Tuesday, February 5, 2008


Lundi Gras is an amazing day of community building. When the Rex organization was relatively young, it began a tradition of having the King of Carnival arrive at the banks of the Mississippi River by steamboat on the evening before Fat Tuesday to officially signal the beginning of the holiday. The tradition was held from 1874 until the entry of the United States into World War I. Starting in 1987 the School of Design, the parent organization for Rex, brought back the tradition by having Rex arrive by water transport at the foot of Canal Street. With the immense popularity of Zulu as a worthy competitor for the public's attentions in recent decades, it wasn't long before city officials and the Zulu organization campaigned with the Rex organization to make the new Lundi Gras a community event incorporating both groups. Zulu, formed in 1909 by the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club, began as an outlet for prominent New Orleans blacks to ridicule the Rex organization. Their early king arrived on an oyster lugger wearing a crown made from a tin can and holding a banana stalk as a scepter. For many years the organization continued to provide an outlet for the disenfranchised members of black New Orleans, growing in popularity and acceptance. One of the biggest events for them was in 1949 when Louis Armstrong returned in a rare visit to his hometown to accept the crown as King of Zulu. Yet, the Zulu parade continued to be an impromptu affair without any specific parade route until city officials clamped down on them in the last three decades, forcing them to deal with respectablity. That respectability has grown in stature so that Zulu also now takes part in the Lundi Gras celebrations taking place in Kenner at their Rivertown area. The King and Queen of Argus, the major parade held on Mardi Gras in Metairie, greet the King and Queen of Zulu at midday. Then the Zulu royalty travels to the foot of Canal Street and meets with Rex, who accepts the mayoral proclamation giving him the rule of the city for the following day. Musical acts play throughout the afternoon with street dancing and carousing heavily encouraged. Later, pyrotechnics are used to signal the beginning of festivities. The parades on Monday night are among the best in all of Carnival. Zeus, the oldest parading group in Metairie handles very large crowds, while in New Orleans the traditional Krewe of Proteus makes its way early in the evening along the traditional uptown and downtown route. They prepare the way for the final superkrewe, the Krewe of Orpheus, formed 15 years ago by Harry Connick, Jr., his father, and Sonny Borey, the artistic director at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré. Their parade ends at the Ernest Morial Convention Center as the huge, colorful floats, many featuring fiber optic displays, arrive for the Orpheuscapade, a party featuring well-known bands and celebrity figures who perform into the wee hours of the night. That was where I was until late (or early) this morning. I awoke this morning with a kosher king cake (no baby inside this one) and a cup of coffee and chicory. I think I am ready.

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