Midnight Robber

Midnight RobberMidnight Robber by Nalo Hopkinson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I like science fiction. I like Caribbean cultures. But I’ve never looked for the intersection of the two. Actually, now I think about it, I have encountered lots of science fictional themes in reggae lyrics. But certainly I never thought to look for a science fiction novel written from a Caribbean perspective.

So that was the first thing I liked about Midnight Robber. It begins on the Caribbean-colonized planet of Toussaint during Carnival. We read this for my book club here in New Orleans just as our own Carnival season was coming to a climax — so I was immediately hooked by the setting and the voice.

The entire novel is written in what I guess might be described as creolized English. It was certainly easy for me to understand once I got the hang of it, so I’m guessing it’s a blend of English and perhaps several true creole languages. (As an aside, I love it when two books I’m reading at the same time illuminate each another in unexpected ways, and that happened here when I got to Jared Diamond‘s section on pidgins and creoles in The Third Chimpanzee: The Evolution & Future of the Human Animal — which also helped me understand why so many people in New Orleans ask questions like, “What that is?” That’s creole word order.) In any event, the “patwa” definitely gave the book a unique flavor that I enjoyed hugely. In my mind I kept hearing the voice of my favorite Dominican poet, Billy Jno Hope.

But as I read on I discovered a lot more than that initial hook to keep me interested and involved. The father-daughter relationship which is a key element of this story resonated with me, but I did not anticipate the direction it would ultimately take. To say more would be to risk spoiling, so I’ll shut up. The daughter emerges as the protagonist in the story. It’s a coming-of-age tale. I’ve read plenty of those from the male perspective, so it’s refreshing to get one from the female side.

Indeed, the perspective of this book is profoundly and vitally female. I would not hesitate to call it feminist, except that label might scare away people who have certain preconceived notions about the f-word. Forget all that. This is first and foremost a book about being human. But it’s hard to imagine it being written by anyone other than a woman of color. I suppose comparisons to Octavia Butler are inevitable, not just because of the identity of the author but also because of the themes addressed. I was also reminded of Marge Piercy‘s far more strident Woman on the Edge of Time.

I found the whole story deeply involving and stimulating to my imagination. Did I fail to mention this is unapologetic science fiction as well? In addition high technology we also have alien creatures. Blending these elements with Afro-Caribbean folklore is a powerful combination that really worked for me.

I’d knock off half a star for the ending which felt a trifle rushed and a little too “easy” for me. But endings are hard and I can’t begrudge the last few pages when the rest of the book is so accomplished.

Samedi Blues Redux

Baron Samedi (encre et crayons de couleurs) sold

Misery loves company, and this year I’ve got plenty.

To recap ever-so-briefly: Over the last few decades, all the big parades have been consolidated onto what’s now known as the “traditional uptown route” — except one, the biggest of ‘em all, the gaudy spectacle known as Endymion. It’s the one time the festive spirit of Carnival comes to Mid-City, and I love that. Back in our old house we threw some really fun parties on Samedi Gras, which is the day Endymion rolls. Now we live too far from the route to justify having a party, and yet paradoxically we’re now closer to the really crazy crowds which I personally don’t want to deal with, and besides I’m not really a fan of the parade itself. So last year I was singing the blues, and this year I was fixing to do the same. In fact I figured I’d just stay at home today and do my taxes. Seriously.

Friday I was surprised to learn Persephone’s daycare was closed, just in anticipation of the Endymion madness. Oops. I ended up having to take her to work with me, which was actually a lot of fun, but I digress. The point I’m trying to make is Endymion is a big deal to folks ’round here. How big? About a million people show up to see the parade. Yes, that’s right — a million people. Friday morning the earliest arrivals were camped out on the Orleans Avenue neutral ground, in the rain. Some had tents, some had umbrellas, some were just exposed to the elements. Yet Endymion doesn’t roll until Saturday afternoon.

Only it turns out this year Endymion won’t roll on Saturday — or in Mid-City. This rumor had been circulating for a couple days, but the official announcement came last night.

A few minutes ago, and with great regret, Endymion founder and Captain, Ed Muniz, announced that Endymion will parade Sunday night behind Bacchus. This decision comes after many hours of discussion with the NOPD and every weather person and service available.

The bottom line, gang, is that there is an 80% chance of heavy rain and storms, especially right at 4:00 PM. It’s just not safe, nor will it be comfortable, to go.

