Monday, February 23, 2009
Report: Blue-Blooded Uptowner to Reign as King of Carnival
When I was at Tulane, it was frustrating to watch out-of-towners experience 'Mardi Gras' without ever attending Rex or Zulu. Yes, it's early in the morning. No, it doesn't feature a super krewe. And Comus hasn't paraded since 1992.
But the appeal of Fat Tuesday as a symbol of the city's racial coexistence seems to be lost on my generation. Zulu parades through former housing projects that have been razed. Rex is now the only krewe to parade through the affluent stretch of Napoleon bounded by Claiborne and St. Charles avenues. In fact, Zulu used to parade without a predetermined route-- not unlike Mardi Gras Indians-- before NOPD forced their hand. Rex has rarely diverged from its 10 AM start at Napoleon & Claiborne, and those years usually feature a tardy Zulu, perhaps purposely, delaying Rex at Jackson & St. Charles.
Aside from family traditions like Rex, Zulu, and the truck parades, Mardi Gras features lesser-known traditions nearly as old as New Orleans Carnival itself. Jefferson City Buzzards, for example, is the oldest continually-parading marching club and will celebrate its 120th anniversary next season. Pete Fountain's Half-Fast Walking Club starts at Commander's Palace in the Garden District before merging onto St. Charles. Part of the appeal of these marching clubs is their relative anonymity: Buzzards starts at the unremarkable intersection of Laurel and Exposition streets at 6:45 AM. For the first mile and a half of the Buzzards' route, the only revelers are grumpy Uptown residents awakened by an unforgiving brass band. These are the guys that give paper flowers and creepy kisses to unattractive women.
My favorite Mardi Gras memory consists of having a McKenzie's doughnut while reading about the year's Rex in a folded Times-Picayune before heading to Buzzards. It's a tradition I still find special to this day; it's also comforting how the King and Queen of Carnival change but always remain the same. The Monarch of Merriment probably owns his own local business-- think Entergy or Tabasco or Zapp's. He's also quite active in the community and probably a chairman of the Audubon Society or some task group concerning the wetlands, Katrina, or neighborhood crime. He probably has a cheeky anecdote about when his father or grandfather was king back in the day. The Queen is always a junior or senior in college who attended Newman, Sacred Heart, or McGehee for high school. Popular college choices for the QoC include: Emory, Virginia, Washington and Lee, and-- in a worse case scenario-- Tulane. She's active in the community as well, probably as an English tutor at some inner-city school. After graduating, she'd like to attend grad school.
It's a shame that native New Orleanians and out-of-towners alike probably have no idea what the Boeuf Gras or a Social Aid and Pleasure Club is. Then again, that's probably what makes Mardi Gras the most special day of Carnival.
Nola.com: Coffee Exec Thomas Westfeldt II to Reign as Rex, King of Carnival