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Forty One: Adiu Paure Carnaval March 5, 2014

Posted by The Typist in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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At the conclusion of Carnival in Nice, France, an effigy of Monsieur Carnaval is burned, the ancient story of the burning man, the sacrifice in fire. As told by Mama Lisa’s World Blog, in that rite Monsieur Carnaval “is responsible for all the wrongdoing people do throughout the year. At Carnival time in France, Monsieur Carnaval is judged for his behavior throughout the preceding year. Usually he’s found guilty and an effigy of him is burned.”

Accompanying the ritual is a song, and I offer the lyrics collected by Mama Lisa below, both in Occitan (the language of the Troubadors) and in English. I suggest you click the link to open in a new tab or window so you can follow along as far as the MP3 goes.

And so, from New Orleans, Adiu Paure Carnaval.

Adiu paure Carnaval
(Occitan)

Adiu paure, adiu paure,
adiu paure Carnaval
Tu te’n vas e ieu demòri
Adiu paure Carnaval
Tu t’en vas e ieu demòri
Per manjar la sopa a l’alh
Per manjar la sopa a l’òli
Per manjar la sopa a l’alh
Adiu paure, adiu paure,
adiu paure Carnaval

La joinessa fa la fèsta
Per saludar Carnaval
La Maria fa de còcas
Amb la farina de l’ostal

Lo buòu dança, l’ase canta
Lo moton ditz sa leiçon
La galina canta lo Credo
E lo cat ditz lo Pater

Farewell, Poor Carnival
(English)

Farewell, farewell,
Farewell, poor Carnival
You are leaving, and I am staying
Farewell, poor Carnival
You are leaving, and I am staying
To eat garlic soup
To eat oil soup
To eat garlic soup
Farewell, farewell,
Farewell, poor Carnival.

The young ones are having a wild time
To greet Carnival
Mary is baking cakes
With flour from her home.

The ox is dancing, the donkey’s singing
The sheep is saying its lesson
The hen is singing the Credo
And the cat is saying the Pater.

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Forty: Ring of Fire March 3, 2014

Posted by The Typist in 365, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Typist, Toulouse Street.
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The doom jukebox sings Ring of Fire in the chase light calliope fun house of madness. Betz Brown is lining up snake bites for the regulars. The front door is a barricaded beer and cocktail stand but the regulars know to come down the buildings side entrance. The men’s bathroom is ankle-deep but what can you do? It’s Carnival Day at the Abbey in the late 1970s, the reign of Queen Betz, den mother to the lost. Molly’s with their Media Night thinks they attract the best and brightest, but the Abbey (which still had a shelf of books to read atop the cigarette machine in those days) were the best, the brightest, the most golden-tongued and the most drunken. It was where Marianne and I spent the election night, the year I convinced Guide newspapers to hold the Section I press for late election coverage and we kicked the Times-Picayune West Bank edition’s ass.

It was the place to be.

Betz left, finally pregnant by a regular selected by her but kept secret. (It was not me). Molly’s could have the ghost of Walter Cronkite tending bar one night, but if you consider your patrons a suitable gene pool for your child, Molly’s at the Market will never hit that mark.

I have never stopped visiting the Abbey, through its boring, immediate post-Betz days as a darts bar, and then biker bar, trannie bar, and its return as the watering hole of the dissolute twenty-something. Through all its transformations (except perhaps the first) I was, after explaining over my beer my presence, welcomed like family. The Abbey is not just a bar, it is an exclusive club, a secret society, and the mere mention of the name is the only signal we have.

I wandered in the evening of my first Carnival home in 21 years, in 2006, and found it returned to something familiar: the young and wild lined up at the bar. Is was as if I had stepped into a time machine, expecting to recognize faces in the crowd. I bought the couple at the end of the bar I was talking to a memorial snakebite but was taken aback when the barmaid asked me “what kind of snakebite?” Back in the day there was only one kind, and I only drank them when Betz was working two cocktail shakers while the bartender lined up the shot glasses.

There are two reliable stops on my Carnival itinerary. To sit on the stoop of the building where my great aunts once lived in the 800 block of royal, the spot from which I watched Carnival pass as a small child, calling up my earliest memories of watching Rex from my father’s shoulders back in the day when a moss man was instantly recognized. The other stop will be the Abbey. My days of snakebites are behind me but if I can get a PBR and a shot for $5 I’ll take it. Fortified by whatever cheap whiskey they might be pouring I will wade into the still dysfunctional bathroom and be a bit disappointed if I don’t leave with my shoes wet.

I will then take my anointed dancing feet down toward the drum circle of Frenchman having touched the holy relics of Carnivals past.

Adiu Paure Carnaval February 17, 2010

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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I think I was rehearsing the role of Monseiur Carnaval from that ashen taste in my mouth and the gritty feel to my brain this morning. I must save my energy for eight hours of meetings at work so here is last year’s Ash Wednesday post (which I think I will just schedule to auto-post every Ash Wendesday until the end of time.

At the conclusion of Carnival in Nice, France, an effigy of Monsieur Carnaval is burned, the ancient story of the burning man, the sacrifice in fire. As told by Mama Lisa’s World Blog, in that rite Monsieur Carnaval “is responsible for all the wrongdoing people do throughout the year. At Carnival time in France, Monsieur Carnaval is judged for his behavior throughout the preceding year. Usually he’s found guilty and an effigy of him is burned.”

