Mayor Mitch Landrieu

Carnival in New Orleans Begins in Earnest Today!!

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When Cleopatra and Oshun kick off on Friday evening, we launch the 10 day sprint known as Carnival in New Orleans. Krewe population trends varied around the metropolitan area, an interesting pattern to say the least. Orleans Parish organizations are growing by leaps and bounds, while Jefferson Parish saw several krewes fade away. I really cannot explain this development. The suburbs have been growing for decades as the city lost population. So why did Thor, Zeus and Atlas, three old Jefferson krewes with 140 years of parading history, cease marching?

Krewe of Cleopatra Logo

Krewe of Cleopatra Logo

In the past 17 years, 25 Carnival clubs have quit. The trend precedes Hurricane Katrina. In spite of the Orleans Parish parade moratorium, the Mystic Krewe of Femme Fatale received permission to ride this year on February 8. They will parade after the three previously scheduled parades. In Jefferson, the Krewe of Athena Carnival Club received a parade permit to follow Excalibur tonight.

Parade goers will have to come up with a new plan if they set up shop on certain neutral grounds and city street intersections this year. The Army Corps of Engineers’ drainage projects along Napoleon and Jefferson Streets will mess up lots of Carnival plans. Fences on the neutral grounds along Napoleon will severely limit parade watching.

According to Mark Romig, president of the New Orleans Tourism and Marketing Corporation, the 2015 season will be a busy one, with many area hotels already filled up between now and Fat Tuesday. However, the Quarter and downtown have suffered recently from bad publicity due to a rash of robberies and assaults.

Additional state troopers were deployed in the French Quarter in August after more negative publicity when a shooting on Bourbon killed one woman and injured several others. Those officers left the city after the 2015 Sugar Bowl was concluded even though the mayor asked Governor Bobby Jindal to extend their stay.

Now, State Police Superintendent Mike Edmonson says he is working with New Orleans mayor Mitch Landrieu to extend their tenure. Plus, the tourism industry has ponied up $2.5 million to keep troopers here. That’s an impressive amount of money.

On a lighter note, the New Orleans Advocate is producing 14 full color Krewe Parade Bulletins for 2015. In 1886, the Krewe of Proteus became the first Carnival organization to present full color chromolithograph newspaper editions showing the float designs for it’s street pageant. Other krewes quickly followed suit, and these carnival editions or bulletins continued to be printed and sold on street corners for a dime until 1941.

1883 REX Parade Bulletin

1893 REX Parade Bulletin

This year, and this year only, Friday the 13th and Valentine’s Day fall on the weekend before Fat Tuesday. Several krewes will indicate this event via their float designs and throws.

For most of the last 150 years, New Orleans official reviewing stand for Mardi Gras parades has been historic Gallier Hall. That changed when a large piece of the facade fell off the building last year, closing the building for 2015.

Police Shortage is Mardi Gras Security Risk!!

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This is only the second or third story that will go on both of my blogs. Crime and Mardi Gras do occasionally mix.

French Quarter Caution Sign

French Quarter Caution Sign

There are signs all over the French Quarter which state Caution: Walk in Large Groups. We (heart) N.O.P.D. We Just Need More. This isn’t a good sign for a city about to enter one of the biggest holidays of the year, Mardi Gras. Approximately 1 million visitors descend on New Orleans each Carnival season and most will hit the Quarter soon after arriving. They will be greeted by a French Quarter bathed in unsettling signs.

Security is a growing concern to many New Orleanians and Americans. When New Orleans is perceived as a dangerous place, less people make plans to visit. The streets of New Orleans during Carnival are full of state troopers, federal agents, virtually half the police force at one time, plus scads of private security personnel. Downtown there are a lot of weirdos that make it down to Mardi Gras also.

In the last 11 years, at least 27 people were injured and one killed on parade routes and Bourbon Street. That is one horrific statistic. Carnival has historically had a violent side.  I personally have been very close on St Charles Avenue to a major shooting incident a decade ago. I’ve had very large groups with me at times and much smaller at other, but no one in my group has ever been accosted on the parade route or downtown or in Metairie or other parades around the metro area.

Mardi Gras in the French Quarter

Mardi Gras in the French Quarter

Another growing trend, private security cameras, have caught many of these assaults and shown the brazenness of the perpetrators. The variety of weapons employed is staggering. This footage shows up on YouTube and adds to our collective anxiety.

Since Katrina, the New Orleans Police Department (NOPD) has lost about 500 officers, and I’ve written about this problem recently on my other blog about jail and justice in New Orleans here. Michael Glasser, president of the Police Association of New Orleans, a police union, says I have been to some roll calls where there is one cop, two cops. Mayor Mitch Landrieu would like around 1,600 officers. I’ve authorized as much overtime as is necessary, says our Mayor.

