Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Happy Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras house

I thought this was a good essay by Bart about I guess what I'd call the spiritual politics of Carnival. There's more to it than this but here is the key bit.
There’s a subversive aspect to the disruption of Carnival, and I like that. It’s not revolutionary, of course. In fact, the function of Carnivalesque celebrations is generally to reinforce the social order by providing a temporary relief from it. In ancient Rome, slaves became masters — but only for a day. It’s the exception that proves the rule.

Still, as we have seen, these traditions can have unintended consequences. We get a glimpse of how provisional and arbitrary our social order is during Carnival. If we can carry that insight forward, we might work and fight for a better world all year round.
This gets to the heart of it. Part of the drama of Carnival lies in devices and symbols turned alternately to oppressive and subversive purposes in a cycle of competitive co-option.  With the proper context, one can read in it the story the city's social and political equilibrium in any given year. And this is what I mean when I say that Carnival is our annual act of collective civic mediation.  This, more than anything else, is what makes it invaluable.

To that end, I do my best to see and document as much as I can each year.  I see every parade I can get to. I take tons of photos. I try to write down as much as I can. Some years that overwhelms me and I never catch up. I'm a little behind right now, in fact. That's okay, though, because the key to doing this is to take it as it comes. You are participating in a citywide fever vision which bends reality toward absurdity and thereby tells us truths. It is cathartic and revelatory and sprawling and baroque and silly and profane and you should be very tired at the end of it. But you can't force that to happen for you. You just have to go be in it for a while.

More later. I don't want to miss it.  

Saturday, February 25, 2017

March of the Chads

Not many people know this but there is an actual #KreweOfChad parade.  It kicks off every year at about 2:00 PM on the Saturday before Mardi Gras when the Chads stationed along the Uptown parade route begin migrating en masse down to see Endymion.  If you want to see them all you have to do is turn around and watch the opposite side of St. Charles for a while during Tucks.

Krewe of Chad parade

Krewe of Chad doesn't throw much but they do leave a distinctive trail behind them.  These red Solo cups strewn about the street are their version of the Tucks TP streamers seen also below.

After Chad

Rolled Avenue

Chad probably won't be your favorite parade. But it's worth knowing about. Consider it another in the grand tapestry of spectacles one happens upon during these days of Carnival climax.  For example, on Friday night, after the parades had ended, Menckles and I sat out on the stoop and watched the neighborhood reverberate in their wake.  The Krewe Of Municipal Vehicles (file photo 2009) clanged and banged and bulldozed the streets clean again. The rented out house across the street hosted a party well into the night. It provided the background music as a neighbor loaded (with some difficulty) several bags of aluminum cans she had collected into the back of a vintage Ford Aerostar.

As for the Chads, themselves, they will be back. Those among them who aren't arrested, run over, or shot by a Port-O-Let tonight will be back in position Uptown tomorrow morning.  We'll do our best to entertain them.

Thoth Brew

Friday, February 24, 2017

Busy Carnival Season

Triple Comuses
Downman House on Friday afternoon flying three Comus flags. Krewe D'Etat is basically Comus

Sorry that makes for light posting until the big photo dump comes along at some point. The weather has been fantastic and we've been at every Uptown parade so far. This morning we were up early and hungover to load our float for Sunday.  I've got some notes on all the parades I'll post later if I'm not too exhausted. Very quickly though.

1) Even though Nyx is much more generous with the throws, Muses is still a better parade. Prettier floats, better staging, more interesting things to look at. Most of all, a funnier, satirical theme.

The Grump

2) What's up with every satirical parade being obsessed with Mike Yenni? It's just not that interesting compared to other stuff going on around town.


3) Last night, Alli found a cart vendor selling something called "Korean Jambalya" and it is amazing!

