A friend of mine recalls the time when she first moved into her Mid-City home. It was near Canal Street, on the river side, near the cemeteries. South St. Patrick Street ran alongside the house. One Sunday morning, she was awakened by neighborhood noise of a different sort – drums, symbols, horses neighing, trucks, vendors, kids yelling – all coming from outside her window. To be rousted by such a cacophony of sounds, particularly on a Sunday morning, is not something that a person appreciates, but in her case, she was delighted. This particular Sunday was the one that immediately preceded Mardi Gras, two days hence, and the Krewe of Mid-City was forming outside. This was one of those “only in New Orleans” moments. Floats, in Mid-City’s case, splashed with colored foils and given life by moving parts, passed alongside her bedroom window.
Incidents such as that don’t happen very much anymore. In earlier days, several krewes rolled along small neighborhood streets before hitting the big thoroughfares. The krewes were even named after the neighborhoods; Mid-City, Carrollton, Freret, Pontchartrain and, on the West Bank, the mysterious ALLA giving acronym status to its home base of Algiers, Louisiana.
Metairie Road was once a favored path for many of the East Bank Jefferson Parish parades. Until marching krewes were banned from the French Quarter all of the city’s major parades made a turn from Canal Street and then up Royal. Carnival in the French Quarter was one of the most picturesque parade routes ever.
Gradually, mostly at the insistence of the police who wanted better traffic and crowd control, the routes were standardized along major thoroughfares. In Orleans Parish, the route is St. Charles Avenue up to Canal – except for Endymion, which works its way up Canal toward the Superdome. In Metairie, it’s mostly Veterans Boulevard. One Krewe, Thoth, is grandfathered in for its traditional serpentine path passing various hospitals and institutions, before joining the St. Charles route.
From an efficiency perspective the standardized routes are the right thing to do, but it is just not the same. Carnival has lost its neighborhood feel.
HOWEVER – There is a way to rectify that. It will allow rocking chair sitters to stay on their porches and it will illuminate neighborhoods with visual spectacles. Most importantly, there will not be a need to create new parades.
Sometimes good results come out of bad situations and that happened last year when the parades were cancelled. From that came the idea of House Floats, creatively decorating porches. This could be the beginning of something big. What if blocks would organize and form their own street krewes which, instead of parade and balls, would offer a pageantry of artistically designed homes? There could even be street parties and neighborhood royalty, and work would be created for artists and musicians. Done right this could increase neighborhood togetherness. Cities need a lot of that
For this to happen someone needs to take a lead. Most importantly, city government has to be corporative and, ever mindful of public safety, nevertheless needs to go easy on the prohibitions. In the spirit of Carnival there needs to be spontaneity.
This could enrich the Carnival experience and draw more people into participating just as the increase in women’s dancing groups has done. And if on the designated morning a neighbor is awakened from her sleep by the noise outside, she will know it is time to put the red beans on the stove.
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