Okay let's just go ahead and talk about this right off the bat. There is palpable tension in the air as we head into the peak of this parade season. It really can't be avoided. Look around. The fate of the nation rests in the fragile, tiny hands of an unstable lunatic. The state is broke. Those of us living in the city are more anxious than ever that we may be priced out and our homes turned into time shares. The mayor is proposing to close our bars at 3. He's already turned all of downtown into a great big Nike ad. There is crime. There is homelessness. There are tornadoes. There is Sting. Troubled times make for troubled carnivals.
In a way, we can say this means things are pretty much as we would expect them to be. I would argue, in fact, that Carnival is the most essential of our civic endeavors specifically because it is not a respite from, but a reflection of the state of the community. It is a grotesque pageant that magnifies our joys and our anxieties all at once. It does not offer escape. It does offer catharsis. It's important, then, that we get this one right. There may be years when it's fine to just have an OK Mardi Gras. This year, we're gonna have to do better than that. This might be easier to say than it is to do, if it is even something we have any control over in the first place. Anyway it feels like there's a lot riding on it this time.
It certainly felt like that on KDV night. Mostly, I think we handled it well.
Behind the sea of upraised phones, you can see KDV's title float. Thanks, in part, to the Year Without A Winter we've been having, the crowd was quite bigly. That's great for losing yourself in the atmosphere. Kind of shitty for getting good photographs, though. I only got a few that are even marginally worth sharing.
I believe this"Audubondage Zoo" float is from Spermes
Mishigas' "AlienNation" presented us with Trump as Jabba the Hut.
One of my favorites was Mama Roux's French Revolution inspired theme. You can see up top the title was "Rouxling Crass"
A lot of the sub-krewes fixated on national politics. It's difficult to argue that they shouldn't do that, especially this year. I'll confess, though, that I had a similar reaction to Kevin Allman's take published here in Gambit the next day. Kevin notes that the Trump stuff took maybe a little too much attention away from the always plentiful and ripe assortment of local targets. Not that those were absent entirely. It's just that, in the words of Arthur Hardy, Mardi Gras is "a party the city throws for itself." One of the joys of seeing Krewe Du Vieux in the tourist-heavy French Quarter is knowing the majority of the gags are there for the benefit of the locals.
Again, this doesn't mean there wasn't plenty of local satire to be found. Almost every sub-krewe took its shots. Allman says this as well, by the way. It's a positive review. Most notable in this category was SPANK's send-up of Jazzfest.
This year SPANK took on a sacred cow — the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival — and reinterpreted it as "The N'awlins Cash & Selling Out Our Heritage Festival," complete with koozie throws, buttons, "Ass Passes" (a parody of Jazz Fest's "Brass Passes") and a schedule of "cubes" that included "The Jindal Shell Game Experience," "The Quint Davis Ego Explosion" and "Mike Yenni and the New Orleans Boys Choir." It was a welcome shot of sharp satire that transcended the feel-good jokes about Trump's tiny hands or copulating animals.SPANK always has the best throws.
You can't make out all of the acts listed on the "cubes" in my photo. If you click over to the Gambit article there is a better image. I wish they had fit Sean Payton and his bongos into the Jimmy Buffet column somehow. Also I like that all of the local acts are on the Lagniappe Stage and only play for 15 minutes.
Another thing to note about all the Trump takes is that they also give us a look at that fragmentation of the left phenomenon we talked about the other day. Are we protesting Trump for substantive reasons or superficial? Are we commenting because he is a threat to free speech, immigrant rights, labor standards, environmental protections, women's rights, etc.? Or do we just think he is gross? Or worse, do we waste our time blaming Wikileaks and/or "both sides" like this Krewe of Underwear float kinda does?
KDV's membership and audience is pretty solidly center-left. Yet even within that narrow spectrum, the shots that missed felt like they missed badly. That was where we most acutely felt this year's tension. It's going to get even sharper when the more right wing parades start to roll. Be ready for it.
Oh also Krewe Delusion! I don't think I've caught them in a few years. The good thing about sticking around for Krewe Delusion is the crowd thins out a bit and you can get some better photos.
I thought their decision to not have a monarch this year was pretty clever.
Also they were led by the Joseph S. Clark School Marching Band. You don't usually see that in the French Quarter parades.
I can't really say I remember too very much more about it, though, because, well.. I was pretty far gone by then. We did make it back to the Deurty Boys gallery afterward for very blurry post-parade activities.
