Carnival parades have been threatened by external crises before.
In 1979, all the parades in New Orleans were cancelled because of a strike by the city’s police. Some of the krewes, including most notably Endymion, marched in Jefferson Parish that year.
In 2006, cancelling the parades was discussed as the city still suffered from Hurricane Karina. Many krewes had damaged floats, but in the end some groups cobbled parades together and on Mardi Gras that year Rex and Zulu glittered with full glory.
Now comes a challenge unlike any other. We don’t know if COVID will allow Carnival parades and public events, and we might not know for a while. Asked about Carnival during a news conference last week, Governor John Bel Edwards conceded that he is aware that krewes and their Captains need to know now, but the relevant numbers are just not available yet. We will have to wait.
At least he did not say “no” – neither have the krewes, at least not yet.
Any discussion of this type has to begin with acknowledging that yes, public health is the number one concern, and nothing should stand in the way.
That said, the economy and public morale run close behind, though no one is totally sure when number one will slow down to a beatable pace.
So, to try it make a case for there being a parade season runs the risk of seeming naïve to the health concerns; but to not make the case overshadows the importance of Carnival, especially to New Orleans.
Depending on how you define carnivals, ours may be the biggest and best in the world. It creates a spectacle where celebrations are brought to many neighborhoods. Carnival brings neighbors, many of whom seldom see each other, to the streets and encourages partying on the neutral grounds. It gives those who choose to participate a chance to be special; to wear a crown, or wave a scepter, if only for a day. It gives those who prefer not to participate a day off to get away. We are a city where beads grow on oak trees and where we have our own music and colors, all because of Carnival.
I live near Canal Street, where from the Thursday before Mardi Gras through that Saturday the neighborhood becomes a village, complete with people camping out, in anticipation of Endymion’s coming.
At some point on the Saturday of Endymion, I will walk down the street; hear the music from porch bands; inhale the aroma of grilling from lawn picnics and think the same thought every year, “this is how a city is supposed to work.” It is the rare urban experience where the crowd in itself is a passing parade. This is a city where people will want to live.
But now we wait to see where the future will take us. Carnival has proven that it can be pliable when it needs to. In 2006, Rex had to find a blacksmith to fix the wagon wheels of its flooded floats. Some krewes sacrificed beauty for levity by incorporating blue tarps, seen on hurricane damaged roofs, on their floats. There is much creativity and spirit contained in Carnival. Given the chance, its planners can do great things.
And if there are no parades! We will just have to live with more bottled up memories. (Most of us now have such memories by the gallons.) We know that there are some people who do not like Carnival. Maybe its absence will help them appreciate it more.
For some of us, though, there is a yearning to again experience festivity that is not virtual but real.
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 9:30 A.M. SUNDAYS.WYES-TV, CH. 12.