Imagine that you want to have a backyard barbecue but before you can you have to get the approvals of the city. An inspector visits, studies the situation, and after consultation issues a report. “Good news,” he says, “you can have your barbecue; only, you have to follow certain restrictions:
- You cannot use charcoal because that creates smoke, which causes people to cough.
- You cannot serve cooked meat because the charring creates cancer-causing hydrocarbons.
- You cannot have friends or family over because that allows diseases to spread.
- You cannot have beer because that could lead to the cook being visuality impaired, and that could cause a fire.”
In closing, the inspector repeats how pleased he is that he could issue such a positive report and wishes you a great barbecue. You, on the other hand, store the barbecue pit in the shed, go inside, wash your hands, put on sanitary gloves, and order a pizza.
Carnival season 2021 is like the barbecue. The good news is that we can have it; the bad news is that there are so many restrictions it will be almost impossible to enjoy and, from a parade perspective, hardly feasible. Socials distancing; wearing masks (the COVID kind), being tested for the disease not more that 72 before the ride, that’s a lot of preparation for just going to a parade. Plus, from the spectators’ perspective; no ice chests, table, trays, tents or gatherings. That sounds like fun.
Tempting as it is, we cannot blame the city officials. They are just doing their job, and yes, we understand that public safety is paramount. But in a Trumpian moment, we want to get mad and blame something for stealing our Carnival. Guess we should just blame life, or the Russians.
New Orleans has known crises before: After Katrina the krewes only had a few months to create creditable parades in the midst of the muck, and they did it. There have been wars; bad weather; civil strife and, most dramatic, the police strike of 1979 when all parades were cancelled. That year, however, is best remembered for Mardi Gras day when maskers, thousands, gathered in the French Quarter and celebrated. They had fun as though in defiance of those who tried to prevent it.
What is different about this year is that the revelers are not allowed to revel. In other times people were encouraged to celebrate regardless of the crisis du jour, now we have to watch out for the police.
Last week, the mayor and her administration encouraged the Carnival krewes to develop safe ideas for celebrating the season. Some krewes will no doubt work diligently to stage an event, but from talking to some of the captains, it was obvious they were in pain. For a parade to distance riders six feet apart the krewes will either need more floats or fewer riders. A choice between increasing expenses or reducing income provides no happy options.
Carnival celebrations are being cancelled throughout the world this year, including Rio de Janeiro. Last February, as the pandemic was spreading across Europe, the Carnival in Venice was shut down. We are not alone in facing a Carnival crisis although New Orleans has one of the best known of all Mardi Gras celebrations. What happens here will be global news in the world of Carnivals.
For now, we can just put on our face masks, sit on the stoop and hope for better. Those who run the krewes face the double blow of a compromised season and then having to rebuild next year. One day, no doubt, the kings will be ruling again, but no monarchs are in more demand then the scientists working on vaccines.
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.
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