Accompanying the ritual is a song, and I offer the lyrics collected by Mama Lisa below, both in Occitan (the language of the Troubadors) and in English. I suggest you click the link to open in a new tab or window so you can follow along as far as the MP3 goes.

And so, from New Orleans, Adiu Paure Carnaval.

Adiu paure Carnaval
(Occitan)

Adiu paure, adiu paure,
adiu paure Carnaval
Tu te’n vas e ieu demòri
Adiu paure Carnaval
Tu t’en vas e ieu demòri
Per manjar la sopa a l’alh
Per manjar la sopa a l’òli
Per manjar la sopa a l’alh
Adiu paure, adiu paure,
adiu paure Carnaval

La joinessa fa la fèsta
Per saludar Carnaval
La Maria fa de còcas
Amb la farina de l’ostal

Lo buòu dança, l’ase canta
Lo moton ditz sa leiçon
La galina canta lo Credo
E lo cat ditz lo Pater

Farewell, Poor Carnival
(English)

Farewell, farewell,
Farewell, poor Carnival
You are leaving, and I am staying
Farewell, poor Carnival
You are leaving, and I am staying
To eat garlic soup
To eat oil soup
To eat garlic soup
Farewell, farewell,
Farewell, poor Carnival.

The young ones are having a wild time
To greet Carnival
Mary is baking cakes
With flour from her home.

The ox is dancing, the donkey’s singing
The sheep is saying its lesson
The hen is singing the Credo
And the cat is saying the Pater.

Hoo Doo Flambeaux January 30, 2010

Posted by The Typist in New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street.
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Well Krewe du Vieux comin and it won’t be long.
I been making my suit and singing this song.
Hoo Doo Flambeaux gonna come on strong.
Gonna Keep on dancing till the morning come.

Hoo Doo. Hoo Doo. Hoo Doo Flambeaux gonna get them Colts!

Fantabuloso cart art by Sam Jasper.

The Spirit of the Mask January 14, 2009

Posted by The Typist in Toulouse Street.
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To the Honored Members and Guests of the Krewe of Baubo and Ame no Uzume:

I was called by the Vikingess to explain why you should costume, and offer this:

When one is called to Carnival, the first question will always be: what do I wear?

For Caslos Casteneda, entry into Don Juan’s hermetic world required a medicine man’s chest of hallucinogenic plants to break down the initiate’s dependence on the mind paths of a trained academic. For entry into the secret heart of Carnival the gateway is not as Odd. You must simply find or make a mask, one that calls you to wear it, that dictates the costume that accompanies it, that leads you to surrender yourself to the spirit of the mask.

It need not even be a mask. My “mask” this year is a tri-corner, Asian-styled hat. I do not have the costume, but I already see the costume. When you can see the character in the object, when you can see yourself in the character, you will have found the one.

Without that mask, you can only be The Tourist. We see them at Carnival common as sparrows, and the camera is their mask. They come, take Carnival’s blurry picture and go home with fabulous hangovers. They see Carnival pass them by, but they are not of Carnival. They are like Lucky Dog vendors, a bit of the backdrop. Perhaps they have fun. I imagine they do. They do not experience Carnival.

If you come do not choose to be The Tourist. Carnival is an occasion to be the spirit you know inside you. The Casteneda analogy was not an idle one; in vodoun, a bit of rum is said to help one enter into the spirit, to open to the loa. So take on your mask, pour a bit of your favorite poison for yourself (spill some for the spirit in the mask) and enter through the gate The Tourists never pass, down the carriageway that opens into the courtyard at the heart of Carnival. It is filled with masks and spirits.

Don’t be The Tourist. Be the Carnival.

Bellona on the Bayou February 26, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, literature, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, postdiluvian, Toulouse Street.
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scorpionsml.jpg

In reponse to Greg’s suggestion in the comments on “That Bright Moment” that the real connection between postdiluvian New Orleans and the work of Samuel R. Delaney is the dystopic novel Dhalgren, I offer you this Scorpion-like figure I encountered while waiting on Royal Street for the Krewe of St. Anne to come by.

The scorpions in Dhalgren are criminal gangs that decorate themelves in elaborate electronic costumes that project figures of light such as dragons around them. This picture (which I hadn’t originally posted to my Carnival Flikr set) reminded me more than anything else of what I have seen of my mental pictures of those scorpions. I wish that thought had popped into my mind on Mardi Gras so I could have asked this fellow (who sat at the next table at the coffee shop for quite a while and bummed a cigarette) if that was in fact what he intended.

The Land of Creamy Beans February 13, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Rebirth, Toulouse Street.
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It is not necessarily the big moments, the arrival of the Krewe of St. Anne at Frenchman or the first steps onto the Fairgrounds at Jazz Fest, in which I find myself most perfectly at home in New Orleans. Rather it is in the little moments that make up life here, the odd bits of life in New Orleans that are the sub-title of this blog.

In the months that have passed since I rolled over the Causeway on Memorial Day 2006 some of the sense of wonder at being here after a 20-years’ absence has been replaced by the commonplace that I am, in fact, home in New Orleans. Most days I drive down the usual routes — Carrollton Avenue, say — and it is as if I had never left, had never walked out of one home and turned down the street to view the Capitol rising down Massachusetts Avenue North East, or bundled up in the foyer of a Fargo, N.D. home to go out and shovel snow off of my driveway.