The good news is that we have secured marching bands and will have a great parade and fantastic weather for Sunday night. We are and will be working on details through the night so check your email often.

Though it will be smaller, the Extravaganza WILL have a parade! Train, Kelly Ripa, Anderson Cooper and Mark Consuelos will ride as Grand Marshalls and The Wise Guys, Train, Pat Benatar and Party on the Moon will perform as scheduled.

It breaks our hearts to make this decision, but based on the information that we have, we feel it is the only decision we can make.

It gives new meaning to Hail, Endymion!

Far be it from me to second-guess this decision. I’ve never even ridden in a parade, much less organized anything as big as a superkrewe. Nevertheless I have to point out that of the last nine years, Endymion has been shifted to the “traditional uptown route” four times. This situation makes no one happy, except perhaps law enforcement. Uptowners don’t want Endymion, and Mid-Citizens feel cheated.

Here’s a couple quotes from my neighborhood discussion group.

Why are the uptown parades not moved to mid city for Sunday instead? Given its the only one that rolls through mid city?

As long as this is NOT the start of the slippery slope toward a permanent move to the uptown route!

And some more choice quotes from nola.com.

BS!!! I will be boycotting endymion. It is completely unfair that uptown gets all the parades. It is a cash cow for all the businesses uptown and no others get to benefit from the parades. Spread the wealth.

we are just disappointed and are really logical people, however this is the only parade that rolls outside of uptown. If we had others we probably wouldn’t be to upset.

To our boys in Endymion: How very sad that instead of moving your parade later into the evening Saturday, when the weather may be better, you sold us out and moved Uptown. We are your faithful fans, who came back in 2006 to see you behind Bacchus, and rejoiced when you returned to your Mid-City home and hundreds of thousands of us. Our Mid-City businesses, the mom and pop businesses, the schools who sell food and bathroom passes, all of us willing to endure the worst that Mother Nature throws at us, counted on you to hang tough. Do right by us. And you didn’t. You have no idea the pain this causes, to our wallets, our still-struggling Mid-City. We would have sat through the deluge for you. 7. 8. 9 p.m. We would have waited. This is as hurtful than so many of us losing everything after Katrina. We had faith in you, boys. My God, you threw us under the floats…for an uptown ride. How sad, our boys of Endymion.

I’m not saying these people are right or wrong, but such comments indicate the level of passion some of my neighbors have. Me, I was planning to pull a “bah humbug” anyhow, so now I’m just glad for the company.

Baron Samedi (encre et crayons de couleurs) sold / cecily devil / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

KdV

Having a toddler on your shoulders kind of precludes taking photos. Nevertheless I was able to pop this one off. Here’s Seph and me watching Krewe du Vieux, the best parade of Carnival in New Orleans.

Shoulders

KdV is known for its satirical themes, which are often given the raunchiest treatment imaginable. I still remember the Comatose “Licks the Habit” float from a few (nine? eight?) years ago. I thought, if I had a child, how could I explain that? And yet — now that she’s here, it seems silly satirical sexual stuff is the least of our worries. So, it’s all good. I thought twice before taking her, but took her. In fact, I don’t think she’s ever missed a KdV. This was her third.

Hail Brid

No matter how much king cake I eat, it never truly feels like Carnival until I see a parade.

Beads

That time is here again. Last night we saw the Krewe of Brid in Lakeview. It was so much fun I can’t believe we’d never done it before. They are a relatively new group, still small, all female. Persephone knows about triple goddesses so she was excited and we all had a blast.

Tonight we’ll be checking out Krewe du Vieux in the Marigny.

The madness is upon us.

Carnival Time

Yes, it’s that time again. As I’ve noted here before, Twelfth Night is traditionally observed on January 6th in New Orleans, but in other places it’s considered to begin at sundown on January 5th. I guess this relates to the old idea of holidays beginning the night before, like Christmas really seems to start on Christmas Eve, but it’s confusing to the modern mentality.

In any event, last night was the first time I’ve ever been invited to a Twelfth Night party on January 5th. It figures it would take a couple Hoosiers to pull a move like that; sadly, Jeff and Laura will soon be moving back to Indiana for a job opportunity that was too good to resist. We wish them well. We went in costume, of course, and had a good time. I felt like we were getting a jump on the rest of the city, though we had to make a relatively early departure so as not to keep our daughter up too too late. An unplanned theme emerged at the party — the color green. Lou from Denver was serving up a scalding and delicious chili verde, and not one but two of the ladies were dressed as green fairies, and so of course we had to drink a little absinthe.

