Hail, loyal subjects! In New Orleans, we are all fortunate that the krewes and their members throw parades for everyone's entertainment. Rex Duke™, Carnival's foremost parade reviewer, salutes them.
Longtime followers of my annual reviews will note that, once again, I have dispensed with using crowns (and half-crowns, as if there were such things) to rate individual krewes. While I love traditions, what would Mardi Gras be without evolving tastes and styles?
This year, we also had the strangely good fortune of having skies clear as parades hit the streets under the nearly constant threat of rain. The krewes of Druids and Nyx braved steady rains, but the Carnival gods had a strange sense of humor and benevolence this year. Here is a recap of what Carnival revealed.
Proteus' "Les Graces des Dieux Pour la Nouvelle-Orleans" (The Graces of the Gods for New Orleans) parade featured gods from religions and cultures around the globe, and most of the theme floats were decorated with the flowers from the regions where the float subject originated. The Javanese and Balinese figure Dewi Sri was on a float surrounded by sheaves of wheat, a symbol of immortality. Ebisu, the Japanese god of fishermen and luck, was represented by a boat with an Asian dragon on the front. Paper butterflies, orchids and irises seemed to carry Ostara, a pagan goddess of spring. Flames licked at the sides of a float bearing a Phoenix. The Native American fertility figure Kokopelli rode a float with cacti and corn stalks. Voodoo lord Baron Samedi was on a purple float covered with skeletons. Two floats featured the figures of other Carnival krewes, Oshun and Comus. The floats had vibrant sculpted figures and bouncing paper ornaments, making Proteus' procession one of the best executed and prettiest parades in Carnival.
D'Etat finds its Muse
The krewes of Muses and d'Etat have carried on a rivalry in their satirical parades, but in an odd convergence of like minds, both krewes arrived at the same theme. Muses presented "A Night at the Museum" and D'Etat celebrated the "Dictator's Museum of Art" or "DicMA." Both used famous works of art to lampoon local and national topics. Both delivered riffs on Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze's Washington Crossing the Delaware featuring Mitch Landrieu dealing with the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board. Both used Grant Wood's American Gothic in a subversive fashion. Muses' "American Chronic" float imagined fields of marijuana. D'Etat's version depicted enraged political protesters of various stripes.
Among the best Muses floats were "Hillary's World," featuring Hillary Clinton in a white pantsuit sitting in Andrew Wyeth's Christina's World. Johannes Vermeer's Girl with a Pearl Earring became a hilariously gutter-punky "The Girl with One Plug Earring, Six Tattoos, 14 Piercings and a Nose Ring." Sharing a unibrow, New Orleans Pelicans star Anthony Davis replaced Frida Kahlo in her portrait with her parrots in Me and My Pelicans, with Muses riders wearing elaborate headgear with basketballs suspended above hoops.
D'Etat turned Auguste Rodin's sculpture The Thinker into "The Stinker," presenting President Donald Trump sitting on a toilet. Mayor Mitch Landrieu was depicted in "The Mitchelangelo," imitating The Creation of Adam. Its take on Andy Warhol's Campbell's Soup cans was a float stocked with "canned" Trump administration figures, including "Chunky White" Steve Bannon and "Greasy Italian" Anthony Scaramucci (which would have been funny without the slur).
D'Etat and Muses also feted locals in their parades. D'Etat flattered media that cover Carnival on its "Critics" float, with images of Arthur Hardy and Errol and Peggy Scott Laborde, who broadcast the meeting of Rex and Comus' courts. As the Honorary Muse, Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell rode Muses' giant shoe float. While it's notable that Cantrell will be the city's first woman mayor, it's also hard not to notice Muses flattering a local politician. D'Etat delivered better satire with Cantrell as Venus in Botticelli's The Birth of Venus, ironically being modest with a fan of credit cards.
Pot of Gold
Spawned in a barroom near Tulane University, the Krewe of Tucks long has reveled in potty humor and at times can't resist a sophomoric joke. It marked a major milestone, its 50th parade, with the golden anniversary theme, "50 Shades of Gold." The "Golden Chicken" float featured a giant drumstick, and another float toasted Goldie Hawn. "All That Glitters Is Not Gold" seemed to poke fun at the krewes of Muses and Nyx, which distribute glittered shoes and purses, respectively. The "Heart of Gold" float depicted a candy heart with the words "Bend over and hold my beer." Not exactly the golden rule.