There is a familiar parade of sights–Brocato’s and Venizia, Jesuit High School, the Rock ‘N Bowl in the mostly unchanged strip mall where my mother once purchased our school clothes at the D.H. Holmes discount store; crossing the Palmetto Canal, then past the seminary to the leonine pillars at Pritchard Place and the arches at Fountainbleau and then I’m in Carrollton: passing Palmer Park to where the restaurant names change but the buildings stay pretty much the same.

And them I’m rolling home like a small boat in a light swell, dodging potholes like a river pilot navigating sandbars. I might look up from the traffic and see on one hand the branches of a row of oak tree branches extended over the streets like the hand of a priest murmuring a blessing over a small child; on the other side, a procession of the bowed shapes of palm trees slouching on the neutral ground like women waiting to cross, the trunks in the arc of a body with a hand on one hip pushing the other out in a saucy pose, the crowning leaves like an elaborate Sunday crown. And then, the odd bit: something as simple and strange as a man standing like a saintly scarecrow, arms out and hands filled with breadcrumbs, his body covered with pigeons.

At that moment I almost expect to hear a shout of azione! and see Marcello Mastroianni stride into a scene suddenly reduced to black and white, raincoat draped over his shoulders and a cigarette hanging from his lip. He is watched intently by man with a high, furrowed brow and a full, combed-back haircut last seen in a faded photo on the wall of Brocato’s, who peers at the scene over a cameraman’s shoulder. The bird man in a fabulous landscape of trees receding into infinity is reduced to the backdrop of something more than the merely fantastic, becomes part of a pattern that is as comfortable with the irrational as any other state. It feels as if I have been tipped out of a cart, transported away from my routine commute between Carrollton and Mid-City and into a sound stage bounded only by the imagination, arriving suddenly and without warning in the New Orleans of dreamy dreams.

Some days the moments are not quite as mystical but are instead as perfectly New Orleans as any instant could be. Last Sunday as I was taking down the Mardi Gras beads I had wrapped the columns in front of the house with I hear a sound I at first feared might be gun shots. Then two children with drum heads and sticks marched side-by-side up Olympia Street to the corner of Toulouse, beating a march time. They were led by a third child in front with a whistle and, from the motions he made with his arm and the way he rocked his head first one way and then the other while tilted back on his shoulders, an imaginary drum major’s staff and feathered hat. He would blow a few notes on his whistle and the drummers would answer with a few beats of the drum, over and over in perfect parade order. They marched into the middle of the intersection, and with a wave of the imaginary staff and a long, shrill whistle burst, they stopped. The leader, after some pointing and prodding and appropriate huffing on the whistle, got them turned around and they marched off back up Olympia: tweet, tweet, tweet, DUM da dum dum; tweet tweet tweet, DUM da dum dum…

I looked at the beads in my hand after they had vanished, shaking my head slowly and smiling as I silently reminded myself: no where else, man, no where but .

Queen of Denial? February 9, 2008

Posted by The Typist in 504, Carnival, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, French Quarter, home, Hurricane Katrina, Jazz Fest, je me souviens, Katrina, levee, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Hollywood Reporter columnist Ray Richmond came to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, wandered Bourbon Street and its immediate environs like a good tourist–noting the drunken hordes, the breast obsession, and the beads, all of the touchstones of a Tourist at Mardi Gras. His blog notes that he did venture out of the Quarter and into The Ruins, fand found “a watterlogged [sic] ghost town pockmarked with wide swaths of untouched damage. Meanwhile, those who dared stick it out — or more likely, had no choice — are forced to live in flimsy FEMA trailer housing where their homes once stood.”

His reaction to this odd (to him) juxtaposition was to wonder at the boosterism of the city fathers in promoting Carnival, and the commitment of the costumed locals to have their day even in the middle of Year Three of the postdeluvian era.

The local and national media don’t really talk about this stuff anymore, as Hurricane Katrina is yesterday’s crisis. It’s also far better for tourism and for the city’s tenuous self-esteem to promote the fact that New Orleans’ self-gratifying, anything-goes character is back in full. “New Orleans Hotels at 90% Capacity — and Counting!” exulted one headline. The only hurricane you seem to hear about anymore is the one that’s served in a glass (dark rum, pineapple juice, splash of grenadine). It’s all something of a facade, of course, but that’s spin marketing for ya. There’s simply not as much to be gained from peddling the slogan, New Orleans: Merely a Shell of What We Once Were.

“….We can all sleep better knowing that New Orleans is once again safe for the rowdy and the inebriated, the naked and the perverse. For a city that’s still struggling to crawl out from under the lingering devastation of Hell and high water, it now finds itself drowning in denial, which rapidly has become the most powerful of opiates for these huddled, thinned-out masses.”

Ray, we are not merely a shell of what we once were, even if half of the city’s buildings are. Carnival is not denial; for us it is life. The picture of the man dressed as a soiled baby president is part of (or a dedicated hanger on to) the Krewe of Saint Anne, one of the groups dedicated to elaborate costuming in Mardi Gras. The people who worked half the year on fantastic costumes in spite of the state of our city are no different than my wife soldiering through celebrating Christmas while her mother died. To suggest Mardi Gras is inappropriate would be tantamount to suggesting that commerce in New York be suspended for a few years because of 9-11. If that were to happen, what would be left of the city? Would what remains even be New York? The same is true for New Orleans: to cease to be ourselves would be to surrender, and we have not, will not give up.

For people like the Krewe of St. Anne and all of those you saw following them, Mardi Gras is not a denial but instead a celebration of who we are, of why we live here. It was an affirmation that we do live here, that we will live here, come hell or high water or both, in the way we have for close to three centuries. We not only had Mardi Gras this year, we had it last year, and we had it in 2006 — six months after the Federal Flood, when half of the city had no running water or telephones. We costumed and paraded and partied.