Now that Carnival is officially here, it’s worth noting that it will be a long season — just about as long as possible. Why? Well, as we all know, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the March equinox. That puts Easter on the 24th of April this year. (April 25 is the last mathematically possible date for Easter to land on, so this is very late indeed.) Of course, Ash Wednesday is 46 days before Easter, so this year it falls on March 9, which means Mardi Gras in March 8. That will be the latest Mardi Gras I’ve ever seen, but I’m certainly hoping to be around in 2038 when Mardi Gras will fall on March 9, the last possible day.

Since the beginning of Carnival is fixed but the end moves, the season can be short or long. It’s like an accordion, expanding and contracting over the years. The response is predictable. During short seasons, we hear people complaining that it’s all going by too quickly. During long seasons, people complain that it’s dragging on too long. Don’t fall into this trap! The variability of Mardi Gras and the Carnival season is a wonderful thing. Embrace it. Celebrate, don’t denigrate. Consider the implications of a convenient, modern, fixed date. The only way this would work is if Easter became a fixed feast rather than a moveable feast, which would mean disregarding the moon entirely. I’m sure some people would like that very much, but the very idea makes me retch. Don’t fall prey to this insidious anti-Lunarism. When a weary fellow paradegoer complains about the long Carnival season, haul off and punch that person right in the face. Strike a blow for the moon.

Happy Carnival, everyone.

Mandatory Ejaculation

I’m sure my parents will be proud to know I’m now the number one result for mandatory ejaculation on Google. Or rather, one of my photos is.

Mandatory Ejaculation

Of course, the real blame goes to the Krewe of Spermes, one of the many constituent subkrewes that make up the amazing Krewe de Vieux. All I did was take a picture of their float with a friend’s camera.

Do I need to explain the reference? This float made its appearance in February of 2006, five months or so after the first mandatory evacuation of New Orleans. I mentioned this parade back then but ironically I featured to a different photo of the same float.

My question is — why are people suddenly searching for “mandatory ejaculation” such that I’m seeing it in my stats?

Is there something we should know?

Dancing with Beautiful Strangers

P & Me

Our first plan was to reprise last year’s costumes which we didn’t really get to employ last year. But then it became clear that this Mardi Gras would be unseasonably cool, and perhaps downright cold. Costuming as Olympian deities seemed like it would be uncomfortable, and so I scrambled at the last possible minute to come up with an alternative.

What could we wear and still be warm? Robes, I thought, big robes, big enough so that we can wear anything we want underneath. Since the Saints won the Super Bowl, I could make gold robes for all three of us, and we could wear black beads, and we’d be set. (Black robes with gold beads just seemed too easy somehow.)

I found instructions that looked simple enough. Most of the gold fabric had flown off the shelves of the local fabric store, but I managed to find some drapery-type stuff in back. Couldn’t settle for yellow, mind you — it had to be gold. I also got some gold rope to use for belts.

I borrowed the use of a friend’s sewing machine and soon enough we had our costumes. We added black caps for good measure. We borrowed a wagon from another friend.

Mardi Gras is primarily an early morning holiday, at least to me. It’s kind of like Christmas in that way. This is contrary to the image many casual tourists might have in mind, due to the common association linking revelry with late nights. But I rarely stay out late on Mardi Gras, and for me the best part of the day is generally before noon.

We some friends in the Marigny for a breakfast party. We donned our costumes and around 10:00 AM we joined up with the Societé de Sainte Anne which seemed to be passing by. I say “seemed to” because the Societé de Sainte Anne is so secretive, so mysterious, so surreal and chaotic, that it’s really kind of hard to tell exactly where the parade is, even when you’re in it. It is a collective hallucination.

Soon Persephone was dancing with a beautiful stranger.

Dancing with a Beautiful Stranger

Isn’t that what Mardi Gras is all about?

Persephone has a great time. She had a fever last year, so this was her first real Mardi Gras. At one point she was literally agape, mouth hanging open is amazement, to see so many wild and colorful characters.

I did not take many good photos. I was juggling a toddler and a wagon and of course Xy’s always a handful.

