Carnival by the 5s
Traditional night parades
(not counting satirical parades)
1. Proteus. Only surviving night parade of 19th-century origin. Appreciate this as a study of what parades were like in the grand old days. Lundi Gras, 4:15 p.m., St. Charles.
2. Hermes. A smart, colorful parade known for its innovations with neon lighting. Feb. 4, 6 p.m., St. Charles.
3. Babylon. An old-fashioned parade with lots of flambeaux. Each of the vintage theme floats depicts an episode in an ongoing story. Feb. 3, 5:45 p.m., St. Charles.
4. Sparta. Marching on the first Saturday of the parade season, this is the best of the early night parades. Look for the mule-drawn king’s float. Jan. 29, 6 p.m., St. Charles.
5. Ancient Order of Druids. This unusual, relatively new krewe made of members of other parade organizations has a tongue-in-cheek quality to it. Feb. 1, 6 p.m., St. Charles.
1. Champagne. Not only used by Carnival royalty to toast each other, but poured for mimosas at Carnival brunches. Even André pink works along the parade route.
2. Beer. Don’t forget the local brews, Dixie and Abita.
3. Barq’s. Though not made in New Orleans anymore, the root beer is still the closest there is to a local soft drink (or, as the Yankees say, a local “soda”). Diet Barq’s tastes amazingly good.
4. Hurricane. As served at Pat O’Brien’s and imitated in various forms by other bars, this is the energy source for those loud primal yells by male college students.
5. Ojen cocktail. This is an anise-like drink, usually mixed with club soda, that’s a favorite of high society but which is now on the endangered list. Martin Wine Cellar has what is left of the world’s Ojen supply.
1. Grillades and grits. This is the ultimate after-the-ball dish as well as a hearty breakfast for getting through the day. (See Food, page 32.)
2. King cake. Love it or hate it, you have to have a few slices during the season. You can’t avoid it.
3. Popeye’s. If you have the spicy chicken with a side of red beans and oversize biscuits only once a year, Carnival (specifically, while waiting for a parade) is the time to do it.
4. Polish sausage on a bun. A properly greasy vendor food sold from a trailer. Get it splashed with mustard and with grilled onions ladled in the bun.
5. Jambalaya. Louisiana’s indigenous pot food fuels many parade parties.
(There are only three krewes eligible for this category.)
1. Bacchus. This, the senior of the superkrewes, is not the biggest, but in many ways it is still the best. No super-krewe has the tradition or the emotional hold of Bacchus. Feb. 6, 5:15 p.m., St. Charles.
2. Orpheus. At its best, Orpheus’ parade could be the most beautiful in Carnival. Unfortunately, Orpheus has been doused by bad weather over the last couple of years. An overdue evening of good weather could give this krewe the sparkle it needs. Lundi Gras, 5:45 p.m., St. Charles.
3. Endymion. The largest of all local parades, Endymion creates a daylong event along its Canal Street route. Endymion’s floats have become rather boxy over the last few Carnivals, but new design help brought in this year could make a difference. Feb. 5, 4:30 p.m., Canal.
Things we do not like to see in Carnival parades
2. Float riders without masks.
3. Dancing groups preceded by a trailer carrying a large amplifier blasting recorded dance music.
4. Floats we have seen before.
5. Generic parade themes used to embrace generic, unimaginative floats.
Note: In Orleans Parish, Nos. 1 and 2 are illegal.
1. Society of St. Anne. Like a herd of peacocks moving in a procession from Marigny to Canal Street, this group, which includes some subgroups, channels great costuming through the Quarter’s paths. This is what Mardi Gras should have more of (see related story, page 99).
2. Ducks of Dixieland. No group is as clever in its costuming. Look for the Ducks in the Tucks parade throughout the Quarter on Mardi Gras.
3. Jefferson City Buzzards. The Jefferson City Buzzards will be celebrating their 115th anniversary this year, though presumably without any of the founders. Look for this lively, all-male group along the Rex route (see related story, page 136).
4. Pete Fountain’s Half-Fast marching club. They walk. Fountain gets to ride, but hey, he’s the star.
5. Lyons Marching Club, Corner Club, Mondo Kayo (three-way tie). Along with Half-Fast and the Buzzards, these groups also enliven the Rex route on Mardi Gras.
1. Le Krewe D’etat. No krewe presents satire better than this very hot group, which depicts its characters with sculpted figures rather than cartoony cutouts. Feb. 4, 6:30 p.m. St. Charles.
2. Muses. This sizzling all-female group had the best humor of all parades last year – really clever stuff. Feb. 2, 6:45, St. Charles.
3. Chaos. Looking very much like the defunct Momus parade, which pioneered parade satire, Chaos even marches in Momus’ old time slot. A great representation of a classical satirical krewe. Feb. 3, 6:30 p.m., St. Charles.
4. Saturn. A good attempt at satire in the spirit of Momus. Feb. 2, 6 p.m. St. Charles.
5. Tucks. A loose confederation of floats with a bawdy, “Animal House” feel that usually provides some laughs. Feb. 5, 12:30, St. Charles.