We’re glad the tourists are back, even the vomiting hordes of Spring Break in Hell types. We need their business. We need your business, and that of your readers. Tourism remains a top industry. We want you to come for Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, and we want you to take time out from those celebrations to see the rest of the city, the real city that stands in hollow, gray ruin not a mile from the Fairgrounds where Jazz Fest plays. We want America to know the one thing your story missed. We stand in ruin because we have been left to our own devices to rebuild. The money is all gone down the rat hole, parceled out to pay for fabulous no-bid contracts to Haliburton and their ilk for debris clean up and other tasks that followed the storm and flood. The money meant to help rebuild is tied up in Byzantine federal red tape. Little has actually reached the people who live here. And still they come home, maxing out their credit cards and cashing out their retirement and one-by-one rebuilding their houses and lives. We are doing it on our own because we just. Sinn Fein, baby.

They come home because they have tried life elsewhere in America when they had no choice but to leave, and they chose to come home. The come back because there is no place for a Krewe of St. Anne’s in Houston or Dallas or Atlanta or Memphis. They come home not for Bourbon Street but for the joie de vivre of the entire city, for the way of life which Bourbon Street caricatures for the tourists. The come because we have built a culture here over 300 years which is different than what the rest of America has, a life visitors don’t understand but are drawn to, which they come and sample with envy. A person may still be waiting — two-and-a-half years later — for a final insurance settlement or a check from the Road Home program, living in a camper trailer beside a home they are trying to rebuild themselves after a long day’s work elsewhere. They may be tired and beaten down, but they will have Carnival.

This is not denial. This is who we are. This is why you came, why the hordes on Bourbon Street came. This is why the floats rolled and the marching crews walked. They city may lay still half in ruin, but New Orleans is back because New Orleans is a people and a way of life. We have risked everything and spent every penny we have to be here because we will not let that way of life vanish from the earth, cannot imagine spending a life elsewhere, a life different from this.

See you at Jazz Fest.

Down by the riverside February 6, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, French Quarter, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, parade, Rebirth.
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This year on Mardi Gras, with my family all home sick I took off all on my own oddy-knocky and made a point of trying to catch all of the marching krewes I could and taking a lot of pictures, starting with waiting for the Krewe of St. Anne’s on Royal Street in the Marigny and ending with finding St. Anne’s as they marched down to the riverside. I managed to track down the Ducks of Dixieland and Kosmik Debris, but never saw Pete Fountain (largely because I stayed in Marigny until after 11 waiting for St. Anne’s). I also found the Krewe of Whoo Hooo, Mondo Kayo dancing on Frenchman, and a few other odd groups I had not seen before.


Video of Krewe of St. Anne at Royal and Frenchman Streets

As a result, I missed most of the day’s parades, only catching a half dozen perhaps of Zulu as they turned onto Canal Street. The corner of Royal and Canal is not a great place for throws. The floats make a turn there and the barricades are kept far back. The only beads I had for the day were two pair I got from Queen Colleen, mother of old friends who famously parades through the Quarter pushed in a shopping cart by her adoring students and family.

colleen.jpg
Queen Colleen

My one throw was from Zulu. Not a coconut, but a walnut painted in gold. At the day’s end, when I joined St. Anne’s at the riverside and had taken my fill of pictures, I joined the St. Anne members who were memorializing their dead of the past year by throwing beads or more personal items into the river. I clambered down onto the rocks, and offered the Zulu nut to all of the ghosts of New Orleans and the Federal Flood. Inspired by the story of the Bone Men below, I invited them all to come and walk with me the rest of the day, to come and taste the visions of a day spent walking through Mardi Gras, to see the pictures I had captured not with my camera but with my memory.

riverside.jpg
St. Anne’s at the river

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St. Anne’s mourners
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More St. Anne’s mourners

Memo to my friends and family: this is how I want to go. Hire a band, invite everyone I know, and take my ashes and put them in a cart and parade them through the quarter on Mardi Gras Day. Take them to St. Anne’s in the Marigny, and parade down Royal to Zulu and Rex at Canal Street. At mid-afternoon go to the Moonwalk and wait for St. Anne’s, and scatter them there.

The Last Mardi Gras February 4, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, French Quarter, ghosts, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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As I did last year, I’m going to just re-post a piece I wrote in the fall of 2005 on Flood Street – Dispatches from an Imaginary Disaster, and then for Carnival 2006 and 2007 on Wet Bank Guide called The Last Mardi Gras.

If I don’t see you at St. Anne’s or on Frenchman, I’ll see you on the other side. As I once heard a Mardi Gras Indian chief say on WWOZ one Monday night in the long ago, “don’t be fallin’ outta yo’ house with no needle and thread in yo’ hand.”

The Last Mardi Gras

In this city, people talk incessantly of past pleasures and of those to come, even as they regard the meal or the drink or the parade in front of them. We live in a stream of memory as dark and deep and powerful as the river. Memory’s currents clutch at us and steer our lives, must be compensated for just as the ferry pilots must at every crossing, must be feared less they take us down into an eddy from which no body returns.