Pots and letters
Many krewes have saluted literature and literary figures, and this year had several art themes. But the Krewe of Hermes "Arts and Letters" parade stood out on the subject. Some of the writers and works chosen for float themes were familiar enough: William Faulkner (Mosquitoes), Tennessee Williams (The Glass Menagerie), Walker Percy (The Moviegoer) and John Kennedy Toole (A Confederacy of Dunces), which had a big Ignatius J. Reilly figure. The procession also included many writers who may not be as well-known or typically associated with the city, such as Robert Tallant, Lafcadio Hearn, Lyle Saxon and Kate Chopin. Some artists featured on floats included lithographer Caroline Durieux, watercolor painter Walter Anderson, Carnival float designer Bror Anders Wikstrom (whose work is on display at the New Orleans Museum of Art) and sculptor Enrique Alferez, whose work fills New Orleans City Park. Also featured were Newcomb Pottery (with two giant blue pots) and George Ohr, the "Mad Potter of Biloxi," who was brilliantly represented by a pot with tentacled extensions. The ideas were well-curated and wonderfully illustrated on colorful floats festooned with bobbing paper ornaments.
Out of the closet
Druids' themes and floats sometimes engage in cryptic humor, so the theme "Druid's Closet" seemed intriguing. Floats featured "Moths," "Shoes" and "Skeletons," and Rex Duke isn't sure what to make of the suggestive "Appeteasers" float, but its overall restraint was indeed a pleasant surprise. Druids did register a couple of serious notes. "Seriously, no loop on Canal," expressed dismay at parade route changes implemented this year. A float saluting New Orleans' Tricentennial suggested renaming Lee Circle "Mardi Gras Circle."
- Photo by Cheryl Gerber
- The Krewe of Muses debuted its "Goddessey" float.
Several krewes rolled out new signature floats this year. Muses introduced a beautiful officers' float called Goddessey. In reference to Homer's The Odyssey and Greek mythology, the float features a gold-leaf Pegasus carrying a vessel away from Mt. Helicon, where the nine Muses were born. On the edge of the mountain at the rear of the float is a tree supporting a canopy of 130 lanterns shaped like giant peaches, and a mosaic of mirror pieces appears like a waterfall emanating from the tree's base.
Also marking its 50th parade, Bacchus introduced the four-part pirate-themed Bacchaneer float and a reimagined Bacca-Kong Family float, featuring an animatronic King Kong. It also features Queen and Baby Kong and carries many riders, unlike the three separate previous Kong floats.
The Krewe of Tucks introduced the new Brothel float and Funky Uncle float, which is pulled in tandem with the Funky Tucks float.
All that jazz
Endymion celebrated jazz in its parade, with floats noting famous songs, such as "When It's Sleepy Time Down South," "Way Down Yonder in New Orleans" and "Snake Rag." Jon Batiste, leader of the band on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, served as grand marshal. Rod Stewart and Jason Derulo, who performed at the Endymion Extravaganza, also rode in the procession.
What's in a Name?
N.O.M.T.O.C. celebrated local history in its parade, including special shoutouts to its home in Algiers. But it delivered a history lesson on the title cards on tractors pulling the floats. The titles had to be the longest of the Carnival season. One read: "Haitian Revolution created migration of 5,800 immigrants to New Orleans resulting in majority African American city by 1809." The float had a sculpture of a Creole woman. Other title cards noted the founding of Dillard and Southern universities, and St. Katharine Drexel was honored on one float.
The best music for Mardi Gras parades comes from marching bands, especially from the many area schools that perform in them. Many krewes, however, allow floats to blast recorded music from speakers, and some parade-side revelers enjoy that as well. Unfortunately, many floats had turned the volume so high that music bled over marching bands in front of the floats. It seems unfair for krewes to place floats equipped with speakers next to marching bands they invite into their lineups.
The Rex parade celebrated New Orleans' tricentennial, focusing heavily on the Louisiana colony's early years. Perhaps most amusing was that the krewe didn't shy away from disasters among the trials and tribulations of the city's quest for survival. A float marking the 1788 fire that destroyed most of the buildings in the French Quarter was a sight, with flames engulfing a townhouse. Another float marked a yellow fever epidemic. There also was a float dedicated to Baroness de Pontalba, who famously was shot by a relative but survived and prospered.