Pulling the Wagon

Xy pulled the wagon at times, but most of the way I found myself carrying Persephone in one arm and pulling the wagon with the other.

We saw a guy in an egg costume. He told Persephone he was Humpty Dumpty, then thought better of it, saying, “You probably don’t even know who that is.” Persephone whipped out her Mother Goose book and immediately turned to this rhyme.

Humpty

While wearing mittens no less!

Later we saw another Humpty Dumpty, a guy with his head made up like an egg, with tiny articulated arms on either cheek which he manipulated by a clever arrangement of rods, complete with a brick wall under his chin. I didn’t get a photo but it was pretty amazing. I saw so many amazing costumes. A Kachina doll. A bicycle hidden inside a giant shoe. A fully functional sound system sheathed in metal shaped like a bull and bellowing steam. Hindu deities with multiple arms. A mobile drum set with stripper pole. Saints-themed costumes were of course ubiquitous. I didn’t even get a picture of my friends as the three big quarterbacks the Saints took down. Imagine Brett Favre with a walker and you get the idea. Everyone wanted to take his picture but somehow I failed.

Perhaps the most mind-blowing costume of all was this tree house.

Tree House

How tall is that thing? They are looking down on people in second story balconies. And somehow it’s moving around. It’s a riff on a recent local news story about an artsy tree house that ran afoul of city inspectors.

Clapping

I wish I’d had the presence of mind to get a portrait of all three of us together in our matching costumes. Some random stranger took a photo of us that looked pretty good — he showed it to me on the viewfinder — but I’m sure I’ll never see that again. Here’s a photo Howie took showing my daughter and me on Royal Street.

B & P

Probably the best photo I took was this portrait of an older man in a wheelchair, wearing a pink boa, smoking a cigarette and taking it all in.

Gede

It was a great day but not without incident. At one point I crossed Royal Street a little too hastily. I was trying to dodge what appeared to be a large ocean-going vessel when a king’s ermine cape got snagged on the wheel of our wagon. For this act of carelessness, I incurred his royal displeasure.

The other near-disaster came when we stopped at a friend’s condo. Persephone was playing with a toy that belonged to the resident canine, and they got into a fight. I got in between them right quick and the girl emerged with only a tiny scratch under her left eye, but she was quite frightened. The dog bit me on the leg, and I shudder to think what might have happened.

We were back home shortly after five. The girl was utterly exhausted.

If this Mardi Gras could be said to have had a theme, deeper than the Saints mania, it was perhaps a renewed snese of optimism and confidence, the hope that we’ve turned a corner in our recovery, that, as Adma Karlin puts it, “deep down the 2010 carnival season marks when, at long last, post-Katrina New Orleans became, again, just New Orleans.”

Here’s hoping.

Anatomy of a Hangover

Anatomy of a Hangover

I’ve often heard it said that sweet juicy rum drinks can be very dangerous, but that’s really no excuse since I was mixing them myself. The simple fact is that I didn’t pay careful attention to how much I was drinking, and thus I drank too much — way too much — and made myself sick.

Let’s see: Two Painkillers, two Cube Libres, and then a couple Painkilleresque juicy concoctions. If I had to guess I’d say about twelve or thirteen ounces of dark rum. In other words, about half a fifth. Maybe a little more.

(I mixed the Painkillers to take in a flask to Krewe du Vieux but parking was so difficult and the parade was moving so fast, we only caught the last two subkrewes. That was a major disappointment, because KdV is my favorite parade of the season, and P. was definitely enchanted by what little she saw, and she’s still too young to ask those embarrassing questions that KdV floats are prone to inspire. Next year we’ll do better.)

The result was that when P. got me up Sunday morning I wasn’t feeling too well. I took a dump of historic proportions — that always seems to be a bad sign with regard to hangovers. After about an hour I realized I wasn’t able to be an effective parent. Fortunately for me Xy was able to take over and I was allowed to go back to bed. She didn’t even scold me. Actually she took it in the spirit of “turnabout is fair play” because she’s been incapacitated quite often recently, leaving me to do the solo parent thing.

But the difference is that my sickness was entirely self-inflicted. I felt (and continue to feel) quite ashamed about the whole episode. Not being able to function as a parent? Not able to take care of my baby? That’s tough enough if I was just down with a virus or some bacterial infection or food poisoning. Those things happen. But this was avoidable and foolish. I’m old enough to know better. Yes, there’s a stomach virus going around Xy’s school, so it’s possible I had that, but I suspect it was alcohol poisoning.

