There is not much that can positively be said about the 2021 Carnival season, the year when parades were cancelled because of COVID-19. Sometimes, however, disappointment triggers alternatives ideas, and the paradeless season did just that. Carnival would be gifted to take advantage of the discovery.
“House Floats” were the sensation of that year’s Carnival. Without parades, the notion grew to use the area’s workless artists to design displays for porches and front lawns. The idea was brilliant as neighborhoods were brightened with creativity. There would be parades of a different sort on St. Charles Avenue consisting of lines of vehicles creeping along so its passengers could gawk at the embellished decorations on the grand homes, many with ample front yards all the better for displays. On the inner blocks, the porches of classic shotgun homes and camelbacks were each their own theater.
If only the idea of House Floats could be resurrected, enhanced and made permanent. For as grand as our Carnival is, one loss over recent decades has been the decline of neighborhood activity. Parades once wound through Mid-City, Gentilly, the West Bank and Metairie Road en route to the main thoroughfares. In some neighborhoods people could watch parades from their front porch. There was a real neighborhood feeling to Carnival expressed even in the names of some Krewes; Freret, Mid-City, Carrollton and Pontchartrain.
That changed mostly because of the police who needed to standardize parades routes to provide better protection without having to relocates barricades for every march. St. Charles Avenue, Veterans Boulevard and Canal Street became the Broadways of Carnival. In the neighborhoods there were only the sounds of distant drums. Both Mid-City and Carrollton parade on the St. Charles route now away from the neighborhoods of their origin. On a clear day, perhaps the sound of the Freret Parade rolling along St. Charles Avenue might be heard a few blocks away on its namesake street. Pontchartrain, itself relocated to the Uptown route, is close to the river but nowhere near the lake.
No one ever said though that Carnival can only be celebrated with just parades. Imagine a patchwork of neighborhood festivals where there could be block parties, porch bands, and even competition for the best decorated homes. In the spirt of the original Home Float idea there could be extra work for artists and musicians. But, most of all, folks could better appreciate their neighborhoods and discover their neighbors.
For cities to work better, neighborhoods have to do their part. Carnival can play an important role crystalizing that. The very act repeated several times over a two week period, of several thousand people partying together, in relative peace, along a common neutral ground is quite therapeutic. Few cities in the world offer a similar experience. New Orleans, despite its maladies, is stronger because of the unifying force of Carnival.
As a personal observation: I live near Canal Street along what is part of Endymion’s route. As an obsessed urban dweller, each year on the weekend before Mardi Gras I get thrilled by the street festivity around my home. (Including a neighbor who attaches a string of kids’ wagons to a riding lawn mower and stages his own parade around the block.) At some time during the afternoon, as the sounds echo from porch bands and people dance in the yards I blurt, to whoever will listen, “This is how neighborhoods are supposed to work.”
Channeling more of Carnival into the neighborhoods can only make the city’s stronger. That would be the ultimate cause for celebration.
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