As far as we know the fire came from the basement; as for the water, that definitely came from the sky. Both characterized the 2019 Carnival, that and the date of Mardi Gras, March 5, being late.
Taken in order, the fire destroyed the St. Charles Avenue mansion known by many family names; Downman, Kock, Montgomery Grace, and to the neighbors simply as the “Mardi Gras House.” The latter name is because of Rex’s annual tradition of stopping there, actually making a turn at St. Charles and 3rd Street, so that the king could be toasted. Given the lineage of past Kings and Queens of Carnival that have lived there, and perhaps a Comus or two, no house is as connected to the social side of Carnival as is this one. Then came the fire, a bolt to the soul of Mardi Gras just as the parade season began.
Too bad there wasn’t rain that day during a season that was otherwise teased and tormented by downpours. There was hardly a day during the parade season when there wasn't weather threat somewhere, though never did the rain fall all day long. Indeed, some days, such as the Friday before Mardi Gras, were colored with black skies during the afternoon, but the night was beautiful. On the Sunday before Mardi Gras the day parades had to march without bands to quicken their pace, but by the time Bacchus rolled in the evening the sky was clear. There was only one loss to the parade schedule, but it was a major one, at least to those who appreciate the old line krewes and their traditions. Chaos chose to stay in its den on the Thursday before Mardi Gras, though Babylon and Muses marched that same night. Because of the age of its floats, which once belonged to Momus, there may have been concern about the elements, also most of Chaos’ membership had a ball to go to that night. Had there been a parade, there might have literally been chaos.
As for Carnival and the calendar, don’t believe that the later the date the better the weather. Both Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras were dry, but cold, a step better then in 2014 when Mardi Gras was also late, March 4, but it was both wet and cold. A late Carnival does provide more breathing time after Christmas, however on the other end it is nearer St. Patrick’s and St. Joseph's Days, which are in Mid-March, triggering their own parades less than two weeks after Mardi Gras
Rex made extra news announcing a change in float builders, from Kern Studios to Royal Artists, beginning next year, and switching its house orchestra to a group of symphony musicians. “If Ever I Cease to Love” had more of a waltz quality to it. Rex presented a beautiful parade, unfortunately, for reasons not having to do with the krewe, its march was delayed along the route. That’s unfair, especially on Carnival Day with its larger crowds and expanded tv coverage. Rex deserves better.
Best Performance by a City Agency: All of the departments performed well, especially the police (which was headed by a new chief) and sanitation, which did an amazing job clearing streets. Because of special circumstance, however, special recognition goes to the New Orleans fire departments for its heroic effort in fighting the Grace home fire and for protecting neighboring residences. It was a long, hard fight, but the firefighters were the knights of their domain.
Best Performance by a Federal Agency: Let’s hear it for the weather service. It provided sound advice on complex weather patterns so that parades could, when they needed to, start earlier or later to avoid the storms. The weather folks doppled at all the right times.
Most Growth by a Gender: Let’s see, which one should we choose? How about women? This was the year of the female. We have no idea how many women now participate in parades and/or marching groups but instinctively we know it is more than ever. With the growth of Muses and Nyx over the last few years there were already a lot of new faces behind the masks. This year Iris was in a growth mode and now claims to have more riders than any other krewe, including Endymion. Then there are the walking krewes, which keep growing. And the growth will continue especially as each group provides networking for the others and with the influx of millennials. More than ever Carnival is fit for a Queen.
Best Growth from Down the River: Marginy and Bywater continue to provide new people and imagination to the season. The decision to move Chewbacchus a week earlier before the big parades was a good one, allowing this offbeat group to have its own space while also not overwhelming the police with too many parades at one time. Meanwhile ‘Tit Rex, which combines shoe box sized floats with towering imagination, continues to roll. Also, this year was the 50th anniversary of the Society of St. Anne, which continues to channel hundreds of maskers through Marigny and the Quarter on Mardi Gras. Watching St. Anne pass is always one of Carnival’s most visual and happiest moments.
Best Rendition of Blind Referee: We were tempted to make no call in this category since there were so many spoofs of NFL referees who lacked vision, but Le Krewe d’Etat deserves credit for having its Dictator’s Dancing Dawlins group marching and dancing in unison while wearing sunglasses and the NFL stripes. Don’t worry about this decision being reversed after further review. According to rules, that’s not allowable.
James J. Coleman, Jr. was known in many ways; for his philanthropy, for his hotels (including the Windsor Court) and for being an active anglophile. For the purposes of this column, we want to emphasize one more category, his contributions to Carnival. Coleman, who died last Thursday, was a major official in the Hermes organization. With his guidance, Hermes continued as one of Carnival’s best parades. Rolling on the Friday night before Mardi Gras, Hermes presented a parade that was patterned after the old style krewes but that had an extra flash of elegance. It was always one of Carnival’s prettiest parades and was known for its pace and attention to detail, including being one of the leaders in lighting innovation. Less known was Hermes' charitable arm, “Beyond the Paradem,” which was created to support the city’s first responders. The city was blessed by his reign.
BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
WATCH INFORMED SOURCES, FRIDAYS AT 7 P.M., REPEATED AT 11:30 P.M. WYES-TV, CH. 12.