I passed through four waves of nausea. It started with puking my guts out, then devolved to bile and finally dry heaves. I’d forgotten how many muscles are deployed for good gut heave. It’s quite a workout.

I spent most of the day lying in bed while Xy took P. to a parade with a friend.

I thought at the time this was my worst hangover since the Subhumans played New Orleans back in 2003, but I’d forgotten about the New Year’s Eve hangover of 2007. I do believe that was worse.

I able to put our daughter to sleep that evening, but that was about the only thing I accomplished. I lost an entire day. What a waste.

That Was Fun

Parties are strange affairs. People gathering together for no other purpose than to celebrate life and enjoy each other’s company. What an ephemeral proposition! And also how wonderful. It’s almost enough to make one suspect that gross material possessions are not the most important things in life. Hmm.

We had a great party here yesterday. I expected between 50 and 100 people, and I think we we were somewhere in that zone, with people coming and going all day. We killed the keg (a small but delicious keg of Flying Dog “In Heat Wheat”) which made me happy. We ate all the jambalaya, both veggie and meaty, and I made a lot. We enjoyed a fun set of acoustic bluesy songs from Herbie Jo Johnson aka Herb Reith. Despite our protestations to the contrary, Persephone did receive a couple of amazing, unique, original gifts, which I’m sure she will come to treasure. More about those later. Plenty of people brought food and drink, all of which were gratefully consumed. We had not one but two doberge cakes. Why two cakes? Because there were actually two birthday girls. It turns out Piggy, the girl who stays across the street sometimes, was born on the exact same day as Persephone.

Persephone’s grandparents got their first taste of Carnival madness with the biggest krewe of all, the gaudy proposition known as Endymion. There was much curiosity as to when exactly the parade would reach us. For future reference I will relay what Carmen so diligently reported to me: Grand Marshal Kid Rock crossed Salcedo Street at precisely 5:55 PM. Next year we’ll have a pool. I asked Mom what she thought of the parade, and her reply was amusingly frank: “There were a lot of delays.” Which I gather was true, though I only left the house once to gaze at the stupefying spectacle, when Xy was exhausted, and I held Persephone up to admire the passage of I think one float before she fell asleep in my arms. Dad came back to the house a couple times to refresh himself, but I believe Mom took in the entire parade without a break. And that is one long-ass parade.

Probably the funniest thing, to me, was when Gerry came in the front door, quite late in the game, and started hollering at me down the hall. I haven’t seen Gerry in years and I didn’t recognize him at first. He yelled something about “penis reconstruction dot com!” which was an arcane reference to a court case I helped him with years ago, but I didn’t key in on it. All I could think was, “Oh sweet Jesus, some lunatic has wandered in off the street and he’s going whip out a razor and castrate us all.” But it wasn’t a lunatic, it was Gerry and his wife Carmen (not to be confused with the other Carmen mentioned above) who were our very first neighbors, in the Warehouse District, when we moved to New Orleans ten years ago. So cool to see them again. And it turns out their daughter Raquel is born on the same day as Persephone. She was just celebrating her sweet sixteen. And to think she was seven when I first met her.

I was too busy playing host to take very many pictures. But other cameras were more active. For example, here’s a photo from the fearsome lens of Howie Luvzus:

Ray & Seph

And this photo (also by Howie) really captures the spirit of the big parade:

Endymion 2009

Well done, Howie.

If you were here and took pictures, I encourage you to share them by any means convenient, Flickr, Facebook, e-mail. We’d love to see them.

Also: Nobody puked. It was a good party.

Persephone Meets Persephone

Here’s Persephone (my daughter) with Persephone (the float):

Persephone & Persephone

Also pictured: Persephone’s father and grandparents.

In fact, this morning we got a tour of the Rex den from the very kind Dr. Stephen Hales, who also took the photograph. It’s my parents’ first Mardi Gras as well, so this is all new to them. I think they appreciated the tour most of all.

I was also interested to read a story about Rex getting involved in the public schools in yesterday’s paper. Another Katrina effect.

Spirits of Spring

It’s three weeks until Mardi Gras.

