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press clipping
Hurricane Katrina stokes Mardi Gras satire
2/11/2006, 12:08 p.m. CT
By MICHELLE ROBERTS The Associated Press

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Mardi Gras has long been an occasion for the city to laugh at tragedy and aim barbs at authorities, and given all the pain New Orleans has suffered in the past year the irreverence should reach new heights this season.

Armed with sharp tongues and images such as the blue tarps that still protect broken roofs across the city, the clubs that stage Mardi Gras parades are targeting Hurricane Katrina and the politicians they blame for the chaotic response to the catastrophe.

"It is hard living here now. We need to have our opportunity to release," said Keith Twitchell, one of the organizers of Saturday's Krewe du Vieux parade. "If you don't laugh, you're dead. There's a lot to cry about here."

Krewe du Vieux has used its parade to mock corporations and politicians every year for the last two decades.

"It's just we have more material this year," Twitchell said before the parade, themed "C'est Levee," a pun on the French phrase "C'est la vie," meaning "that's life."

Floats and props built for the Saturday evening parade in the French Quarter included hand-pulled carts elaborately decorated with blue tarps, fake broken levees, cardboard travel trailers and effigies of Mayor Ray Nagin and Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

One display asked France to buy Louisiana back, suggesting the state might get better treatment than it has from the American government. And in place of a parade map, the Krewe du Vieux had a "projected path" adorned with a swirly hurricane symbol.

Still, in the midst of revelry and satire, even the city known as the Big Easy has a serious side.

One of the city's most storied Mardi Gras groups opted for a somber tone to open its events. The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, a predominantly black group that lost 10 members to the hurricane, scheduled a Saturday afternoon memorial service and jazz funeral procession for the storm's victims.

Mardi Gras parades typically run on weekends leading up to and on Mardi Gras, which falls on Feb. 28 this year, almost exactly six months after the Aug. 29 storm. The parades are put on by private clubs across the city; Krewe du Vieux is a smaller French Quarter parade that runs in advance of the major parades.

Masked riders in the parades have long used the opportunity to mock the ruling class and government officials, said Mardi Gras expert Arthur Hardy. The tradition goes back to 1873, when the Mistick Krewe of Comus themed its parade "The Missing Links to Darwin's Origin of the Species" and portrayed Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant as a tobacco grub.

Hardy said the satire serves as a coping mechanism.

"It's almost like you laugh to keep from crying. It's a chance to say 'This can't keep us down' ... We're going to laugh at it and throw something back at it," he said.

Even groups that are typically less tongue-in-cheek are taking swipes at the storm and politicians this year.

The Krewe of Carrollton, which holds its parade on Feb. 19, chose "Blue Roof Blues" — a reference to the tarps protecting damaged and leaky roofs.

The Krewe of Mid-City will use blue tarps along the bottom of its floats — in part out of necessity because of flooding at its warehouse.

The Mid-City parade, scheduled for Feb. 26, will have floats called "New Orleans Culture" — that's culture as in mold — and "I drove my Chevy to the levee but the levee was gone," a bitter twist on the line from Don McLean's "American Pie."

It will also use a float from last year's parade that bears the image of Willy Wonka. The "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory" character has become a favorite reference to the mayor since he angered residents by saying New Orleans would once more become a "chocolate city." New Orleans was more than 60 percent black before Hurricane Katrina displaced about three-quarters of its population.

"As fate would have it, we're able to recycle it," Gerard Braud, a former Mid-City king, said of the float.


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