Korean Jambalaya

Anyway, more later. I gotta go get ready for D'Etat.  I am given to understand they have Yenni-themed dancers this year. *sigh*

Thursday, February 23, 2017

And this is why you do it

Was the crowd at Bill Cassidy's townhall "uncivil"? Yep.  Were they there to "vent" rather than to "listen"? You bet.  Were they being unfair to Cassidy?  Not really.  It's his job to listen to this stuff.  Grace makes a point of commending him for doing this. And that's fine. But it is the minimum requirement.
Yes, he tried to limit questions at the town hall to those submitted in writing, but when the crowd forced his hand, he heard people out and tackled some controversial topics. The room was way too small, but he didn't pack it with supporters; outside his own staff, he didn't seem to have a friend in the place. He did not accuse the attendees of being paid protesters; afterwards, he readily acknowledged they were citizens expressing their First Amendment rights.
What she gets wrong, though, is her suggestion that interactions like this are "unproductive."  As evidence, we present, the entire history of all political agitation.  The purpose here is to make yourself heard and to keep the pressure on.  Of course it isn't realistic to think that Bill Cassidy is going to adopt all of your positions because you yelled at him. But if you've made it even the slightest bit more difficult for him to ignore you, then you've moved the meter a bit.

The fact that Cassidy at least goes through the motions of listening is all the more reason to show up at his events.  An even better idea would be to protest and disrupt Democratic townhalls. But since we don't have a Democratic Senator right now, well, here we are. It's not much but it's what we have at this point.  The alternative is silence.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Carnival Bulletin and Photo Dump

A summary of the Carnival season so far. If you are looking for parade rankings, they are here.


Are you hosting a house party this season?  There's some pretty good advice in here.
How to be a good host and still party down at the parade?

To help less experienced parade party hosts master the day, we asked Scineaux, Tim Acosta of Rouses Supermarkets, who is known in his food-centric family for hosting big backyard parties, and longtime caterer Linda Kleinschmidt-Schmidt for tips.
Ok it's mostly common sense.  But the point about big batch dishes is good common sense to observe. At some point, over the course of the parade season, I usually end up making a big jambalaya. Menckles has a great chilli recipe that works particularly well when it's cold out. (It hasn't been this year. Last weekend, she made spaghetti instead.) For Mardi Gras Day I always make two pounds of red beans.  Last night, we made what we hope will be the final big grocery run of Carnival.  After Thursday, neither of us is all too keen to move our cars.

Meanwhile, Chrissy Teigen wants to know where to find the best gumbo.
Chrissy Teigen, the supermodel and author of the cookbook "Cravings" (Clarkson Potter), had a question Sunday (Feb. 19) for New Orleans: who makes the best gumbo.
Teigen is actually one of the better celebrity follows on social media. Even if you don't care about the Hollywood and lifestyle stuff, she's witty and outspoken on a number of topics. It's why she can ask about gumbo and cause that to become one of those "Today on Twitter" items on NOLA.com.  I even participated by way of having some of my photos retweeted at her by somebody. This truck looks like the sort of place to find pretty good gumbo.  I didn't try any, though.

Gumbo and yakamein and such

Food cart

If you weren't in the mood for that stuff, there were plenty of other options along the route on Sunday.  Here's a taco truck parked out in front of Rite Aid.

Taqueria Big Papas

Brother's seems to have taken over Williams Supermarket.  I'm not sure how I feel about this. Seems like we've lost a local-oriented business in favor of a more visitor friendly grab-n-go.


On the other hand, 24/7 seems nice. Remind me to check on that later to see if it's real.

Then you've got the regular collection of traveling carnie vendors selling fried goo of various sorts.

Mini Donuts

Corn Dogs

Burgers and Fries

The "brick-and-motar" places along the Avenue are selling street food as well.  One of the newest is the super-fancy Lula distillery and restaurant.  They were making fancy drinks and selling cheap beer at fancy prices.


But Mardi Gras really isn't a time for fancy drinks or prices.  It's more about the joys of tacky and cheap. On Saturday night, for example, this guy would sell you an orange daiquiri. If you wanted an orange daiquiri.