I’d been meaning to post something here about masking on Mardi Gras, how it’s pretty much essential to the spirit of the day, how it differs from Halloween, and so forth, for the benefit of my parents who will be coming down for their first Carnival ever. But I’ve ended up talking with Mom on the phone a few times instead, so that essay will have to wait for another year.

Though I’m a big proponent of masking, normally I don’t have very good ideas for costumes. But this year it occurred to me: Since it’s Persephone’s first Mardi Gras, she could go as Persephone and Xy could go as her mother, Demeter. Perfect!

(That leaves the question of me. I’ve always identified with Hades but I’d feel a little creepy in that role now. Some myths say Zeus is Persephone’s father, but I’ve never liked Zeus much, and moreover that strikes me as a latter-day patriarchal insertion. In earlier versions of the myth, I believe Persephone was a product of parthenogenesis. No father. So I hit on the idea of going as a celebrant in the Eleusinian mysteries. Say what? Yes, I fully realize no one would “get” that; I’d have to distribute an explanatory pamphlet. But it makes perfect sense, since I do worship my Demeter and Persephone, and the conceit does have the virtue of being extensible, so my parents could also mask as celebrants if they so desired.)

But look out — here comes a mind-blowing revelation. The inimitable Dr. A sent me a message via Facebook yesterday:

I was reading the Andy Hardy Mardi Gras guide last night and saw that Rex’s theme is “Spirits of Spring” and that they have a Persephone float!

I could hardly believe it. I had to verify, it seemed so incredible.

And it’s true.

I should mention that I’m usually not checking out the big parades on Mardi Gras. After all, you can see parades all through Carnival if you so desire. The real fun on Fat Tuesday is not to watch a parade but to be a parade. So although Rex is a classy affair, with some of the most sophisticated and highbrow themes and some of the most aesthetically pleasing floats, I wasn’t planning to make a point of checking Rex out. We’d been planning to hook up with Saint Anne.

But this seems too cool and too cosmic to ignore. Now I’m inclined to change our Mardi Gras plans entirely and head uptown, which I haven’t done for years. In fact, Mom & Dad, if you’re still looking for costume ideas, you might want to check out some of Rex’s other Spirits of Spring as outline in this RTF document. Or — this only just occurred to me — you might consider Persephone’s grandparents, Cronus and Rhea. For some reason Zeus is sounding better to me now.

Persephone’s first Mardi Gras, and there’s a float in her honor. My mind is still reeling.

Oh, one last thing: If anyone reading this has an “in” with Rex, my daughter would love to get a sneak peek at that float.

Epiphany

And so the season of madness begins again. Allow me to update a little essay I wrote a few years back:

Tonight is Twelfth Night, or so I thought.

Everybody’s heard of the Twelve Days of Christmas, but few people (in America, at least) know that these are the twelve days after Christmas, starting on December 26th and ending with Epiphany, also known as Little Christmas, which is January 6th, today.

These days, with the commercial focus on shopping and gifts, all the build-up is beforehand; when Christmas rolls around, many people have had their fill of holiday spirit. But in merrie olde England, the twelve days after Christmas were a wild and wooly time when everything was turned upside down, authority was mocked, people swapped genders, and so forth. (I hear in Latin America they go for forty days, until Candlemas on February 2nd, but I digress.)

I’d always assumed that Twelfth Night, as immortalized in Shakespeare’s famous play, was the night of the twelfth day of Christmas or January 6th. But it turns out that in ye olde England they counted kind of funny. Maybe they still do. They started with the evening before, so that the twelfth night of Christmas was actually the evening of January 5th. That’s when the crazy, upside-down season ended, and things got back to normal with the Feast of the Epiphany on the 6th.

That may seem complicated enough, but hold on. I live in New Orleans, and here Twelfth Night is indeed observed on the evening of January 6th, and it marks the beginning, not the end, of a period of debauchery.

Yes, today is the first day of Carnival. The season of king cakes, masked balls, cheap plastic beads and endless parades is upon us.

Tonight the Phunny Phorty Phellows get the party started. The Phellows are a revival of an institution going back to 1878. There’s been quite a few changes to their routine over the years. They used to follow Rex on Mardi Gras. Now they ride a streetcar on Twelfth Night. The St. Charles streetcar was knocked out of commission by Hurricane Katrina, so they switched to the Canal Street line. Now the Uptown route is back online, but they still began (and ended) at the streetcar barn on Canal Street. That’s only a block from our house, so we took the girl to her first Carnival party ever.