Some of my earliest memories are of Mardi Gras. I remember as a child of perhaps five seeing Indians dancing at the corner that might have been Galvez and Canal as we drove to my great aunts’ on Royal Street. Later that day or perhaps a year before or after, I can clearly recall watching Rex passing down Canal from atop my father’s shoulders. Half a life later, my girlfriend and I slouched outside a hall in Arabi in the lost hours before dawn on the night of MoM’s Ball, and a famous photographer took our picture. I’ve never seen this photograph, but I will go to my grave easier knowing that years from now, on a wall or in a book, someone will see us in our motley glory, dissolute and unrepentant and utterly glorious in the moment. They will see us and say: this is what Mardi Gras was like back then.

Twenty years separate those moments, and another twenty separate that MoM’s Ball from the first postdiluvian Carnival. For all that span of years and a century before, Mardi Gras has been as reliable as high water. No one really needed to tell me there would be a Mardi Gras this year as there has been every year in my living memory, and as I am certain there will be a Mardi Gras when no one remembers what it meant to sit on the lawn of the Wildlife and Fisheries building of a certain winter Tuesday. No disaster leaving behind life more complex than the cockroach could prevent it.

Just as certain, at some point of during Tuesday;s twilight people will begin to talk of about last Mardi Gras, and of the Mardi Gras to come with the certainty of the sanctified they are most certainly not. The last time in living memory Carnival was interrupted was during World War II. Frankly, I don’t understand why. The soldiers and sailors on leave wandering Perdido Street drunkly in search of women wouldn’t have been harmed by the tableaux of paper maiche floats lit by the dripping oil burners of the flambeau. Carnival was probably canceled by somebody from the wrong side of Canal Street, whose father before him decided Storyville had to be closed to protect the doughboys of World War One from dissipation. There always a Do-Good Daddy looking to tone the city down.

I don’t think anyone with the city in their heart understood the cancellations, but I’m sure those generations accepted those losses the way we accept the closing of a favorite restaurant: by finding a new and equally good one to sit in and eat and drink and discuss the loss of the old favorite, remembering what we ate on such a date and with whom. Until, of course, we discuss where the owner or the cook of the failed place is expected to return, and start to anticipate the day we will sit at that as yet unset table, and remember what we ate on such a date and with whom.

Of course there will be a Mardi Gras. I might need to ask which krewes would roll on what nights, to inquire of friends where the MoM’s Ball might be. But no one needed to tell me that Mardi Gras would happen, especially the one hidden inside private parties in bars or in courtyards, punctuated by forays out into the streets to parade. The year the police went on strike and the parades all fled to the suburbs and the Mardi Gras of the hoteliers and the airlines was canceled, we dutifully assembled at the Wildlife and Fisheries Building on Fat Tuesday.

Suspicious National Guardsmen and out-of-state troopers warily regarded the ragged parade of the early intoxicated, smelling of burnt leaves and breakfast screwdrivers, dressed in ways only the part-time preachers among them could have imagined, and then only in a place warmer than the city in February. We were not about to let a simple thing like a police strike spoil the party. Several among us dressed as the National Guard in uniforms from the surplus stores in Gentilly, armed with perfect replica rifles by Mattel. When we went to buy wine and beer at the Walgreen’s on Canal, and our friends burst into the door yelling “secure the beer cooler,” clerks fell to the floor in fright, fearing perhaps that the Guard had had enough, and were about to shut down carnival.

I fled the city a few years later, and did not return for Mardi Gras once for almost two decades. The few Mardi Gras that followed the police strike were colored by my reasons for leaving the city, memories rent by heartache and drowned in drink. Those last few years did not yield the stories I would tell my children if they fed me too much wine at some holiday dinner years from now. For many years, the police strike was the Last Mardi Gras. My children, a boy ten and a girl fourteen, grew up knowing Mardi Gras through the Disney film fairy tale filter of the stories I dared to tell them, from the magazine that came with the king cake from Ma Mere every year, in the music I played them from Twelfth Night until the day. We ate jambalaya and king cake, and donned masks and beads to dance wildly to Mardi Gras Vol. 1 in front of the large plate glass window of our home in a small Midwestern town. Neighbors across the street peered through their curtains intermittently at the scene, but no one ever worked up the courage to ask us what we were doing.

I have taken my family to New Orleans. The kids had sneezed powdered sugar all over each other at the Cafe du Monde, fondled baby alligators on flat boats out of Barataria, had learned to eat seafood and gumbo and jambalaya, had even wandered with me through Storyland in City Park. I took them to the exhibit at the Cabildo to learn about Mardi Gras. It’s a wonderful set piece but, like a high school health film on sex, it is not quite the same as the actual experience.

So we piled onto an airplane bound for New Orleans the year before the Flood, and went to Mardi Gras. I took them to St. Charles and Napoleon, and my son waved his deftly caught spear with complete abandon. My daughter was bashful about begging trinkets from strangers in a strange land, until I flung myself stone cold sober on my knees in the middle of the Avenue and begged as loudly as I could for a female horse posse rider to give me a purple, green and gold flower for my daughter on her first Mardi Gras. After that, she got the idea. No pretty girl on St. Charles Avenue should go home without her weight in beads. She only needed to ask.

