Of course, we know this act to be purely ceremonial in nature as it has proven an unreliable deterrent to the behavior. Monday morning, we found this pack of Parliaments.
Carnival has obviously kicked into gear.
As is the case most years, it's difficult to conceive of us missing any of the Uptown parades. So far this year is no exception. Here's a quick review of the weekend's events.
- By far the most interesting development this season has been the emergence of WDSU's new parade-tracking system. The local TV station has managed to position inconspicuous vehicles like this one here near the head of each parade.
The vans are carrying GPS devices which allow the vehicle's location to be plotted on the station's map here. If you click on that map right now, you will see all of the vans are parked at Channel 6's studio on Howard Avenue. But during the parades, they move along the map displaying the approximate position of the parade on its route. This is a remarkable tool for anyone who lives within a few blocks of the parade route and wants to know exactly when it's time to walk on down. And, yes, it actually works!
WDSU is also updating parade locations via Twitter. Theoretically this is an even better tool than the GPS map but anyone familiar with Twitter's fits of texting unreliability will be less than enthused. The Tweeter Tube updates weren't working at all for me on Friday and Saturday but were fine during Sunday's parades.
As fun as all this is, I'm a little saddened to see technology infringe upon the Carnival mystique. I like to think that, over the years, I've developed a sixth sense for knowing exactly when to take a walk out to the route, or down the street to visit a friend, or when to run back to the house for more beer.
These skills are particularly important on the morning of Fat Tuesday when I'm running back and forth from Zulu on Jackson Avenue, to the Wild Magnolias on Dryades Street, to Rex on St. Charles, and to the giant pot of red beans at my apartment. The golden moments on Mardi Gras day are the serendipitous accidents that arise out of just happening to be in a certain place at the right time.
On Saturday, r and I decided to take a walk down to the corner store between parades. If we hadn't made this sojourn, I wouldn't have come across the world's tiniest dogshit sign.
Or this horrifying concoction in the store's cooler.
I am uncomfortable with the thought that this magic will now be guided by GPS and text messaging.
- The weather has become unpredictable just in time for parade season. Every day we've had a "60% chance" of heavy rain but have managed to squeeze every parade through without getting washed out. I'm hoping this holds up.
- The parades on the first weekend are simple. The themes are accessible. Quite often they care built around saccharine New Orleans-centric nostalgia. The floats are basic and you are likely to see them re-run on consecutive days. For example, on Saturday night, Pegasus's theme was "Celebrating New Orleans" and many of the floats were recycled from Friday's "It's Been 10 Years, Dawlin, And We Love Nawlins" Pygmalion parade. On Sunday, Carrollton's theme was based on remembrances of the 1984 World's Fair. Here is the title float with the Fair's mascot, "Seymour D Fair" riding up front.
Yes, I am old enough to remember the 1984 World's Fair.
- I am also old enough to remember when the Krewe of Pontchartrain rolled down Hayne Blvd in Eastern New Orleans. Here they are now on the St. Charles Avenue route like just about everyone else these days.
It's nice to see some krewes extend their route this year, but it's still not the same thing as seeing the parades go back to the neighborhoods they once represented. We've lost a whole generation of people who now see Mardi Gras strictly as a show for tourists. The standardized route is a big contributor to this.
- Also not helping matters is the insidious Jefferson Parish "Family Gras" (literally "Fat Family") celebration. I know I rant about this every year, but it's a horrifying label that demands push-back. The absurdism "Famliy Gras" directly implies that there is something inherently un-"family" about Mardi Gras. In this case, the organizers mean to say that there is something un-"family" about Mardi Gras in Orleans Parish. The message is, bring your children to see Tony Orlando in the parking lot at Lakeside Mall because NO ONE in their right mind would bring their children to a parade in New Orleans.
Above: Children obviously not enjoying a parade in New Orleans
Those of us who have been attending parades in town with our families all our lives know this to be untrue. But, again, we are dealing with the rapidly calcifying effect of a lost generation of people with no real memory of what Carnival in New Orleans is all about.
My father's generation came around just prior to the major white flight events that changed the city's demographics and relationship to its suburbs. Whether they resisted the exodus or jumped right in, that generation retained first-person memories of life and Carnival in the city. I was in a minority of my generation in that my family still lived and participated here. Most of my peers in school grew up in Metairie, attended parades there, and were taught mostly to fear the city. As they got older, they would come into town to party or to work but the majority never really learned to live here. And these kids were brought up by people who at one time actually knew New Orleans. What will this generation of Jefferson Parish natives teach their children? To the next generation, the bifurcation of "white, safe" Jefferson and "black, scary" New Orleans isn't a recent phenomenon, it's an age-old fact of history. I think about this when I watch the news and see young white parents on Veterans Boulevard talk about how their celebration is uniquely "family friendly". It worries me.
- Another worry of mine in recent years has been the increasing lack of respect for their peers shown by parade-goers who block access to common property through the roping off of territory, or improper use of ladders. I've explained the problem at length previously. Today, I'd just like to show you some examples of ladders used well and ladders used poorly this past weekend.
Here we see perfectly acceptable ladder usage in practice. The ladder is set back from the street, the child is well-attended, and the crowd is allowed to pass and move about freely in front of the ladder.
Even this purple monstrosity with bicycle wheels is being put to proper use. It is situated away from the curb and is not impeding the progress or enjoyment of anyone around it. The ample space in front will allow the crowd to expand and contract as necessary during the parade. (This photo was taken early in the day. The crowd did get larger)
This, however, is no good. These ladders are not only butt up against the street, they are standing directly in the intersection. This is in violation of city ordinances as it can impede the progress of emergency vehicles across the parade route. Obviously, these two ladders aren't a serious problem. But come next weekend, there will be many many more which could cause a dangerous obstruction here.
I don't have any photos of multiple ladders roped together... because there weren't any. The first weekend generally draws friendly, considerate, local crowds who know what they're doing.
- Menckles is a doubloon freak. Here's something fun to do. Carry a doubloon with you and repeatedly drop it on the ground where she can hear. She jumps like a cat at the sound of a can-opener every time.
- Miller Lite sipped from the can has a strange undertone of bubblegum for some reason. The experience is greatly enhanced if you have a home-knitted koozie like this one.
- I like the Krewe of King Arthur as much as everybody. Their theme, based on things in the news over the past year, was.... at least topical... if not particularly clever. They throw neat stuff.
Many of their floats make have live bands aboard, which is a lot of fun. Plus we saw Maitri's D who threw us a bunch of stuff.
But still, it's obviously a Week 1 parade. The art direction isn't exactly the most sophisticated, often involving a few signs and props plastered onto otherwise generic backgrounds. For example, here's their "Snow on St. Charles Avenue" float.
It's some snowflakes hung from a basic streetcar float. Not very elaborate, but you have to admit, it gets the job done.
- Regardless of what one thinks of their performance of late, NOPD definitely looks a lot better in the new (old) unis. Just please do not call it "Creole Blue"
- And now, gratuitous photos of Carnival swag:
The prized glass beads:
The delicious Moon Pie:
Beads with alligator heads:
The Bead Pile (will grow larger):
Last week I started to write a bit about my Krewe Du Vieux experience this year. I was going to write a bunch of depressing stuff about how the mood in the city feels a bit off for Carnival... how worries about crime, the economy, other stuff, are preventing us from getting in the right frame of mind for this time of year. But I don't quite feel like that anymore.
Every year there comes a point when the holiday comes and gets you whether you're ready for it or not. When it finds you, you just say, "Okay I'm coming" and you follow along. And no, you can't see it coming with a GPS map.