Parade of St. Anne Doesn't Disappoint

Robert Siegel and commentator Andrei Codrescu offer their own play-by-play of the Court of St. Anne Mardi Gras parade, which is the only parade to take place in the French Quarter.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, from NPR News. I'm Robert Siegel, in New Orleans, in fact, in the French Quarter, with our commentator, Andrei Codrescu.

ANDREI CODRESCU reporting:

Hello Robert.

SIEGEL: We're going native with you this year, Andrei.

CODRESCU: Happy Mardi Gras.

SIEGEL: And as we're sitting here, curbside, a group is approaching.

CODRESCU: Domestic Social Drinking Crew of Commerce. They have flash FEMA costumes, there's a sailor, and some indescribable others. Your FEMA trailer, mine, two FEMA trailers.

SIEGEL: These are people with cardboard boxes around their waists that say, Your FEMA trailer or mine? There are a lot of FEMA jokes this year in Mardi Gras.

CODRESCU: Well, there has been a sea of blue tarps. Blue tarp is the new flag of New Orleans.

SIEGEL: The roofs that are damaged are covered with blue tarps, and so it's a --

CODRESCU: Yes. The other theme is taped refrigerators. People put their refrigerators on the curb, and they became an instant occasion for art and graffiti.

SIEGEL: Now while the big parades Zulu and Rex are down the official parade route, we are awaiting a local parade of the French Quarter.

CODRESCU: We are waiting for St. Anne's. St. Anne's parade is a neighborhood effort, and it's satirical and fun. Last year there were 1,500 people in it, each one in costume. So we'll see what they came up with this year.

SIEGEL: Now in the St. Anne's parade, is there a hierarchy? Is there a King or a Queen?

CODRESCU: This is the only parade, I think, that has its hierarchy confused. There's no aristocracy, there is no rank.

SIEGEL: On this day, the French Quarter is, I don't want to in any way disparage your neighborhood, it's home to many eccentrics, on a good day, on an average day.

CODRESCU: Oh, well, that's the reason to be in the Quarter, most of the Quarter, because they tolerate almost every eccentricity there is.

SIEGEL: But today, eccentricity to the umpteenth power.

CODRESCU: Well, this is traditionally the last bohemian Americans, the urban bohemians, so people are weird every day of the week.

Hello fellow devil.

SIEGEL: Happy Mardi Gras.

Unidentified Man #1: Happy Mardi Gras.

SIEGEL: People throwing us kisses. To some extent, people who dress up for Mardi Gras here in New Orleans, French Quarter and elsewhere, to some extent they're doing it for the tourists from out of town who are coming to see Mardi Gras, but they're also doing it for each other.

CODRESCU: I don't think they even think about tourists when they come out. They work on this for themselves.

SIEGEL: For themselves?

CODRESCU: Yeah, it's a way to do something ritually every year that sums up the year. It's almost a kind of an ode to or an expression of whatever it was, there was about.

SIEGEL: I'm not sure if all cities have a sense of humor, but this city has a sense of humor. A very ironic sense of humor.

CODRESCU: This is city has an art of humor. It has not just a sense of humor, it has an elaborate and thought out satirical sense that probably goes all the way back to medieval France.

Did you make that yourself?

Unidentified Woman #1: Yes, we did. And we're gumbo pots. We've got New Orleans gumbo and Katrina gumbo.

SIEGEL: Earlier we saw, by the way, a couple of bicycles decked out with painted foam rubber into exotic creatures, and on the back there's this little flap saying FEMA Sucks on the back of it.

CODRESCU: You're right, that's going to be a lot of the theme this year is FEMA Sucks and those symbols that are in every house, which is the new language, written language of New Orleans. Our new hieroglyphs.

SIEGEL: Are these Xs with codes of what date the house was visited in one place and what agency did it in another, and what number of pets were found, or --

CODRESCU: Or people. One of the local columnists has collected these writings in a book called, ONE DEAD IN ATTIC, which is one of the inscriptions on one of the houses.

Unidentified Woman #2: Someone at my house missed getting the mark of death, but it was flooded so I decided to become my own watermarked house.