The season culminates with Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday — which always falls on the day before Ash Wednesday, which begins the season of Lent and is forty days before Easter, and as everyone knows Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the Vernal Equinox. Elementary.

What this means is that the beginning of Carnival is fixed, but the end floats around. This year, it falls on the 24th of February. That means the Carnival season is 49 days this year, seven weeks exactly. A good length. Not too long or too short.

I still don’t have a costume, but it’s time to start thinking about one.

Happy Carnival to all.

Update: I didn’t know, but apparently January 6th is Joan of Arc’s (apocryphal) birthday, and some folks are capitalizing on that. My co-worker RPhotos2008 has some pix. With all due respect to the Phellows, this looks pretty cool.

Endymion Returns

To the relief of everyone Uptown, Endymion is coming back to Mid-City in 2008. Therefore I imagine we’ll be having our annual Samedi Gras party, where you can experience a totally different side of Endymion, far from the madding crowds of Upper Mid-City. Hopefully our renovation will be complete by then. The question is, what musical entertainment will we have? If you’re interested in rocking our house, let me know. We can’t pay you, but we’ll have beer. It’s OK if you’ve never played out before; in fact it might be preferable. After all we hosted the world premiere of Phantasmagore a few years ago and we all know how well that went. Rabbit Hatch played the year after that and actually made it through their whole set. Applicants may be subject to an audition, especially if I don’t know you very well. I prefer quirky weird music. An improvisational bongo/sitar combo might be ideal. Also, I should forewarn that although we have a lot of rooms, none of them are ideal for playing music. Also, my pregnant wife will be at eight months by then and she could put the kybosh on the whole thing at any moment.

Gloomy Lundi

Just a few days before my father’s operation, two of my closest friends received news that their own fathers were coming, abruptly, to the end of life. Michael went to Nebraska to be with his father. He passed away yesterday. My other friend’s father has stomach cancer and I gather the prognosis is not good. My heart goes out to both these guys and their families.

Meanwhile, here in New Orleans, it’s Lundi Gras, Fat Monday, the penultimate day of Carnival. It doesn’t feel very festive in our neighborhood. Endymion was once again displaced to the Uptown route this year. So no party at our house. We have no house guests. I haven’t heard from many of our friends.

The big weekend got off to a bad start Thursday night. There were two shooting incidents in which nine people were injured. Two brothers were killed in a car in the Bywater/Upper 9th Ward; closer to home, six people were shot in a Mid-City nightclub. One of the victims lingered on for a day or so but eventually died.

Of course I can’t help but think of Helen’s passing last month. I am also thinking of Donna’s son Manny, who was killed in the wee hours of Mardi Gras morning last year. And that reminds me of little Bilal who fell off our roof and died on Mardi Gras five years ago.

It might sound like I’m not in any mood to celebrate tomorrow, but that’s not the case. Xy and I aim to hook up with the mysterious Societé de Sainte Anne as we’ve done for the last few years. Maybe next year we’ll have our own marching club that departs from Mid-City, but I doubt we’ll be able to muster anything as mystical and mind-blowing as St. Anne.

There is a connection to all the ruminations on mortality. Every year, the Societé makes its way to the Mississippi and conducts a ceremony to honor those who have passed away, commending their ashes to the waters of the river. We’ve never managed to make it that far, usually getting peeled away by the chaos. But I remain impressed by the gesture, even if I’ve never actually seen it.

There seems to be some controversy over where St. Anne will start this year. (It was mighty confusing last year.) According to Ken, there’s some Bywater/Marigny factionalism at work. This has crystallized in the following directions, just published today on the Societé’s website:

The exact starting point for the parade is uncertain. There may actually be 2 starting points, and the separate subunits will hopefully unite at some point in the route.

So I’m not sure where we’ll be tomorrow morning, probably somewhere between Chartres and Marigny and Clouet and Dauphine around 9am. I’m sure it will be chaotic and cosmic and cathartic.

If you see us, say hi, and help me keep Xy away from the booze.

Chaotic

Xy and I went to see the Knights of Chaos last night. Schroeder’s posted a couple of pictures. It was a good satirical parade that made fun of all our so-called leaders.