The Mayor has personally felt the sting of crime very recently. One of his personal vehicles was stolen in front of his home over the weekend. The 2006 Jeep was recovered within blocks of his house by an off duty Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s deputy. The Jeep was equipped with LoJack technology. The deputy was heading home across the Mississippi River bridge after finishing a 12 hour shift. His LoJack receiver in his patrol car picked up the signal. He called in the information and found out the car belonged to the mayor of New Orleans. He followed the signal and found himself near the 2nd District Police station. He stopped and checked in, then began pursuing the stolen vehicle again. He ran into the Jeep at General Taylor and Constance streets.

Turns out the New Orleans police never received the LoJack signal as Jefferson Parish did. Hmmm.

According Glasser, This shows crime is not limited to a handful of people in the traditionally ‘bad areas.’ Anybody can be a victim, and ironically, the victim in this case is the person screaming the loudest that crime is down. And while he admits there’s a staffing shortage, I think he underrates the importance of that.

 

2013 New Orleans Mardi Gras Round Up!!!

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The 2013 Carnival season in New Orleans was one of the warmest on record, I didn’t wear a jacket until the last couple of days of the season. The Super Bowl interrupted Mardi Gras this year, so parades were held before and after the 9 day break.

Had a rather tough time at the parades this year, my large group of parade goers had winnowed down over time to just me and my beloved wife. Now that she’s gone, I saw the parades by myself. That’s not much fun, and it’s kind of sad.

I still enjoyed myself when the parades rolled. I’m such a huge Mardi Gras fan,I couldn’t help myself. I love the atmosphere, the bands, marching groups, floats, etc.

So we’ll start with the King of Carnival, REX. I dress in purple, green and gold most Mardi Gras, and this year I had a felt frog hat that added a bit of mirth to my serious costume.

REX is an old line krewe that is composed of 3 circles of membership. The inner ring is old blue blood types, and the King and Captain come from that group. The middle ring is new money types. They can become officers, but that’s it. The outside ring is composed of anyone, more or less. If you are successful in life and give something back to the community, there is a good chance REX may have a parade spot for you.

The first two rings of REX are very haughty on the parade route. They only throw to pretty girls and children. The last ring of REX throws to anyone. They are just happy to be riding with REX and give throws to the male sex even!  Obviously, the sentiments laid out here are generalizations only.

REX looked grand, it’s the best looking daylight parade by far. The floats aren’t the huge ones that Bacchus, Endymion and Orpheus use, as the float chassis are build on very old wagon bodies, with wooden wheels on the floats!! I don’t know who repairs the wheels, the last wheel wright died a while ago, and I lost touch with the process.

REX Wooden Wheels

REX Wooden Wheels

REX Cyclops Float

REX Cyclops Float

 

Zulu rolled right at 8 am on Jackson Avenue on a beautiful Mardi Gras day.  Marlin Gusman was on horseback with a gaggle of sheriff’s deputies, Mayor Mitch Landrieu was also in the parade.

Zulu appreciates costuming, and if you have a funny aspect to your costume, that only helps. Zulu has some haughty riders, but most aren’t. When the double decker, double length floats arrived, they were handing out coconuts with a frenzy. I caught 5, gave away 2 on the spot, and one later. I don’t remember any double floats in the past handing down so many coconuts.

Zulu now color coordinates their coconut colors! If the riders wore orange gowns, their coconuts were painted the same color orange.

My 3 Zulu Coconuts on Bed at Home

My 3 Zulu Coconuts on Bed at Home

I had to leave Zulu at 9 am to go home to pick up the smart card for my camera, then off to REX. On the way I say a man and his son walking around near Zulu. They were having a tough time getting there, so I reached into my bag and gave them a nice Zulu coconut. You never saw such big smiles! I was happy to give them that coconut.

Proteus the night before was one gorgeous parade. They are a very old krewe, from the late 1800s. Proteus also uses wooden wagon chassis and wooden wheels from long ago.

Proteus' Comus Float

Proteus’ Comus Float

 

Muses is the biggest all female Carnival krewe in existence. The crowds turn out for Muses, since their reputation for new, novel throws has grown large. Their most unique and rare throw, the Muses decorated shoe throw, is highly sought after. I didn’t get any shoes this year, but got lots of other unique throws, including a Muses magnetic shopping list with pad, special marker,and erasable writing surface; Muses collapsible drink flask with carabiner; Muses shoelaces in a cool plastic test tube; Muses flashlight that flashes the Muses symbol (as in Batman and the Bat signal commissioner Gordon uses to get Batman’s attention); a Muses reusable grocery shopping bag; and a Muses bead catching net. The net was a pain at the parade, all the folks who received them waved them in everyone’s faces while trying to catch throws.