Gay Carnival balls
1. Petronius. Returning after being dark last year, this is the senior surviving group, dating to 1962.
2. Amon-Ra. Celebrating 40 years this Carnival.
3. Armenius. Heavy on the lavishness and satire.
4. Lord of Leather. Describes itself as “the only leather-oriented Mardi Gras krewe in the world.”
4. Mwindo. Started in 1999. Defines its niche with a predominantly black membership.
Overused float designs
1. Irish theme. Popular with float builders because they can recycle them for St. Patrick’s Day parades.
2. King figure. When in doubt, back to Camelot.
3. Robin Hood. Put a mask on him and he can be Zorro, sort of.
4. Generic New Orleans. Cheap way to pander to the local crowd.
5. Generic Mardi Gras. See No. 4 above.
Top marches at Carnival balls
(There are only two of significance)
1. Grand march from “Aida.” Giuseppe Verdi’s stirring classic premiered in Cairo on Dec. 24, 1871, about the same time Rex made his debut – Feb. 13, 1872. Both have been part of Mardi Gras ever since. (Warning: humming the march can become habit-forming.)
2. “If Ever I Cease to Love” (march version). When Rex and other monarchs are not strolling the floor to “Aida,” they are being accompanied by Carnival’s anthem.
1. “If Ever I Cease to Love” (jazz version). Gravelly voiced Doc Souchon’s recording survives as the best.
2. “Go to the Mardi Gras.” No one can duplicate Professor Longhair’s piano genius and bluesy vocals.
3. “Mardi Gras Mambo.” There have been several versions of this classic including the original, which was a country tune, and more recently, a zydeco effort. The rendition that endures is the 1954 recording by the Hawkettes, a group of high schoolers, fronted by Art Neville on vocals.
4. “Carnival Time.” From the opening horn blasts through the end, Al Johnson jumps with the liveliest of Carnival songs. Why? “All because it’s Carnival time…”
5. “Big Chief.” With a rhythm right from the streets of New Orleans, this combines the best of both worlds, Earl King on vocals and Professor Longhair at the piano.
Unique black contributions
1. Mardi Gras Indians. Borrowing from several cultures, a tradition has fused that’s truly indigenous, combining colorful costumes and a rhythmic beat that has influenced local music.
2. Rhythm-and-blues. Professor Longhair, Al Johnson, the Nevilles – the music-rich season’s most enduring songs come from its R&B roots.
3. Zulu. By far the most visual manifestation of the black Mardi Gras.
4. Original Illinois Club. This century-old social organization and its counterpart, the Young Men Illinois Club, honors the debutantes of its realm. Debutantes and their fathers dance the delicate steps to the signature waltz, “the Chicago glide.”
5. North Claiborne Avenue. In the days before the Interstate 10 loop was built through the neighborhood, the streets were alive with many masking groups on Mardi Gras, including Indians, Skeletons and the Baby Dolls. Though not the same as it was, the area is still active on the big day.
Dumb things for parade spectators to do
1. Throw beads and objects at float riders. (There should be a special place at Angola for those who do that.)
2. Run in front of a float to pick up beads.
3. Stand near floats.
4. When bands are at rest, walk through the rows to get to the other side of the street. (If the band is the U.S. Marines Corps’, you may not make it across alive.)
5. Get in a fight over doubloons.
1. Zeus. Senior Jefferson Parish parade is also one of the best.
Feb. 7, 6:30 p.m., Metairie.
2. Alla. Close to the source: Algiers parade has been under the leadership of float builder Blaine Kern. Jan. 30, noon, West Bank.
3. Caesar. Jefferson Parish’s largest parading organization has nearly 50 floats, many double-deckers. Jan. 29, 6 p.m., Metairie.
4. Excalibur. Up-and-coming parade has innovative lead floats, some shared with Krewe of King Arthur a week earlier in New Orleans.
Feb. 3, 8 p.m., Metairie.
5. Napoleon. If you feel like going to a parade on the Saturday evening before Mardi Gras but want to avoid Endymion’s crowd in the city, this krewe provides a relaxed alternative. Feb. 5, 6:45 p.m., Metairie.
1. Rex. Original floats. Smart themes. The rainbow of Rex-riding lieutenants in purple, green or gold. Machine-like efficiency. Floats designed to glitter in the sunlight. Good bands, lots of tradition. The king of Carnival still does it best. Mardi Gras, 10 a.m., St. Charles.
2. Mid-City. Foil-decorated, krewe-owned floats are among the most brilliant in Carnival, though by the end of the route there is less sunlight to make them shine. Feb. 6, 2 p.m., St. Charles.
3. Zulu. Rental floats are routine, but the sizzle is with the maskers bedecked in their African-motif garb and the top-heavy hierarchy that includes a king, mayor, ambassador, Big Shot, even a Witch Doctor. When the parade runs on time, it is a joy. Mardi Gras, 8:30 a.m., St. Charles.
4. Thoth. Serpentine route takes it past several hospitals. Krewe-owned floats at the front of the parade are spectacular. Feb. 6, 11:30 a.m., St. Charles.
5. Carrollton. Venerable parade is not flashy but reliable, doing most things right, including owning its floats. Marching on the first Sunday of the parade season, for many people its passing has been the traditional start of Carnival. Jan. 30, noon, St. Charles.
Things to do on Ash Wednesday
1. Get ashes.
2. Resolve to give up something for Lent.
3. Store your beads in a closet.
4. Send your ball clothes to the dry cleaner.
5. Mark down that Mardi Gras 2006 is Feb. 28.