Sunday, January 07, 2018

The Motherfucking Bountiful Harvest

The Saints had an amazing year.  It was amazing not only because the team was successful but because it was different from what fans had come to expect. A Sean Payton and Drew Brees led team won a division title on the strength of its running game and its defense. Most of the time your team doesn't undergo a makeover like that without there first having been some sort of regime change. We began the season wondering if Sean could get himself re-elected. He proved that he could do that in the most creative and unorthodox way.  Congratulations. 

It's also been amazing in ways that extend past the mere W and L columns. There was the impossible comeback in the waning minutes of the Washington game.  There was an absurd beat down of the Buffalo Bills we won't forget for a long time. (By the way, that team made the playoffs. What the hell is even going on?) There was the time the Saints beat the Falcons on Christmas Eve in the Superdome because Matt Ryan threw an interception to a butt. What else could we want?

Oh yeah, this team was also extremely likeable. The roster is populated by great stories all around. There's  Mark Ingram, almost considered a bust at the start of his career, whose steady improvement has him on the verge of laying a claim as the greatest back in the history of the franchise. There are the record breaking performances of All-Pro Cameron Jordan, and second year receiver Michael Thomas. There's the odd fact that the team likely has both the defensive and offensive Rookies Of TheYear on the roster. Also, there's that offensive Rookie Of The Year guy, himself.  
Around 8:30, Kamara is back on his couch, with Disney’s Moana on the television and all of his old friends hanging around. Bottles of Patron and Moët & Chandon champagne are scattered about. Kamara has a big night planned, a private table booked at Masquerade for Jeezy’s Christmas Eve party. That’s another part of being Kamara. He always goes out the night of a win. His favorite drink at dinner is a Moscow Mule, but when he’s partying he’ll drink anything. Just like the city he resides in, he is not bashful about drinking in season.

I’m enjoying the motherf---ing bountiful harvest,” he says. “We win, I’m turning up.”
How can this city not rally around a guy like that?  The Saints play the Panthers Sunday afternoon in a playoff game that can go either way, really.  But no matter what happens, this has been a season for Saints fans to savor.  They should all take a cue from their new hero and make sure to enjoy it.

The reason I bring all of this up, though, isn't only because of the playoff game but because, as I am writing this, tonight is the Feast of the Epiphany. And this means that whatever happens on Sunday, the season of enjoying the motherfucking bountiful harvest is only just beginning.

The Phunny Phorty Phellows seemed to be in good enough cheer when we saw them earlier tonight. But that's not necessarily a sign of things to come.  There's some question this week as to whether the city is really up to doing a proper Mardi Gras anymore.  Instead of cultivating the kind of diverse, creative, and multi-modal celebration that once characterized Carnival season in New Orleans, the city seems more interested in distilling elements of that into a more orderly and "streamlined" visitor-friendly experience. 
New Orleans is hoping to run a slightly tighter ship this Carnival, asking krewes to pare down the number of bands, dance troupes and other walking groups in their lengthy processions to keep their parades from getting jammed up and delayed.

The city also is doing away with the extra turn that most parades on the Uptown route have taken up Canal Street before heading back toward the river. In this case, officials cite the potential need to get emergency services in and out of the area quickly.

That change is definite. The limit on walking groups is, for now, essentially a suggestion from Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration and the city’s Mardi Gras Advisory Council, which is made up of representatives of the various krewes, but most of the parades have agreed to it.
There are things you could do to ease congestion along the parade routes.  The most obvious of these would be to diversify the routes themselves. In recent decades, the parades have all moved away from the neighborhoods and onto a tourist-friendly corridor where, with every passing season, it becomes more accurate to say that nobody actually lives. I understand that dispersing them is more easily said than done. Parades that have moved onto the standard route report that they just can't draw a crowd anywhere else anymore. So the problem is more complicated than simply decreeing that they all go back where they were. It's probably several steps away, but a truly inclusive Carnival season needs to have a wider geographic footprint.  This isn't a staged event or festival. It's a genuine holiday season belonging to everyone.  The tourism industry and its attached political operators don't always see it as such.

And that's how we find ourselves in a situation where the bounds of our city's one-of-a-kind exercise in cathartic spiritual renewal are dictated to us by a Homeland Security stooge.
The limits came about after discussions with the various krewes and took into account the number of elements each parade has, city Homeland Security Director Aaron Miller said.

The recommendations came in response to the growing popularity of groups placed between the floats, whether on foot, horseback or other modes of conveyance, a trend that has led to longer parades and more potential for delays, Miller said.
"Growing popularity."  Uh oh, people were having too much fun at the parade. Well, they're fixing that now, thank goodness. Here is an "open letter" that got passed around this week. It's from one of the marching clubs prohibited from parading this year by the new rules. One thing that comes across is that the restrictions are more a demand than a "suggestion" from the city that the Advocate reported it to be. The krewes cancelling on this group are telling them, "sorry, the city is making us do it."

Also, although I think calling dancing clubs "the backbone of Carnival" is overdoing it a bit, this section of the letter is definitely on to something.
Mardi Gras always has a storied history of having dancers during parades, and there's a reason for that -- the crowds love to engage with someone on the ground who's just not hurling plastic at their faces.  We love the floats, we love the riders, but there needs to be a more personal connection sometime.   And that comes in with the dancing krewes.

Has Mardi Gras really become so commercial that all Krewes care about is adding more and more floats, riders, and $$$ to their bottom line?  The city now has several so-called "super krewes" with over 2500 members and so many floats they have to use both numbers and letters to legally accommodate them, but is there really no room for a few dancers, literally, dancing in the streets?
It reminded me of something Bart Everson wrote last year about the "heart of Carnival."  
If you pinned me down and demanded an answer, I’d say that Carnival at its core is about disruption of the social order. This can be a little hard to see, I admit. After all, the well-to-do pillows of society have their balls at this time, and they’re all about maintaining, not subverting. (Did I say pillows of society? I meant pillars of course.) But even these fancy events tend to be centered on a fanciful re-imagining of the social order.

Also, our big parades have become so entrenched, with influence extending throughout the year, that it can be hard to see them as a disruption of the established order. In New Orleans, they have become the established order. But still. When the parades are rolling, different rules apply. Conventions and norms are changed, sometimes even inverted. People act crazy. Cheap trinkets become valuable.

We love our parades, obviously. But to my mind the crucial tradition at the heart of Carnival is masking. In fact, our Carnival parades began (in 1857 with the Mistick Krewe of Comus) as an attempt to impose order on the rowdy and chaotic street masking celebrations.

When you put on a crazy costume, something crazy happens. You become a little crazy yourself. Anything is possible. And when a whole city does it, it seems like anything could happen. It’s kind of magical.
There are multiple contradictions to grasp in Bart's description and I won't try to pick them all apart here. The point I take away from it is that Carnival is a time for surprise and subversion. Its spirit manifests as a sprawling diverse party in the street where the line between spectator and participant is blurred and the barrier to entry is low.  The proliferation and popularity, even, of oddball marching clubs indicates the relative health of this ethos.

Which is why actions taken by the "pillows of society" to suppress the variety and creativity of these groups or to scale back the length of the street party itself, constitute a direct stab at the heart of the celebration itself. As Bart suggests, though, the powers-that-be have been making these impositions for well over a century, so maybe the situation isn't as dire as it seems. To put it another way, perhaps every new rule is another opportunity for subversion.  And sometimes the solution is as simple as remembering to enjoy "the motherfucking bountiful harvest" any way you can.

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