Daiquiri cart

The Krewe of Pontchartrain even ran a food-based theme, as well they should given that their mascot is a catfish.

Captain Sam

The first weekend parades are almost always lighthearted stuff. Pontchartrain's parade this year, for instance, was all about different things you can have on your po-boy.  One of their tropes is they like to tease the crowd with extremely easy fill-in-the-blank float titles.  So there were floats called "_oa__ _e_f" and "M_at__l" for (Roast Beef and Meatball) and, of course, "__ri_p"


Might want to hold off on the "S__t Sh__l C__b" for a while, though.  I don't think they are available right now.

Soft shell crab


The NBA All-Star Game appears to have gone off fine for the celebrities and high rollers for whom the entirety of downtown was pretty much walled off throughout the weekend. It turned out well for Pelicans fans too.  First they got to see their hometown star pull down an MVP trophy with a 52 point performance. Nevermind that it was totally rigged
In a game typified by selfish play, it was clear West teammates were giving Davis additional opportunities that may not come when the game is outside of New Orleans. Whether it was Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook, Marc Gasol or DeMarcus Cousins, Davis was given chances to finish possessions, just as West coach Steve Kerr predicted Saturday.

“It was amazing,” Davis said. “That's what I wanted to do. I stressed that, I think more than enough, to the guys in the locker room before the game that I wanted to get the MVP for this crowd, for this city, and I ended up doing it. Them guys did a great job of just finding me, giving me the basketball. They wanted me to score 50. Every time, Kawhi (Leonard) was like, 'Six more points.' Or James (Harden) was like, 'I'm going to pass you the ball.'
Next, they apparently stole DeMarcus Cousins from the Kings. At least that's the way they seem to feel about it in Sacramento. Maybe it was totally rigged. Or maybe the Kings are stupid.
Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway, a top-three protected 2017 first-round pick, and a 2017 second round pick. That’s it. That’s all the Sacramento Kings got for a center who is still young and good enough to be a foundational NBA player. Exactly what sorts of shocked, horrified noises should you be making in response to that trade? Here’s some guidance: According to ESPN’s Ramona Shelburne, the Pelicans had offered the same package minus Hield to the 76ers in exchange for Jahlil Okafor—who really sucks!—and didn’t get it done. Please, try to keep it down.
Whatever it is, you won't hear many complaints in New Orleans. All told, the All Star Weekend nobody really wanted could have gone a heck of a lot worse.

On Sunday morning, the Mystic Krewe of Femme Fatale celebrated the All Star Game with a float full of players' wives introducing their theme, "Femme Fatale Hosts Game Day." Turns out "Game Day" meant floats representing various board games like this Candyland number for example.


Still, it made for a nice kid-friendly day parade. You have to get up early to see it, but Femme Fatale puts on the best all around show of the first weekend Uptown. In just three years they've really blown up.

Mistress of the Robes

Femme Fatale

Baby doll

It doesn't hurt, also that they've managed to book some of the best marching bands.  This year they were led by Southern University. They always bring the thunder and the lighting.


I had the bike Sunday morning which allowed me to get up and down the route and hear Southern play a few times. It's kind of dumb that I only stopped to record a few seconds of their cadence but I'm sure I'll see them again this year.  I did happen to film the US Marine Corps band leading Alla later in the day.  There are marching bands that are more exciting but the Marines produce a sound that is unique among them.

By comparison, Brother Martin High School here could use a little polish.

That's also Sunday afternoon, by the way, when Krewe of Carrollton once again unloaded all of the Catholic School bands... or maybe they left Brother Martin for King Arthur. Shit, I don't even remember now. Carrollton's parade was about music, in any case.

Carrollton Jukebox

So.. you guessed it.. the floats were (mostly) songs you would find on jukeboxes. Like this KISS song.


Or these country "hits."