We stood for hours all weekend, parade after parade, never tiring of it, interrupted only by a friend’s party Endymion party on Saturday night. After Endymion, I left them with Ma Mere and set out after midnight to return to the MoM’s ball for the first time in two decades. MoM’s had always been one of my favorite things about Mardi Gras, a gathering of all who chose to live in the fabric of Mardi Gras and not just inhabit a costume for a few hours, a party only the resolutely dissolute can enjoy, or survive. MoM’s is what I hope Saturday night in Hell will be like, should I find myself stuck there between planes. But thousands in a shed did not hold up to the memories of hundreds in a hall in Arabi decades before. I don’t know if I will return to MoM’s, preferring this one true memory of carnival’s past. And then I can say well, I don’t go anymore, you know, but back when…

I agonized for weeks and months before we went: should I take the children to the Quarter on Mardi Gras Day, or back to St. Charles? As I child, I spent most Mardi Gras at my great aunt’s apartment on Royal Street, now the Hove’ Parfumier. I decided they should have a glimpse of the secret heart of Mardi Gras, or as least as much as they could handle. So we rose up early on the day, donned our costumes, and boarded a cab bound for Frenchman Street. We waited endlessly across from the R-Bar for St. Anne’s, not knowing those marchers had chosen another route. Facing a rebellion, we took off and made our own way up Royal, stopping to sit a moment on Tante Gert and Sadie’s stoop, making Canal just in time for Zulu.

After Rex, I left them in my sister’s care for the endless truck floats, and retired to friend’s places in the Quarter. I stopped briefly in the Abbey, a place that had never been the same since Betz sold it. Instead of the usual motley crew of bikers or transvestites or other folk I had often encountered on past trips home, I found it full of drunken twenty somethings who looked frighteningly like the crowd I remember from my own days, as if the Abbey were haunted for the night by the spirits of the place of my memories. I bought a round of snakebites for a familiar seeming couple and then the currents swept me back to Frenchman Street, a mad Green Man second lining with a huge palm tree totem given to me be someone who knew just how to complete my costume.

Now I have a new last Mardi Gras. We are coming back to the city to stay, to march again and again, so that there is no longer a Last Mardi Gras, just the last Mardi Gras. I will march until my time is done, and then I will borrow a ritual from St. Anne’s, in this city of borrowed rituals. I will have my children scatter what remains of me into the river on Fat Tuesday. For me, it will be the Last Mardi Gras. For them, it will simply be a moment from last Mardi Gras. They will say a few words, shed a tear, and then all of us will be swept away by the currents. They will turn away from the river, while nearby a drunken trumpeter will perhaps blow a few bars of Oh Didn’t He Ramble, and I will march in their hearts back into the Quarter once more.

Samedi Gras February 2, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Mardi Gras, Mid-City, New Orleans, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street.
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I took a stroll up and down Orleans with the camera running. My wife and son are sick as dogs so the long anticipated Begindymion Bachanal will have to wait for another year. For now, I’m just wandering the neighborhood and enjoying the scene.

Shoe February 2, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery.
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All Hail Muses!

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Burn your t-shirt February 1, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, music, New Orleans, NOLA, Radiators, Rebirth, Recovery, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Has it really been thirty years since the Radiators first took the stage? Me, I go back to my time at UNO in the late 1970s–when the Driftwood newspaper staff had a firm claim on the center table in front of the gas log at Luigi’s every Wednesday night–and as far back as the Rhaps before that.

Sadly, I missed the 30th Anniversary shows at Tipitina’s due to the below mentioned funeral and sickness all around, and won’t make MoM’s Ball. As I’ve written before, I rather prefer the memory of s smaller MoM’s with primarily the Lakefront crowd back in the day to the current version, but that means I’ll miss seeing these guys again.

As we finally crawl out of the hole of funeral, sickness, etc. and get ready to finally start Mardi Gras (better late than never) with tonight’s parades and Samadi Gras up the block tomorrow here’s a bit of the Rads from ’91. May their fire never go out.

Update: I decided I needed more a a fix than I could get off of You Tube or the records I had (well, tapes mostly). I force marched past the Divine Protectors of Endangered Ladies (sorry, y’all) to Louisiana Music Factory, where I found Work Done on Premises (the Rads first, self-produced recording captured live at Tips many moons ago) on CD. Talk about a traveller in time…

Nothin’ but the bones January 26, 2008

Posted by The Typist in assholes, Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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The weekly newspaper Gambit brings us this story of the fearful future of the bone men and other African-American Mardi Gras traditional marchers. In on of the city’s oldest neighborhoods outside of the French Quarter, the local population is being squeezed by gentrification, rising rents and the demolition of the Lafitte Housing Project. What is at risk here is not just affordable housing or the comfort of coming home, but something infinitely more rare and precious: a living culture unique in North America.

For Bruce ‘Sunpie” Barnes, Mardi Gras day begins quietly in the darkened pre-dawn hours as he takes a solitary journey to a local cemetery to commune with the dead. Kneeling before graves, he asks the spirits of the past to enter his body so that he can become their living vessel, joining his soul with theirs as he takes to the streets. Later, at sunrise, he emerges in full costume, calling out and waking up the Treme neighborhood with his group, the Northside Skull and Bones Gang, which has followed the Carnival tradition for decades.

‘We’ll bring all the past dead spirits to the streets,” Barnes says. ‘Mardi Gras is the one day we do that.”

How much longer will the bone men and downtown Indians survive? That’s part of the focus of the story, which first emerged when the police broke up a traditional second-line parade in Treme honoring a musician who had passed on, scuffling with and arresting musicians. These unscheduled events are a century old tradition cherished by the neighborhood’s longtime residents.

Speaking to the Times-Picayune back in October when the confrontation between musicians and the police took place, lifelong Treme resident Beverly Curry explained why she came out that day in spite of bad leg: “I need to be here, to show my support for our heritage”

For a century, she said, that heritage has included impromptu second-line parades for musicians who die, “from the day they pass until the day they’re put in the ground,” she said. Those memorial processions still occur with regularity, without permits, as is the tradition. But, increasingly, NOPD officers have been halting them, citing complaints from neighbors and incidents of violence at similar gatherings.