CODRESCU: Oh, that's the waterline on your --

SIEGEL: Oh, I see, there's mark coming up your pant, your pant legs, which represents the ring, the sort of bathtub ring.

Unidentified Woman #2: Right. Yeah, ring around the collar, around the city, that exists.

SIEGEL: And then on your top, on your white t-shirt, you have the orange spray painted X.

Unidentified Woman #2: Yes. Right.

SIEGEL: 921, is that your house was searched on September 21st?

Unidentified Woman #2: Correct.

SIEGEL: Directly below that --

Unidentified Woman #2: I'm the living dead walking.

SIEGEL: One.

Unidentified Woman #2: So I'm the one.

SIEGEL: You're the one?

Unidentified Woman #2: I am the one.

SIEGEL: The number one below that.

Unidentified Woman #2: And I just sort of made up my own code. This is the Homeland Security of Louisiana.

SIEGEL: Happy Mardi Gras.

Unidentified Woman #2: Hey, happy Mardi Gras.

SIEGEL: What do you call that?

Unidentified Woman #2: (Unintelligible)

(Soundbite of instrument)

Unidentified Man #3: Excuse me sir, where did you get your devil horns?

CODREDSU: My friend Theresa makes them. And she makes them so good they actually grow into your head after a while.

Unidentified Man #3: (Laughing)

CODRESCU: They really become part of you.

Unidentified Man #3: She's nowhere around here right now.

SIEGEL: Here's a group of, they're called --

CODRESCU: FEMA Fairies.

SIEGEL: FEMA Fairies.

CODRESCU: FEMA Fairies!

SIEGEL: And they're wearing hats and skirts of blue plastic wrap.

Unidentified Man #4: Happy Mardi Gras everyone!

CONDRESCU: George Bush fairy.

(Soundbite of drumming)

CODRESCU: Well so far this is the sorriest excuse for a parade. We'll have to hope that there are many more amassing behind them. Or else people are still not here.

SIEGEL: Well its more than an hour later, and a great many FEMA jokes and strangely costumed and half-naked people have gone by. And it turns out Andrei, it's not that the parade is incredibly small this year, it's, it's so disorganized and late that they haven't come here yet.

CODRESCU: Well it imitates the chaos of the city. They are laggardly and here they come.

(Soundbite of trumpet playing)

SIEGEL: When the Society of St. Anne parade finally came, late, drunk, and chaotic, it was all worth the wait.

The story those stompers were playing and the parade was bawdy, profane, and funny. There were people half undressed and people overdressed. A man with a Michael Brown mask wore the sign, Heck of a costume, Brownie. Men with large protuberances over their breasts billed themselves as Looters with Hooters. Some paraders came dressed as mold, some as MREs.

Our man Codrescu turned out to be the most subtly dressed devil among many, he only wore horns. The others came dressed in red head to toe. There were women in pasties and nun's habits, and two men in feathers and G-strings, tin-foil cylinders sticking out of their groins.

Signs and costumes mocked the president, the vice president, the vice president's hunting skills, the governor of Louisiana, the mayor of New Orleans, and relentlessly they mocked FEMA.

(Soundbite of crowd noises)

We're back on the curb, the stoop, with Andrei Codrescu. Many parader's costumes and a couple of drinks later. I think we owe St. Anne's an apology, there was a real parade here.

CODRESCU: Yes, I'm very happy that it didn't disappoint, because the bulk of the paraders finally did come, and they were resplendent and deeply surrealist as I had hoped.

SIEGEL: But tomorrow is another day, Andrei.

CODRESCU: Well tomorrow is going to be a day of enormous hangovers, literal, symbolic, and people will wash off the glitter and put on their work clothes and get back to the, to the routine and drudgery, doing whatever it takes to rebuild this place.

SIEGEL: It's good to see you and thanks for showing us a surreally good time.

CODRESCU: It's a pleasure Robert. It's really, really good of you to be here.

SIEGEL: Our commentator Andrei Codrescu has been our guide to the St. Anne's parade in the French Quarter. This is NPR, National Public Radio.

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