Best of 80s country

Some of the floats didn't make any sense, though. There was one about shrimp boots or something that didn't seem to have any connection to anything. Having the Elvi roll in front of a "Jailhouse Rock" float was pretty cute, though.

Elvi float

Seen a lot of the Elvi already this year. They were in Cleopatra too.  Anyway, it was a perfectly fine Carrollton parade. Maybe felt like they were going through the motions a bit.  I'm not really complaining, though. That's not what this section is about. The next section, however...


Actually, let's start with other people's complaints.  In Uptown Messenger this week we find Owen Courreges writing the obligatory parade etiquette column so that we don't have to. I guess, he says it well enough. He comes off as more of a scold than he probably wants to.  There are the standard reminders in there about the laws governing ladders and the blocking of intersections. Here is the point he makes about space saving.
POINTER #3: You can’t save a spot.

This is, perhaps, the most difficult rule for many people to remember. So many people visiting New Orleans suffer from the regrettable misconception that they can stake out a location in advance of a Mardi Gras parade, and then exclude any unauthorized persons from said location.

However, the places where people view parades are streets and sidewalks, i.e., public rights-of-way. You can’t claim “dibs” over them. Everybody has equal access. You can only claim a space with your physical presence.
Things would go more smoothly if everyone understood this from the get-go.  A lot of first-timers and/or people who only come into New Orleans for Endymion or for Thoth Sunday have a bit of a learning curve to deal with. I think if the city continues to take action like it did this week on the Orleans Avenue neutral ground, behaviors might start to change over time. The good news, though, is that they can also change within the space of an evening.

The secret to dealing with an over-Chad-ed parade route is patience. As tight as things may feel at the beginning of a parade, they almost always loosen up as the day or night goes on.  People get more familiar and less paranoid. Everyone stops worrying so much about their territory and focuses instead on watching the parade or talking to people or, well, just doing what they wanna. 

Nine times out of ten, you'll probably end up at the front for at least a float or two. Really, what you'll find is that you don't necessarily need to be in any one spot in particular anyway.  It would be nice if people would recognize this straight away. And, like I said, the city is right to step up enforcement with an eye toward accomplishing this. But, usually, the Chads don't have anywhere near the power to ruin your good time that you may think they do. There are always exceptions to that rule but just keep it in mind.

Tent hell

On Saturday, the tents and ladders on the neutral ground only blocked a few people's view of the hapless Krewe of Freret. Below is a photo of their permanent royal fixture, Councilman Jason Williams dressed up, for some reason, like a stormtrooper.

Jason Williams is a stormtrooper 

This is Freret's fourth year. Unlike Femme Fatale, though, they've never made the leap out of beginner status.  Their theme was, basically, "Hello this is our fourth year."  All of the floats were loosely titled with some sort of pun using the number four. The floats were also mostly the Krewe of Boo floats so, in a lot of cases, the theming made no sense. Here is a float called "May the Fourth be with you." Ok. But why is it Dracula?  No idea.

Fourth be with you

Freret, as usual, also just seemed pretty raggedy in general. Noticeable empty spots where riders could be. That sort of thing.  On the other hand, they do seem to enjoy themselves. I'm not sure about this but I think the "Lucha Krewe" appears in other parades although I also think they are a Freret creation.

Lucha Krewe

Lucha Krewe

So that's pretty fun.  Maybe this whole parade should just be a marching club or something.

Speaking of marching clubs, here is something else that came up this week. The T-P is running a column by someone calling herself,  "The Mardi Gras Czar." Okay, fine. I guess.  Can the Czar be cited for overuse of third person voice, though? And the gimmicky language in general? She's also a contrarian with hot takes to offer. Consider this, for example.
Truth is, Mardi Gras Czar loves the mostly-female marching groups' spirit, costumes, boots and skill at applying fake eyelashes.

But what Mardi Gras Czar doesn't love is that the ratio of women's marching groups to live bands seems to have mushroomed in recent years.