….”Curry and other longtime residents point fingers at Treme newcomers, who buy up the neighborhood’s historic properties, then complain about a jazz culture that is just as longstanding and just as lauded as the neighborhood’s architecture.

“They want to live in the Treme, but they want it for their ways of living,” Curry said.

Who the hell decides to move to Treme, then calls the police when a second-line parade passes by? Why did they chose to live downtown, in this neighborhood of all places where second-lines (impromptu and the scheduled social aid and pleasure club versions), where bone men and Mardi Gras Indians are part of the very fabric of the place? What possible benefit is there to this redevelopment if it strangles the area’s culture?

Yes, you, yuppie scum. If you people feel you must live downtown, buy yourself one of those lovely high-rise condos being thrown up in the CBD and stay out of the traditional neighborhoods. You can climb into your Lexus and drive yourself to your favorite Uptown restaurant, if you can bring yourself to pass through or even (gasp!) park in the neighborhoods where the best ones are, neighborhoods full of the sort of people you apparently do want to live next to.

Is this the vision of the future of the city–gentrification leading to the death of the real New Orleans, what happened in Charleston after Hurricane Hugo, the threat I warned readers of WBG about over two years ago? It is a fearful thought, more so than a block-long trooop of possessed bone men: the death of the spirit that walks and sings and dances daily in the people of New Orleans. If the yuppie property flippers and their customers destroy Treme to save it’s quaint architectural charm, then it will not be Treme but something else. Only the bones of the houses of the old place will remain, and the spirits of three centuries will rest uneasily when the bone men no longer come to call on Carnival day.

Note: Hat tip to Anima Mundi and Library Chronicles for first calling out this story.

Krewe du Vieux Soldats: Fading, fading… January 20, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Krewe du Vieux, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, New York, Rebirth, We Are Not OK.
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This morning’s exchange of emails among the New Orleans bloggers who march in Krewe du Vieux:

Me, 9:32 am: Subject Line: Ughhhhhh Message: Who turned on the sun?

Maitri, 10:10 am: Just woke up. Hobbling around kitchen in search of coffee and bloody marys. Oy.

Karen, 10:20 am: My fallen arches are killing me.

Peter, 11:29 am: My feet are still cold and my legs are in need of an amputation or something.

Kim, 11:41 am: Can ya’ll please keep your voices down? It’s making my head hurt.

On another note, my last blog post was perfectly prescient: two years running now I’ve managed fabulously drunk and I managed to not find several of the bloggers in a space of a few thousand square feet. That tiny space was packed, however, with the skimmed cream of New Orleans insanity. I tried several times to get back to Mama Roux’s table to try to cadge a jello shot and find Kim, but it was simply impossible to squeeze back there. (I finally got one from my co-worker, L.H.; questioning him and his charming wife still didn’t uncover the secret of how two newcomers to New Orleans managed to get into MR).

Peter, Grace, Lisa, Ashley and his bride looked fabulous in their seersucker robes and cocktail hats honoring Lafacadio Hearn. I also never managed to squeeze my well-lubricated body into C.R.A.P.S’ tight cranny (now cut that out, filthy minded old sot), and so I never did see Matri, either. I did see Ray, who walked with C.R.A.P.S. as security. Bec of New Orleans Slate marched with us and shared our throws since she rejoined our Krewe at the last moment when the captain sponsored her to march. (Hurray for Billy). She’d been out of circulation mostly taking care of her husband after his terrible accident involving his mule and carriage.

I lost my flask of Absenthe somewhere early along the parade route. (Dude! I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you drink the greed shit in that bottle in the street). This was probably a good thing, as a little absinthe goes a long way. Thankfully d.b.a was close to hand, and in spite of their sociopatheic manager-cum-bouncer we finished up the night with a raft of good German beer. I didn’t know a single name on the band list but spent an hour or more scrunched up at the front of the stage and had a blast. It was all good.

Coming to Take You Away January 19, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, French Quarter, Krewe du Vieux, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, Rebirth, Remember, Toulouse Street.
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The Magical Misery Tour is coming to take you away (coming to take you awaaayyy….). Perhaps, once you’ve seen us all out on the streets, you’ll think they should be coming to take us away. No matter. It’s time for the Krewe du Vieux to once again stain the shiny, Sidney-Torres washed streets of New Orleans and once again diminish the city’s magical brand as They City That Forgot to Care.

Our King is Ronald W. Lewis of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans: Director, House of Dance & Feathers and President, Big 9 Social Aid & Pleasure Club.

The secret sub-subKrewe of B.L.O.G.* will once again celebrate by getting notoriously drunk and failing to each other at the ball. Our featured drink will be Absinthe. As the self-appointed captain of this nearly non-existant group, I proclaim Bec our Queen, since I’m so pickled she’s going to make it and march. Not as pickled, however, as I will be later tonight. My personal theme this year is Getting L.H. Really Drunk and Taking Embarrassing Pictures I Can Use To Advance My Career at the Bank. My costume is titled: Oh! Wendy? but only someone who thinks Capitol when they hear “hill” will figure out how the hell it fits into the Seeds of Decline’s theme of Fools on the Hill.

