And, so it begins.
With the first of two parades for Carnival.
On the Twelfth Night. The Feast of the Epiphany. Three Kings Day. The day on which the Magi presented themselves to the baby Jesus. And, catch this one… the reason why there is a little plastic baby in a King Cake. Do these pieces fit a little better now?
Carnival begins. Because it is lunar-based it also comes to close a lot quicker than some years. Mardi Gras Day — Fat Tuesday — occurs on February 9th this year. That means a lot of events happen in a short time. There are the obvious — parades, beads, dancing in the streets in The French Quarter. But, there are the less obvious. Masked balls, big krewe lunches and dinners. Families and friends getting together just like they would on Christmas.
For the visitors who think it is one big party, it is. In a way. It is. As the lady of the house says to her friends from other places, “It’s the party before Lent, when you repent.”
That’s pretty accurate. Here’s how it lays out. In Catholic countries — all of them except for the Philippines, which gave up Carnival in 1937 — it’s pretty much the same schedule.
Christmas. The birth of Jesus Christ, Twelve days pass, the Magi pay their respects to the Baby Jesus which is the Feast of the Epiphany. Carnival begins. It lasts for roughly 40 days and concludes with two weeks of parades, partying and other forms of fun which all come to an abrupt end on Midnight of Mardi Gras Day because the next day, Wednesday is also called Ash Wednesday, when the Lenten Season begins. Forty days of repentance begin. Then, Easter Sunday arrives.
It’s symbolic on many levels. You pass through the dark and cold nights of winter to emerge into a wonderful spring. Rebirth.
Yes. I know. Mardi Gras is known as a giant party. A debauchery. People come from all over the world to see it. “To come to de Mardi Gras,” as Professor Longhair once sang. But, there is a lot more to it. I think you have to live here to know that. For local people, it’s a holiday much like Thanksgiving or Christmas, when friends and family gather. They come home from distant places. For our tourists, we try to treat them kindly. Even more so than our normal reputation.
The pictures. Well. There are two parades on the Twelfth Night. One is The Phunny Phorty Phellows. Theirs is a very old parade. It started in the late 1800s. It’s also a streetcar parade. You either photograph them at the streetcar barn where they start and finish or you get out ahead of them and anticipate where their streetcar will pass.
The other parade is newer. Krewe of Joan of Arc. They are seven years old. They’ve grown from a little, tiny parade that passes quickly to a big, long parade that honors Joan of Arc by walking the first Carnival parade of the year through the Quarter, stopping for a blessing at St. Louis Cathedral, before moving on to the golden statue of Joan of Arc, located near the French Market.
After all, she was the Maid of Orleans and we have a strong French heritage.
That’s the parade I chose this year. The streets are old. They are fairly narrow. The crowd is getting huge. And, most of the streets in the Quarter are not well lighted so you have to pick your place carefully if you are going to take pictures. Maximum light is what you want. That usually means at a street corner. I sort of gave up on sharpness and reverted to an older style of mine. Just let the pictures be whatever they are. Sure, I no longer have to work at ISO 50, but at ISO 1250, there is still a lot of motion blur. Play to that and the pictures turn a little painterly. Like mine. I think. Hopefully, they give you a real feel for being there. The motion. The energy. The light. The color.
That’s the intent. Anyway.