New Rule:

For every marching group that parades to recorded music, there should be at least three live bands, high school or otherwise. While City Carnival Ordinance Section 34-14 mandates that "each parade shall have at least seven, but no more than 30 (30!) marching bands," there is no language pertaining to marching groups.

For example:

The Krewe of Nyx was a highlight last year. Great throws. However, there were so many women's marching groups in Nyx that I wondered if the krewe simply forgot to book more than a few marching bands.
The thing is, despite the shticky presentation with the "New Rule" and such, she's kind of got a point.  I don't know if the problem is exactly recorded vs live music. But there are situations where the marching clubs are starting to feel a little bit redundant. There have always been dance troops in parades. In recent decades, a new generation of them inspired by the Pussyfooters (seen here in Femme Fatale Sunday) brought a refreshing DIY artistry to the game.


Groups like this added a new dimension to the parades. They're an element that really set Muses apart during its early years, for example.   Nowadays they're everywhere. And that's not itself a bad thing. Check out the Dames de Perlage and their homemade costumes, for example.

Dames de Perlage

Or the fabulous Roux La La doing a Brazilian theme this year.

Roux La La

We seem to have reached a point, though, where these acts, including even the World Famous 610 Stompers, aren't the surprise element they once were. So when they are deployed by a parade that uses them, as The Mardi Gras Czar implies, in lieu of marching bands, then that can get a little boring.  Freret felt like this on Saturday.

So did King Arthur a little bit on Sunday. Although, I will give that parade a lot of credit for owning its own limitations, throwing generously, and having a sense of humor.. or at least.. for putting Monty Python quotes on all of the float titles.

Supreme executive power

Their rented floats didn't fit a specific theme on their own without a little narrative help from the tittle cards. That was fine, though. It's cheap but it works. See, the Knights of the Round Table dance whenever they're able... they dance to ABBA.


Finally, in complaints, there are probably too many parades the first Sunday.  This is yet another consequence of the over-crowded Uptown schedule. This is, I think, Alla's third year since moving over from the West Bank.  According to the schedule, they begin at 2:00 PM. In practice, they are a night parade.

Queen Alla LXXXV

That might be OK if they were worth waiting for. But there isn't much to distinguish Alla from the three parades that preceded it. There's this big "Alla-gator" float.

Alla Gator

Also, Alla emphasizes military and law enforcement every year so you get to see the coast guard and some friends of Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand.

Coast Guard

Sheriff Newell Normand

At the end of a long day and weekend, it can feel like a let down.


Mounted NOPD

In addition to the Coasties and the JPs, in the parades, there is also the heavy presence of municipal enforcement all along the route.  Here is NOPD's observation tower.

Louisiana and St. Charles

I wonder what happens when they have to pee.

Of course NOPD aren't the only agents of the law you might encounter. The real business is being conducted by parking enforcement.

Uh oh

Also, here again is our friend with the daiquiri cart.  I didn't have the chance to investigate further but this appears to be a permit inspection. Or maybe there is some sort of code against selling orange daiquiris that are actually red.

Orange Daiquiris


This is probably an item for later in the week. But as krewe politics becomes more relevant this week, here is a brief guide we produced last year for you to keep in mind.

Yes, it's a joke. And, yes, some of those groups share riders and it's not... look, don't @ me over this.

Instead, here is something to read. It's an ANTIGRAVITY article by Robin McDowell about the 1946 flambeau carrier strike. There are echoes of this in the current plight of so-called "culture bearers" who struggle to make ends meet entertaining the tourists and upper classes of our increasingly stratified and unaffordable city.
So few people who live and work in New Orleans actually ride atop floats. Those who work ungodly hours day and night in restaurant kitchens preparing New Orleans’ famous cuisine can’t actually afford the food they cook (let alone a market rate apartment). The holders of exclusive tickets bestowed for glamorous balls dance away their one-night affairs, upholding the mutually engendering exchange of appalling sums of money and social capital. The hours of work of artists, security guards, sanitation workers, cooks, servers, and delivery drivers are also part of this exchange.

