St Charles Avenue
The men and women in blue, our own New Orleans Police Department, aka NOPD, are the coolest cats on the parade route. Virtually nothing nonplusses them. They have seen it all on St. Charles Avenue during Carnival literally. They almost always have time to answer a question from a tourist or local. Most often they have smiles on their faces, except when something goes awry on the parade route and they must intercede.
Police in New Orleans are in what’s called Mardi Gras mode. No days off until the day after Fat Tuesday, and all shifts are 12 hours. That is a stressful combination. Other police forces in the metro area are coming to help out. State police, Probation and Parole, Kenner, St John the Baptist, St Bernard and Jefferson parish police on the way. That’s a lot of police.
I like to wish the police a good day or night on the parade route, as I have a high regard as a general rule for NOPD during Carnival. They are working while we are playing, and on really beautiful days like today, that’s not so easy. One thing about New Orleanians during Mardi Gras, they like to drink a beer or a cocktail while socializing out on the parade route.
Other situations can develop quickly during Carnival- float breakdowns are a possibility. People joining the parade ad hoc for the sheer fun of it (that’s not allowed). People getting run over by a float or kicked by a horse (these are fairly rare occurrences).
There is a Mardi Gras fugitive roundup going on, just this weekend 34 people were arrested for 54 offenses.
Those little black squares on their chests in both pictures are the cameras that record everything that goes down. That’s a good thing. Of course, the cameras can be turned off, and don’t always work.
Mardi Gras 2016 was fantastic, it was exciting, it was downright thrilling at times. Of course, I’m a Mardi Gras freak. It was a very short season, ending on February 9. Next year, Fat Tuesday is more than 2 1/2 weeks later.
I want to thank my sweet girlfriend Sue and my good friend Billy, both Mardi Gras freaks without whom the entire season wouldn’t have been nearly as much fun. Billy lives a block from St. Charles Avenue so his house was parade central and I went to virtually all my parades with Sue.
The season began for me with my own Krewe du Vieux, which rolled January 23. It was a terrific parade and the ball was fantastic, with none other than Texas guitar legend and ZZ Top front man Billy Gibbons on guitar and vocals along with Walter Wolfman Washington and George Porter, Jr. The ball was held in the Civic and it’s a pretty nice party forum compared to some of the more sorry auditoriums KdV has used in their recent past.
I caught a couple of newish throws, the Thoth Fedora and the NYX Earbuds.
When Fat Tuesday was only a couple of hours past sunrise, I was on Jackson Avenue below Dryades for Zulu. I was wearing my purple, green and gold silk scarf, my purple reversible satin cape from amazingcapes.com, my gold half mask, and my newly acquired Mardi Gras furry leggings. I bought the leggings Fat Tuesday morning on the Zulu parade route from a shopping cart vendor.
Bands play a big role in parades, the best bands generally are from local high school and surrounding colleges. Out of town bands perform in many parades toward the end of each season, as local high schools are limited to seven parades per season. Bands have been part of Mardi Gras processions and parades since the very beginning. Bands cost the krewes a lot more money post Katrina. Before the storm, parade band fees ran $1,000-$1,500 per parade. After Katrina, the bands ask for and get $3,500 or more. Bands are in demand for more than one reason. They add the beat and the funk, essential elements of parades. The New Orleans City Council has mandated that all Orleans parish parades have 7 bands. My own Krewe du Vieux has around 20 brass bands participate in the parade.
Year after year, the best high school band is the St. Augustine Marching 100, and the best college band is the Southern University Jaguar Band. Other notable bands in 2016 include the Landry Walker High School Band and the Texas Southern Ocean of Soul.
Some of the best looking floats all year were in the Proteus parade. Royal Artists create this parade, and it’s the best work they do by far.
I ended up in the French Quarter at Molly’s at the Market on Decatur around noon Fat Tuesday, to meet the Perv Patrol, my girlfriend’s Sue’s themed costume group. It was the first time in decades I missed REX which was my choice after deciding to see all of ZULU for the first time in as long. ZULU had a long break near the beginning that was over 30 minutes long and set the parade back big time. We ran into the Krewe of Cosmic Debris which had come down Decatur Street just as I arrived. Molly’s is one of their stops so I had a really hard time getting a drink when the krewe invaded the bar. I went down the street to an adjacent bar and bought a double and returned to Molly’s.
I have always loved Carnival, from the first parade I ever saw to the last one last night. Really looking forward to my new costume wrinkles for 2016 and the fact that I’ll be heading to the French Quarter for the first time in a decade. I’ll be meeting up with my girlfriend Sue at Molly’s at the Market.
When I first came to New Orleans, the only real throws were short beads that had little plastic connectors. The photo below, Muses Rice Beads, shows the type of beads that were all in vogue at the time minus the Muses metal ‘M’. Medallions were timid little things, not the garish giants of today. There were also a number of Czechoslovakian glass beads.
