physical space of our colony.  Here is King Rich’s piece on the history of the route that he will lord over this evening.

Come out on his appropriately wet parade evening to honor him and the motley who take over our streets at 6:30 p.m. tonight.

 

 

 

 

The 2018 New Orleans Combination: 606-10-300

Tomorrow the Maid of Orleans celebrates her 606th birthday. In the old quarter, a group of dedicated volunteers will stage one of the most beautiful parades of the year in her honor for the 10th year in a row. And directly after, fireworks will celebrate the 300th year since our city’s founding.

There may be no better way to understand the deep determination of people here to remain – and to not just to remain but to live with ease together and to honor the history we safeguard – than the Carnival season. This one, held during our tricentennial, should be especially exciting.

In many ways, the best and worst of what we represent is on display during these weeks every year: the DIY creativity, the peaceful takeover of public space (described best by writer CW Cannon in his New Orleans Manifesto), the informal conviviality among all groups gathered on a parade route. But also note the divide between rich and poor and people of color and white people: gauge the city’s interest in litter control or infrastructure repair between the worlds of St. Charles versus Claiborne, or check out the cordoned off areas for the politically connected on the grandstands in front of Gallier Hall for the big parades. Cannon points out “the social purpose of the Uptown route parading tradition was to standardize, control and express who the bosses of the city were in a striking visual spectacle.” If you doubt it, note where the Rex, Proteus or Comus flags on homes are all located, the debutante photos (and same names) on the news sites,  the pic of the middle-aged man who will be Rex in 2018 and his 20-something “Queen.”

(And don’t forget the groups of mostly young white men who illegally camp out days before a few unnamed parades in order to to be upfront and able to push others aside to get plastic beads and children’s toys and get pukey-drunk on the neutral ground.)

Even so, the season offers something good for every New Orleanian old and new, permanent or temporary. For most, it is a season of deep sociability and a slew of political or cultural indicators of the current mood sent by the people to their elected officials.

As a Quarterite, I tend to stay here to celebrate the season, venturing more often downtown than Uptown. One reason is that the city stopped allowing float parades in the Quarter in the 1970s and after some years of inactivity, the walking parade has taken over on our streets with a great deal of style. Joan of Arc’s parade- although not directly a Carnival parade as it would roll on her day no matter when it was-is the perfect way to begin the downtown season. With its handmade costumes and candlelight, it offers a humorous, educational, moving set of tableaus dedicated to one of the saints that New Orleans considers theirs.

I remember the first one in 2008 where I met it in the Square and then again at “Joanie on a Pony,” the golden statue now found on Decatur , where the parade ends and a few dozen bystanders shared king cake with the cold and wet but jubilant masquers who had pulled off their first parade.

What is significant about that date is that it was in the depths of the rebuilding of our city after the federal levee breaks and was about the time that the initial joy at returning had worn off and the long slog ahead to recover became quite evident. I was living in a FEMA trailer in MidCity and upon returning back to it and my still-empty street after the parade, found myself smiling at the memory of what I had just witnessed and enjoying the slice of king cake shared by its krewe.

Because it honors our connection with France, celebrates a plucky teenager who heard voices and decided to follow them and resist, uses a route that shows off the Quarter beautifully, is generous with its throws, truly offers tableaus, and is made up of diehard and joyous New Orleanians, the January 6th Joan or Arc parade is royalty among parades in my book.

Turtle Parade

This Saturday (5.13) the turtles that live in the Brennan’s courtyard on Royal street will parade through the Vieux Carré to mark the start of spring.
The ten turtles that live at Brennan’s have become something of local celebrities (complete with their own Twitter account, @BrennansTurtles). They are named “The Muthas and the Othas.” The former references the five reptiles named after classic, French mother sauces like Béchamel, Espagnole, Hollandaise, Tomate, Velouté, while the “others” refer to the turtles named for NOLA’s own classics like Remoulade, Ravigote, Bordelaise, Mignonette, and Cocktail.

The parade begins at 10:30AM at 550 Bienville Street, continuing down Chartres Street to St. Peter Street, then onto Royal Street to bring the krewe to Brennan’s (417 Royal Street) for the reception, which starts at 11AM. The route map is below. f2ab04e6-1409-4b30-8721-56e4d0fb253c.png