Last year, I wasn’t really feeling the Carnival spirit until I saw Chaos and Muses.

This year, not so much.

For one thing, it was really cold. I was dressed warmly enough to be comfortable but Xy wasn’t. I gave her my coat. She also wasn’t feeling well. So we went home before Muses rolled, which was a shame, because Xy hasn’t ever seen Muses and I think she’d enjoy it. She’s not a big fan of any of the parades, and frankly neither am I, but after seeing Muses last year I’ve got to admit they are something special. They are the best of the major parades, with beautiful floats and more interesting throws than anyone else. I was bummed not to see them, but even more bummed for Xy’s sake.

For another thing, I’m in much more of a funk than I was a year ago. I know that the recovery of New Orleans will take a long time. A marathon, not a sprint, as the saying goes. But you can never finish a marathon by going in the wrong direction, and that’s what it seems like lately.

I’m still hoping against hope to have a little fun on Mardi Gras. If only I had a good idea for a costume.

PS: Thanks to Adrastos & Dr. A for the hospitality along the parade route.

KdV

Last night was the first and best parade of the Carnival season: Krewe du Vieux. Even though I’ve been pretty down lately and not feeling celebratory, I would never miss this parade.

It seemed to me like there were more people turned out to see KdV than I remember in years past. We couldn’t find parking anywhere near Frenchmen (where we’d hoped to hook up with some friends) and so ended up in the Bywater, much closer to the beginning of the parade route than I’ve ever been. The Friendly Bar was way too crowded to get a drink, and things didn’t feel quite so festive.

Still, a great parade which maintained Krewe du Vieux’s status as the most satirical and obscene of all parades. I didn’t take a camera but through the miracle of the internet I can still show a picture of my favorite float:

Krewe du Vieux

Photo by dbs nola

In case you can’t tell, this papier mâché masterpiece depicts a woman, representing New Orleans, being violated by the famous Louisiana State Capitol building. Yes, there were many other floats that were more clever and more subtle, but there’s always one that makes an indelible impression. The symbolism of this float is crude, rude, bitter and painful and hilarious all at the same time. Kudos.

The parade went by far too quickly. A whirlwind of raunchy political satire and great brass bands, and then it was gone. Afterward, as we made our way back to our car, we passed through the staging area where the parade had begun. Man, what a mess. Empty plastic bags all over the street. I wonder if anyone goes back to clean up the next day?

We hurried back home so Xy could work on her lesson plans. Yes, she usually works on Saturday nights, and pretty much every night. Such is the life of a teacher.

Note to self: Next year, go earlier and take some wine in a plastic bottle.

Call to Carnival

When I moved to New Orleans back in 1999 I didn’t really know what to expect. Certainly I didn’t anticipate that at age 32 I’d discover a whole new holiday. And not just a new holiday, but an entire holiday season.

I’m talking about Carnival, of course, and Mardi Gras, and it’s not really new at all. In fact, tomorrow will be the 150th Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans.

But it was new to me. Mardi Gras was in a cultural blind spot. I really had no idea what it was all about.

I still don’t. That’s part of the charm. It’s too big and too weird to grasp fully. Like any major holiday, it is many things to many people.

And make no mistake, Mardi Gras is a major holiday here. They say it defines this city, and I believe it.

I just got this poem (via e-mail) from Cristophe, the magistrate of the Krewe of Clouet, which evokes the spirit of the day:

CALL TO CARNIVAL

Hear Yee, Hear Yee revelers all!
It is once again time to heed the call
Of the pantomine and ribald of carnival.

Be a king or a queen and wear a crown,
A jester, a muse, a siren or a clown.
The day is marked for fantasy and mirth,
A day set aside by our mother earth,

Who in her wisdom conjures the spirits of jest,
For her children one grand day to fest
And invoke the heros of myths and odes
To raise joyous toasts as mysticism unfolds.

Join with the masks, the capes, and the plumes.
Don the cloak of a thousand costumes.
Be led by the music and move with the dance
For the day starts early and well in advance.

Thus informed partake with your friends
And celebrate the magical distant ends
Of Mardi Gras and all that it lends!

And today is Lundi Gras. We’ve got friends from out of town staying with us, and more friends coming over to visit soon. My toenails are painted bright green and my costume is coming together. It’s the most weirdly wonderful, wonderfully weird time of the year.

Happy Carnival, y’all.