At some point during the afternoon of the Endymion parade a neighbor in our Mid-City neighborhood hitches a couple of wagons to his rider lawn mower. He fills the wagons with kids, each supplied with a stash of beads for throwing, and drives through the area. The procession overwhelms with cuteness for what it lacks in design. Passersby are charmed by the spectacle of what must be the world’s tiniest Carnival parade as they make their way to Canal Street in preparation for one of the world’s largest Carnival parades.
Throughout the day, miscellaneous porch bands are performing, which prompts masked wanderers to dance in the streets while spontaneous second-lines weave through the crowd.
At some point I, a committed urban dweller, survey the spectacle and gush to anyone who cares to listen that, “this is how cities are supposed to work!” Nowhere in the nation, or indeed in the world, on this winter Saturday afternoon is there as much neighborhood spectacle as there is on my block at that moment — except perhaps for the blocks next to ours.
Last week, we got the bad news that while the parades may return for the upcoming Carnival season, the routes might be critically altered. There is nothing definite yet, but statements from the mayor’s office suggested that one plan might have all 34 parades in Orleans parish march along a standardized Napoleon to St. Charles avenues route. The reason is a shortage of people power among police and public safety departments. It is similar to what is being faced globally as part of the residue from the pandemic. My first response was, “Oh No!” which also happened to be my following responses into infinity. This is one of those sentimentality vs. practicality arguments.
- Of the 34 parades on the calendar, most will not be effected by the standardized route in a major way. There may be some deviations where the parades line up but most already go down St. Charles Avenue to Canal Street. Truth is, St. Charles, with its wide neutral ground, picturesque oaks, and population density is the best of all Carnival routes. I call it “Carnival’s Broadway.” That explains why some krewes with neighborhood names, such as Mid-City, Carrollton, Pontchartrain and the Algiers-based Alla have moved to St. Charles despite their names. It is the best route for attracting riders. The concern though is with a few krewes whose route integrity is a serious issue. Therefore, please:
- Maintain, as much as possible of Endymion, Zulu and Thoth’s traditional routes. Without Endymion rolling up Canal Street there would be no parades at all on the lakeside of Tulane Avenue. To move everything to St. Charles would make Carnival parades strictly an Uptown thing.
- As bad as moving all the parades to one part of town would be for most the city, it would be a disaster for Uptown. It has happened before, during the post-Katrina era, when all the parades were forced along the St. Charles route. It was a terrible experience, especially for Uptowners who had to leave work early to beat the traffic and whose streets were clogged with vehicles every parade day. Restaurants and shops were practically unreachable. The worst was that Endymion was forced along the Uptown route, too. It was like pouring Lake Pontchartrain into Bayou St. John.
So, what’s the solution? We need to preserve the integrity of three krewes in particular: Endymion, Zulu and Thoth. Let Endymion go up Canal Street; let Zulu go through traditional Black neighborhoods and into Treme; and let Thoth do its serpentine route past Uptown health institutions, where spectators sometimes arrive in wheelchairs for their only parade of the season. Adjustments at the beginnings and ends of those parades’ routes may have to be made, but the essence should be preserved.
We are blessed as a city to have had a Carnival evolve with parades which, when governed correctly, can do much to unify neighborhoods and hence the town. A Carnival can be whimsical but it can also be an important urban stability tool.
This past Saturday night, I witnessed the joy in the Marigny neighborhood over the return of the Krewe of Boo. The parade was nice but the most fun was watching the cascades of ghosts, goblins and assorted creatures happily haunting the street. As one resident exclaimed to me, “I am so glad I live on Royal Street!”
It felt like the old days. The spirits were back. So was the spirit.
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