I'm a little embarrassed at the intensity of the hangover I woke up with on Sunday. Clearly I don't have my sea legs yet. But there's plenty of time to train up. In any case, I'm not gonna feel bad about it now. By the way, I think that's how we're going to persevere through all the tension and anxiety this year. No, not by drinking more. Instead, our strategy for handling this Mardi Gras is just to take it as it comes. Don't try too hard. Don't over-plan. Expecting too much is the surest way to disappoint yourself. Just be in the moment, let it come to you, and it probably will.
Be mindful of the stressors, though. There are plenty out there. Most prominent among those at the moment is the ceaseless encroach of the dreaded Krewe of Chad. Gambit's dedicated reporting on the situation at the Orleans Avenue neutral ground got off to its earliest start ever this year. And the situation there continues to deteriorate. The ladders pictured at the top of this post are from St. Charles Avenue. I took that photo on Tuesday. The first parades, Oshun and Cleopatra, are Friday night.
These sights have already drawn a few strong words from the mayor.
"We are going out there and asking people to move their ladders,” Landrieu said. “If the ladders are tied together causing a hazard, we are going to move the ladders. They are not going to have their ladders or their spot. That's a lot of punishment for Mardi Gras."Although, having been through this drill a few times, we're pretty sure that's the only official reaction we'll see. The city's official notice about parade laws and norms also mentioned ladders and tents as usual. Mostly, though, they are focused on parking violations. That's where the real money is made.
Before, during and after the parades, the City will extend enforcement efforts into the neighborhoods adjacent to the published parade routes. This will minimize non-residential intrusion. Parking officers will primarily enforce the following safety violations:I have also heard they're going to be looking for parked cars with expired brake tags although that didn't make it into the memo. Anyway, be careful out there.
- Blocking a fire hydrant ($40 fine)
- Parking in a fire lane ($40 fine)
- Parking within 15 feet of a fire hydrant on either side ($40 fine)
- Parking within 20 feet of a crosswalk, intersection, or stop sign ($40 fine)
- Parking on a sidewalk ($40 fine)
- Parking on a traveled portion of the roadway ($40 fine)
- Parking within 3 feet of a driveway on either side ($40 fine)
- Parking on the neutral ground and subject to seizure ($75 fine)
- Parking adjacent to the neutral ground ($40 fine)
- Parking in freight/loading zone ($40 fine)
- Parking in a handicapped zone without proper permit displayed ($500 fine)
- Parking at an expired meter ($40 fine)
- Parking in a Residential Permit Parking zone without a permit displayed ($40 fine)
- Parking in the wrong direction (vehicles must park in the direction of travel on one way streets, and with the right wheel to the curb on two way streets) ($40 fine)
- Vehicles that have unpaid parking tickets will be booted and/or towed.
Most of all try and stay cool and take it as it comes. If it starts to feel like "There Ain't No Place To Pee," know that relief is available. You just have to know where to look. Here is a map to all city provided facilities along the parade routes. Keep calm. The club is open.
If you get to the route and some Chads are all up in your face, just have a little patience. A parade crowd tends to mellow as the party goes on. Also it helps to know that full blown Chads are an extreme minority niche. Kind of like the Alt-Right. It may not always seem like it, but in fact, the nice people greatly outnumber them.
Finally, be on the lookout for surprise and surrealism both small and large. In the large category this week, we find this remarkable float from Carnival in Viarreggio.
I wonder if any of the folks there watched this go by and worried that the parade wasn't paying enough attention to local politics. Probably. But, of course, Carnival is a worldwide celebration and there is much to share. The Italians can take our President (Please!) and we can borrow their artists from time to time as well. This is from John Pope's 2010 obituary of long time float builder Raul Bertuccelli.
His papier-mache creations adorned the flamboyant floats of the Rex, Bacchus, Endymion and Alla parades. He built the cornucopia for the Boeuf Gras float in the Rex parade, as well as figures for the Wonderwall and the daily Carnival parades during the 1984 world's fair. He also made the massive Mr. Bingle figure that hovered during the Christmas shopping season outside Maison Blanche's Canal Street store. (The store has closed; its building has been converted to the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans.)Happy Mardi Gras. Here comes every last disgusting, beautiful bit of it.
Mr. Bertuccelli made some of his figures move. For the Rex parade, float designer Henri Schindler said, Mr. Bertuccelli's creations included a giant dragon, a lizard and a lion, all enormous and animated. Even their eyes moved.
Mr. Bertuccelli had grown up building such mobile figures in Viareggio, his hometown in the Italian region of Tuscany, where his father and uncle making floats for the annual Carnevale celebration.