Don’t forget the new start time–6:30 PM–and the new route. route08.gif

And don’t forget the Krewe du Vieux Doo, at 2121 Chartres St., featuring 101 Runners (Mardi Gras Indian Funk), Juice with Special Guest J.D. Hill, Honey Island Swamp Band, and Late Night Trip by Quintron and Miss cat (whatever that is). Tickets are advance sale only at:

  • Mardi Gras Zone: 2706 Royal Street
  • Louisiana Music Factory: 210 Decatur Street
  • Up In Smoke: 4507 Magazine Street
  • Miss Claudia’s Vintage Clothing and Costumes
  • *B.L.O.G. is the Benevolent and Order of the Garrulous.

Torchlight parade down St. Chares Avenue to honor Harry Lee January 18, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
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Did this really happen? Could anyone be this stupid? The notoriously racist Harry Lee, deceased sheriff of suburban Jefferson Parish, to be honored by the Bacchus Parade?

This item appeared then quickly disappeared from the New Orleans Times-Picayune NOLA.Com newsfeed. I like to think it was a prank, but perhaps someone thought better of it: for example, the N.O.P.D who would have to contain the crowds closer to downtown that would as like as not wrest away a flambeaux torch and and toss it onto the float.

This is a brilliant idea. Parade an effigy of a man noted for his racist views through uptown New Orleans. Were they hoping to provoke a race riot? Or were they just terminally stupid? Was this to be a torchlight parade? Would it feature a burning cross?

Bacchus to announce Harry Lee tribute today

by The Times-Picayune

Thursday January 17, 2008, 9:07 AM

The Krewe of Bacchus will announce today plans to pay tribute to the late Jefferson Parish Sheriff Harry Lee.

The announcement will be made at a 4 p.m. news conference attended by Jefferson Parish Sheriff Newell Normand; Lee’s widow, Lai Lee; daughter, Cynthia Lee Sheng; executive members of the Krewe of Bacchus along with Mardi Gras artist Michael Hunt.

Update: No, I guess it wasn’t a prank or a terrible mistake. What a grand way to start off the Martin Luther King, Jr. memorial weekend.

Stringing up dozens January 13, 2008

Posted by The Typist in Carnival, cryptical envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, French Quarter, Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized.
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In a world where all of our holidays come cleverly packaged on the shelves–Christmas trees with embedded lights decked and holiday cookies ready-made at the local grocery’s bakery–most people no longer have the simple traditions long ago. I once cut my own tree, wading through a foot of Minnesota snow at 20 degrees to do it, but I can’t say I’ve ever strung up popcorn. Holidays like Halloween are much the same. Our children’s costumes come in plastic bags and no one dares put out a homemade treat since we now another parents will just dump it in the garbage.

Mardi Gras is one place where the handmade is still valued. Yes, the parade floats are largely mass-produced and much recycled by a handful of shops, the stores are full of kitschy decorations and of course there will be lots of people roaming St. Charles Avenue and the French Quarter in costumes from some store named The Party Pit. That is part of Carnival, but not the heart of Carnival.

On the big day, hundreds of African-American men and women will step out of their houses in costumes like these. The Societé de Sainte Anne and all of the other small marching groups will step out in elaborate costumes made by hand, either by themselves or by seamstresses. My own costume for Krewe du Vieux is still forming up, but it’s fairly simply and mostly conceptual. I may find it easier in a busy life to dress my son store-bought, but I’ve always tried to assemble my own costumes. I don’t got to the lengths of Danger Blonde, who yearly makes custom beaded-object throws and fabulous bustiers for the Divine Protectors of Endangered Pleasures, but if you’re going to dress you might as well be do it right. Every year around this time, I head in my head the admonishment of one of the Mardi Gras Indian chiefs being interviewed on WWOZ sometime back in the 1980s: Don’t be fallin’ out of your house with no needle an’ thread in your hand. I wish to hell I knew who had said that, but it’s stuck with me forever.

One thing we must do every year at our house is collect all of the caught beads we’ve saved up (and my son and I are dogged parade goers, working the neutral ground from morning to night all the week-ends before Carnival), and begin the slow process of untangling, matching up by size, and making up new dozens to toss back out when we march through Marigny and the Quarter.

Stringing up dozens is one of those tasks like cleaning out the attic that is often is slowed down by “remember when” moments (wasn’t Chaos funny last year? Remember the guy we saw….), as well as interrupted by comedy: finding that whoopee cushion, or the little foam rockets you can launch with a rubber band on the tip that turns our bead stringing party into a temporary war zone.

My son groaned this year when I told him it was time to string up the beads into dozens. He would rather hang out with a friend and play his WII. For him, Carnival is mostly new. I am a native with thirty years of Carnival under my belt before we came back to New Orleans in 2006, but this is really only his third year and his second as an Orleanian. It was not, for him, a tradition but a chore like cleaning up his room: until we got started, and found the whoopie cushions and rockets.

As long as I have legs to march I will look forward to stringing up the dozens, especially the few years I have left before my 12-year old boy is either too damn busy to help (like his socially swirling 15 year old sister) or gone from the house. For me, it is not the arrival of King Cakes in the stores (and most places were putting them out with red and green sugar in December), or the first time I open the paper and it falls open to the débutante pictures of Krewe’s ball, or even taking down the Christmas decorations with Mardi Gras Vol. 1 blaring on Twelfth Night. Carnival begins at the Folse house when I start to haul in and down the bags of tangled baubles and dump them out onto the table, and we closed the circle that connects the last Mardi Gras to this year’s Carnival, one string at a time.