Geographer and historian Richard Campanella reigned as King of Krewe du Vieux and even moments before the parade began could be heard discussing the history of blocks and buildings in Marigny. The satirical parade aimed at mostly local targets, in particular the various failures of the New Orleans Sewerage & Water Board (S&WB) and the sexual harassment scandal that engulfed chef John Besh. Seeds of Decline summed it up with its float "The Besh is Yet to Cum." Krewe of the Mystic Inane called for the guillotine to be applied to the most private parts of various sexual harassers. L.E.W.D. sent up the S&WB with an X-rated theme featuring deep sea divers and catch basins. Knights of Mondu marchers wore plastic poop hats in tribute to the S&WB's ineptitude. Krewe of SPANK paid tribute to the pushme-pullyu over New Orleans' status as a sanctuary city with the theme "SPANKtuary City" and a float with Lady Liberty playing an elaborate, moving whack-a-mole game.
For Carnival 2018, a loop on Canal Street — from St. Charles Avenue to Roosevelt Way — was dropped from all routes originating in Uptown. A few parades were able to add several blocks between Magazine and Tchoupitoulas streets to their routes. Also affecting the flow of New Orleans parades was a new limitation on the number of units appearing before each parade's first float — and the number of units allowed between floats.
Some parades still suffered delays. The Krewe of Nyx was delayed when a float had clearance problems. Still, many parades moved efficiently. On Sunday, Feb. 4, which has four parades in a row on the Uptown route, the last krewe to roll, Alla, was able to begin only 40 minutes after its official start time. In recent years, it has rolled into early evening and later because of delays and/or the pace of preceding parades.
In Jefferson, the Krewe of Excalibur did not parade on the loop on Bonnabel Avenue.
The city finally tackled the issue of ladders and other gear lining parade routes. The city had crews (not krewes) clear ladders and other items left along parade routes. City officials noted that people cannot claim public space on sidewalks or neutral grounds by spray painting the ground or leaving tarps, couches, ladders or other accoutrement. Tents, chairs, coolers and other items are not supposed to be placed along the route more than 24 hours before a parade. The city cited safety and homeland security concerns when discussing its policies.
While ladders were moved back from curbs in some areas, on some blocks, particularly on St. Charles Avenue, paradegoers used combinations of multiple tables and canopies to block entrance to wide swaths of neutral grounds, leaving a canyon of space empty between ladders on one curb and the tents at the other curb as parades passed.
Roll like an Egyptian
The Krewe of Thoth's parade, "That's the Way We Roll," offered a slew of puns on the rolling theme. Floats depicted hand-rolled cigars, sushi rolls, Tootsie Rolls and phrases such as "Roll Your Eyes" and "Heads Will Roll." The krewe dispensed toilet paper rolls for throws, and many were left streaming from the trees.
Unnaturally New Orleans
The Knights of Chaos revels in social and political satire but too often settles for conservative tropes (such as attacking NFL players for protesting police violence) aimed at the powerless, not the powerful, seemingly happy to invoke the phrase "politically incorrect" while riffing on transgender people in the military. This year's floats lurched from effective political satire to downward-kicking humor to seemingly sincere tributes to Fats Domino and Hugh Hefner, though the latter took a jab at sexual assault victims with a Playboy bunny standing by "#MeToo."
On its animal-centric 2018 theme "Nature Calls ... Chaos," the krewe's humor succeeded when its targets were clear — former Sewerage & Water Board director Cedric Grant was portrayed brilliantly as a big rat leading "Sewer Rats," reflecting the troubled agency's woes and political fallout, and the lame-duck City Council on "Do-Do Birds" were illustrated as corrupt do-nothings and overzealous credit card users.
Blaze of glory
The Krewe of Pontchartrain's theme about movies filmed in New Orleans included some blockbusters, such as JFK, Interview with a Vampire and Elvis' King Creole. One of its more amusing floats celebrated Blaze, about the relationship between Earl Long and stripper Blaze Starr. Two riders impersonated the couple, though a nearly naked stripper figure on the front of the float was more noticeable.
Until next year, I wash the ashes from my forehead, put away my beads and doubloons, and bid you adieu!