I noticed for several years that Muses only throws stuff with their logo on it. That means the krewe must buy all their throws from the krewe. That’s a very expensive proposition. Most other krewes require their members to buy some throws with their logo on it, but allow the members to augment their krewe purchases with generic, cheaper throws. I bet the Muses dues is less than the cost of purchasing all those krewe throws. I really don’t think the average Muses krewe member cares. To belong to Muses, is well, one of the more divine and sublime experiences in the New Orleans Carnival world.

Krewe du Vieux rolled very early in the season, moved back a week by the Super Bowl. Nevertheless, the first parade of the season had rather warm weather this year, As readers of this blog know, I’m in KdV, and I’m very partial to it.

All the reasons- the historic parade route, the donkeys, the brass bands, and the outright over the top ribald floats- have been covered in this blog numerous times. Yes, I love my KdV!!

2013 Krewe of Underwear Float

2013 Krewe of Underwear Float

KdV Underwear Float  Detail

KdV Underwear Float Detail

Roger Goodell, long time NFL Commissioner, made a statement alluding to the KdV float, the anti Goodell signage in stores,restaurants and bars all over town, and the voodoo dolls he’s been given. He claims none of that influenced his decision to lift Saints Coach Peyton’s suspension a couple of weeks early. We all know better!

 

 

New Freret Parade has Stalled Out for 2013!!

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The blame game is out in full on this parade cancellation. The krewe of Freret blames none other than NOPD, our police force, now under a federal consent decree!

Krewe of Freret Logo

Krewe of Freret Logo

The krewe says they have the support of the other krewes and have arranged for the necessary floats. The Captain says the New Orleans Police Department never responded officially to the krewe’s application.

An adviser to our fine mayor, Mitch Landrieu,said the application ”fell through the cracks.” Apparently the police thought the application was for 2014, even though their enclosed check was for 2013.

1975 Silver Freret Medals

1975 Silver Freret Medals

The original Krewe of Freret started in 1953. I remember watching them on Freret St in the 1970s and 80s. In 1995, the krewe was in financial difficulties and stopped parading.

http://www.nola.gov/government/nopd/

http://www.nola.gov/government/nopd/

The new krewe says they will hold their ball and coronation. I’m pleased they are staying active with the plan to return to a parading krewe in 2014. The krewe’s web site says- WELCOME TO THE KREWE OF FRERET – WE CANNOT BE STOPPED!

In late 2011, seven young Loyola graduates lamented the notion of squandering hard earned money to join a formal Krewe where they knew virtually no one and would have limited input.  So rather than joining an existing Krewe, they sought to enhance Mardi Gras by creating a world class parade.

Those simple three words that utter so softly off of your lips, “Krewe of Freret”, drive Tulane and Loyola alumni to come together for the greater good of Carnival. Whereas the word ‘Freret’ was previously a division line between two campuses, the Krewe of Freret aims to unify these enthusiastic young professionals and infuse new vigor into Mardi Gras while simultaneously fanning the revitalization of the Freret corridor and her traditions.

The Krewe has received incredible support from the community, with many Freret Street business owners counted as Krewe of Freret members.

 

 

 

 

Mardi Gras May be Spoiled by New Orleans’ Rising Murder Rate, Reuters Says

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Reuters Thursday published an article saying New Orleans’ rising murder rate has the city on the defensive just as it is gearing up for Mardi Gras and the height of the tourist season. The article repeats the statistics on murder and mayhem for 2011 and January which are very familiar to those of us who live here.

Tragedy in the Projects- Another New Orleans Murder

Tragedy in the Projects- Another New Orleans Murder

Not sure that Reuters really understands what Mardi Gras in New Orleans means to America and the World. It’s the ultimate free public party in America. Mardi Gras in New Orleans is the one stop party shop of the year,and it will be right back next year.

Generally the event itself is rather safe, though we’ve had a few parade route shootings over time and a few French Quarter gun pulls as well. However more than a million folks attend the entire Metro event over the season, and 99.999% report having a dream of a time.

So any rooms not booked due to an increasing murder rate will be booked by the next enthusiast. If they decide not to come, the next enthusiast will be happy to have that room.

The city’s homicide statistics are rising as the national rates are declining, and city officials don’t really know why. It notes Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s plan to adopt Chicago’s CeaseFire program as pilot program in February. Noting that the perpetrators and victims are generally young black men, the article quotes Tulane University criminologist Peter Scharf as saying the city has failed to come to grips with the drug war it has on its hands. “You have to deal with the vibrant dope economy and culture around these guys,” Scharf said. ” CeaseFire is fine, but that doesn’t replace the need for a plan.

Peter Sharf, Tulane University

Peter Sharf, Tulane University

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