The other night, as I walked to Lilette to meet my friend Laura for dinner, I walked past this house:
It made me smile, as the New Orleans dedication for decorating for the holidays (any holiday, really) always does.
I posted this picture after taking it, along with a caption along the lines of it’s almost Twelfth Night and the start of Carnival! Someone commented, a bit surprised, “already?” which once again made me realize how different living in New Orleans is from living anywhere else, really, in the country. Nobody outside of Louisiana (unless they’re Catholic) understands how Carnival actually works, which makes sense. If it doesn’t affect you, how would you know? So, I decided explaining Carnival would be an excellent blatant self-promotion post, particularly since A Streetcar Named Murder is built around (sort of) a Carnival krewe and their membership recruitment ball. So, buckle up, Constant Reader, I’m going to give you a sort of primer for New Orleans Carnival.
Carnival begins on Twelfth Night, January 6th, and the season continues until it ends at midnight on Fat Tuesday (Mardi Gras is actually the last day of Carnival, not the entire season; but over the years Mardi Gras has become synonymous with Carnival, but the locals will always correct you when you call it Mardi Gras instead of Carnival; and ‘mardi gras” literally translates from the French to Fat Tuesday), when the bells of St. Louis toll the beginning of Lent and the police clear everyone off the streets of the city (no one is supposed to be out on the streets after midnight; I used to love to stand on the balcony at the Parade watching the mounted police officers slowly making their way down Bourbon Street as the crowds disperse before them–and behind them the street is empty). I’m not going to get into the history of Carnival and how it all began as a “farewell to the flesh” before the religious solemnity and penance of Lent; but that’s the part most people don’t get if you’re not from here or Catholic. Christmas, Carnival, Lent, and Easter are all tied together. Twelfth Night is always a fixed date because Christmas is fixed for December 25th; but since Easter’s date is never the same, neither is the date for Mardi Gras/Fat Tuesday, which is always forty days before Easter.
So, first things first. If you want to know all there is to know about each year’s Carnival, you start by getting a copy of Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide, seen below. (You can order it on-line if you’re curious about it.)
(Don’t @ me, I know it should be Carnival Guide, but Mr. Hardy is Mr. Expert on all things Carnival, so we let him get away with it every year.)
The guide is invaluable, even though now there’s a parade tracker app so you always know where the parades are. The parades are what most people associate with New Orleans and Carnival/Mardi Gras; the big ones that shut down St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street aren’t until the last two weekends before Fat Tuesday. I don’t even know how many parades pass by our corner during parade season, but it’s a lot. (I’m hearing that the parade routes are being truncated a bit because of not having enough police officers to pull parade duty, but I don’t pay a lot of attention and just look at the Guide–which I have yet to get a copy of this year.) So, parade season is the two weekends prior to Fat Tuesday. The first weekend is easy, really; there’s parades on Friday night, Saturday afternoon and evening, and Sunday afternoon. Then we get a two day respite before they start in earnest, and there’s always at least two a night beginning the Wednesday before Fat Tuesday. Muses is Thursday night, following two others; there are also three on that Friday. Saturday afternoon is my favorite, Iris, which is followed by Tucks. Endymion is the big parade on Saturday night but it has a different route; it doesn’t come down St. Charles unless rain has caused it to be postponed for a night (when Endymion rolls down St. Charles on a Sunday night it’s a nightmare out there at the corner because Endymion is HUGE). There are parades all day Sunday, culminating with Bacchus Sunday night; Orpheus is the grand finale on Monday night, and of course on Fat Tuesday Rex follows Iris and then come the truck parades. There are also other, smaller, walking parades earlier; Krewe de Vieux, for example, is enormous and is a Saturday night later this month. After Twelfth Night and before Parade Season, there are balls and parties and walking parades and all kinds of celebrations leading up to the parades. The bleachers are already going up at Liberty Circle and all along St. Charles.
So, what does A Streetcar Named Murder, which is set in October, have to do with Carnival, and how is this a blatant self-promotion post?
Because the plot of Streetcar is set around an October costume ball for one of the newer Carnival krewes, the completely fictitious Krewe of Boudicca (it was Athena in earlier drafts, until I realized that I should check to make sure such a krewe doesn’t exist anywhere and sure enough, there is one; either in Metairie or on the north shore), which is also kind of new-member rush for the krewe. Our main character, Valerie, has no interest in belonging to a krewe; as she says, she’s fine “just going to parades and catching throws.” But her neighbor/best friend Lorna wants to join Boudicca, and she is dragging an unwilling Valerie along for the ball. It’s at the ball that the murder takes place; turns out the membership chair for Boudicca is Valerie’s nemesis, and of courea Valerie is the one who finds the victim after she’s stabbed.
And of course, it’s Carnival season again in New Orleans! So more info and blatant self-promotion to come!