Now, throws are very diversified. Blankets, light up beads of all description, koozies of all description, mini soccer balls and footballs galore, small stuffed animals of all ilk and variety, are just a sampling of the endless variety. Most come in it’s own plastic bag.
So all this junk made of oil is now wrapped in a bag made from oil? Mardi Gras is getting grosser on an environmental level on an exponential level, and that’s a depressing and negative trend. How this came to pass is easy to explain. As throws got more expensive and complex, they warranted individual wrapping for ease of throwing.
In Orleans Parish, there are parade regulations passed by the City Council. Here’s the section on ladders-
Sec. 34-33. – Ladders and portable toilets.
All ladders used by parade spectators shall be structurally sound. No ladder, chairs, ice chests, chaise lounges, barbecue grills, and other similar personal effects shall be placed in intersections or between curbs of public streets during the pendency of a parade. Ladders, tents, grills, and other personal effects shall be placed six feet back from the street curb. Additionally, the practice of fastening two or more ladders together shall be prohibited. It shall be prohibited to use ropes or other similar items to create a barricade or otherwise obstruct passage along public property, unless otherwise specifically authorized.
When I used to see parades on Napoleon Avenue around Prytania Street, where they often line up, the police used to make sure all ladders were 6 feet back from the curb. Around town on Canal Street for Endymion and on St. Charles Avenue, it doesn’t appear the police enforce these rule anymore.
Most floats were full, but some, earlier in the season, were not. Paying for a float and not having any riders on it isn’t the best use of a krewe’s money. I am sure float riders are required to keep their masks on, and the vast majority do. Some parade captains feature less lax enforcement.
The Joan of Arc parade rolls in the French Quarter and the Phunny Phorty Phellows (PPP) down the St. Charles Streetcar line. The Phellows leave the Willow Streetcar Barn precisely at 7 pm and Joan of Arc parades downtown also at 7 pm. My own parade, Krewe du Vieux, rolls very early this year, since Fat Tuesday is very early, February 9.
The original PPP first paraded in the 19th-century. It followed behind REX on St. Charles Avenue on Mardi Gras Day and its symbol was an owl. In 1981, WYES Producer Peggy Scott Laborde and her husband Errol Laborde, along with their friends brought back the PPP name informally, tossing beads from a streetcar to herald the start of the Carnival season. Soon the streetcar krewe solidified and legitimized.
Joan of Arc parades in honor of St. Joan and New Orleans’ French cultural heritage. Here’s their route-
Twelfth Night is also the unofficial start of the King Cake season, which does seem to informally start before the New Year rolls around! A huge amount of King Cakes are sold through February 9, or Fat Tuesday 2016. Uber has gotten into the act, partnering with Haydel’s Bakery for the second year in a row. From 10 am to 2 pm on January 6, Uber app users just needed to ask for a King Cake instead of a car. Only traditional, unfilled King Cakes are available from Uber’s service.
In 3 weeks, my own krewe, Krewe du Vieux (KdV), rolls in the Marigny and French Quarter.
Marching in a parade is what living in New Orleans is all about. I’ve been in Krewe of Clones, Tucks, and now Krewe du Vieux. Mardi Gras is lots of fun as a spectator sport, but joining the parade changes things big time. The fun, comradeship and excitement of belonging to a Mardi Gras krewe cannot be beat. It’s a top drawer New Orleans experience.
From the KdV web site- The Krewe du Vieux was founded in 1987, born from the ashes of the fabled Krewe of Clones. The Clones began in 1978, based out of the Contemporary Arts Center. This ‘Art Parade’ became wildly popular for their imaginative and creative street performance art. By 1985, the Krewe of Clones had grown to 30 sub krewes and over 1,500 marchers. After the Clones imposed rules designed to create a respectable Uptown parade, Craig “Spoons” Johnson of the Krewe of Underwear and Don Marshall of Le Petite Theatre du Vieux Carre conspired to form a new parading Krewe. Their intent was to bring back parading in the French Quarter in the free-wheeling style of the Clones without myriad rules and expenses. Free from the constraints of decorum and reality, KdV was established as a official parade.
The next paragraph is from Wikipedia.com–
The Krewe du Vieux is perhaps simultaneously the most individualistic and the most traditional of all New Orleans parading krewes. It has no large tractor pulled floats like the larger krewes, using only old-style, small, human-drawn or mule-drawn floats interspersed with marchers on foot. It has no recorded music blaring from boom box trucks, for the Krewe du Vieux uses music only from live bands. The floats are handmade and decorated by members of the respective sub-krewes, often with themes satirizing local politics and customs, sometimes of a bawdy nature — in such aspects arguably closer to early-19th-century Carnival traditions than any other Krewe currently parading. The Krewe du Vieux is the only Krewe still allowed to parade through the French Quarter (other than some small walking Krewes on Mardi Gras Day); krewes with larger floats have been prohibited in the narrow streets of the old town since the 1970s.
Happy Mardi Gras!!!