Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The return of Comus

Proteus's Comus float

Okay not really. Proteus's theme this year was "Unseen Carnival In New Orleans." Their floats paid homage to the so-called "Old Line" krewes who either never did or no longer do stage parades during Carnival.  These organizations (of which Proteus is one) are primarily debutante societies and supper clubs comprised of the city's bluer blooded families.  Nell Nolan would have adored this parade.

But you don't have to be Nell Nolan to remember that the original New Orleans "krewe" took itself off of the streets in 1992 in a protest of the city's attempt to require parading organizations  to open their membership to all races.  This proved too much to ask of  the club founded by ex-Confederates and the Comus parade has not been seen since.

The club, of course, is doing just fine.  Around this time of year, you can still find its flag flying from the balconies of many a Garden District home.

Comus and Rex Flags

And, as Peggy Scott Laborde will no doubt enthusiastically tell you, Comus's appearance at the Rex ball signals the "official end of the Carnival season" at midnight on Tuesday.  Yet somehow they just can't bring themselves to bless our poor city with a parade anymore since we hurt their feelings being all mean about their racist little club and all. We seem to be managing okay without them.

Witness, for example, the now 20 year old Krewe of Orpheus.

20 years of Orpheus

Itself formed during the aftermath of the anti-discrimination ordinance controversy, Harry Connick Jr.'s club replaced Comus with a celebrity powered "Superkrewe" in the modern Endymion-Bacchus style. Orpheus' immediate hugeness threw into further relief just how out-dated Comus's notions of itself were.  While the Old Line krewes aren't exactly irrelevant to modern Carnival, they're also no longer the sole keepers of what has become an elaborate cross-cultural citywide tapestry of traditions.  They've never quite gotten over that, as Proteus's theme tonight demonstrates.

On a rainy night tonight Orpheus can be a special treat. (And there seem to have been a high number of rainy night Orpheus parades over the years.)  Lundi Gras is a strange time to have a "Superkrewe" parade in the first place. Many folks expecting to start early on Mardi Gras day are taking Monday night off in preparation. The wet conditions only further keep the crowds light... but never too light.

Rainy Gras (Literally Fat Rainy)

So, if you've got the time and energy to invest in Orpheus, you'll have a great vantage point for a spectacular event.

Smokey Mary

On the other hand, you might want to take it easy anyway. I cut my Orpheus a little short tonight and got started cutting vegetables instead.  And now it's time to get some rest.  It's been a long and unusual Carnival this year due to the Superbowl interruption. But in most other respects it's been exactly what we're used to. Highs and lows, familiar scenes, and strange surprises both good and bad.  But overall I think it's been good.  And now there's one more day. We'll try to let that be a good one too.


Owen Courrèges said...

"[Y]ou don't have to be Nell Nolan to remember that the original New Orleans "krewe" took itself off of the streets in 1992 in a protest of the city's attempt to require parading organizations to open their membership to all races."

Seriously? The city's "attempt" was blatantly unconstitutional and the courts held as such. The city didn't just bar racial discrimination, it subjected krewes to licensing and mandated that they report their membership rolls to the Human Rights Commission. I would certainly hope that's something you oppose.

Beth said...

You might enjoy Rebecca Snedecker's documentary, "By Invitation Only" - http://www.byinvitationonlythefilm.com/

I used to love ending Carnival by walking the whole route with Comus, from my apartment on Tchoupitoulas to the Quarter. But I don't miss them.

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