Working at a Mardi Gras parade isn’t community service. It’s not “patriotic,” as the post-World War II ads would have people believe. It’s not something you do out of the goodness of your own heart to improve the living conditions of vulnerable communities. Being paid for your physical labor in smiles is an embarrassing and exploitive idea. Most of the tasks that don’t include sitting on a float with plumbing, heat, cold booze and snacks are bonafide wage labor.

Let’s look backward down Canal Street to 1946, and give a nod to a tiny minority of courageous souls who realized a strategic advantage and seized it. A humble few can wield some serious power—enough to shut down one of the greatest shows on earth.



Travel pieces about New Orleans this time of year can get pretty insufferable. But this National Geogrpahic listicle wasn't so bad. Maybe the restaurant recommendations are a little high end. Anyway, here is my "insider's tip" for this year. Skip Chewbacchus on Saturday night and go see the Uptown parades.  It's becoming a bit of scene at Chewbacchus anyway. And the reviews, as of late, are less than.. um.. stellar.

Meanwhile, the popularity of the Bywater spectacle thins out the crowd on St. Charles where there are plenty of lightsabers anyway. 


What you'll see there is Sparta, always a good looking classic style parade with flambeaux (pictured above.)  The Sparta theme was based on different editions of Cirque du Soleil (and some puns.) My pictures of their floats didn't come out so great. Here is this year's King.

Sparta King

Following Sparta is a very ambitious Krewe of Pygmalion.  Every year, Pygmalion tries a little bit harder to earn its Saturday night headlining slot. Here are their signature Jester and Pygmammoth floats.



Elaborate float design, fancy lighting, and a general bigly-ness gives this the feel of one of the later parades but on the first weekend and playing to a more manageable crowd. Pygmalion. Consider it.


Today is Wednesday and that means the "self-proclaimed Super-Krewe" of Nyx is back tonight for its sixth ride.  According to the Arthur Hardy guide, they're already the second largest krewe in terms of membership.

Krewe stats

But its explosive growth has also come with some growing pains.  If you like one great big float after another, you will have enjoyed the last few years of Nyx.  Sometimes it feels uneven, though. Almost like a truck parade.  But, boy are they ever desperate to be recognized
The ladies of the Krewe of Nyx have cemented their place in Carnival history with the unveiling of a krewe crest plaque at the Mardi Gras Fountain.

The Nyx plaque is the first to be added to  the Lakefront landmark since 2001. Nyx members dedicated their plaque Monday night, in advance of their Wednesday parade.

“The Krewe of Nyx is honored to be represented here at the iconic Mardi Gras Fountain, a New Orleans tradition.  We are honored and humbled to be among the storied and historic krewes that comprise Mardi Gras today and in the past.” said Julie Lea, captain of the Krewe of Nyx.
I guess dedicating a plaque to her krewe is a better use of Lea's time than scheduling Delgado police for double-dip detail duty or.. whatever this was about last year. It's definitely a better use of time and money than going to court over the world's dumbest $200 T-shirt idea.  The point is, wherever Nyx goes, drama and controversy seem to follow.

At least in the news, it does.  For the nearly 3,000 krewe members, none of this stuff is important. They're just here for the big parade. And the remaining 40 percent of the city's population not riding are here to see it. Oh wait... but at some point we're expecting a Plus One.
Lost in the hurlyburly of the first weekend of Mardi Gras, the first month of Donald Trump's presidency and the firehose of "fake news" comes this definitely-not-fake-news from Weekly World News, the former supermarket tabloid that now seems to be an online-only affair.

Billed (rightly) as a "Mardi Gras STUNNER!," the WWN seems to be the only media outlet to report an alien vows: "I'LL LAND MY UFO ON BOURBON STREET — ON FAT TUESDAY!"

What could possibly go wrong?