I Love a Parade – III

February 13, 1899 – New Orleans

For more than 15 years Charles Briton had been largely responsible for many of the costumes, floats and trappings for Mardi Gras. However during his illness in 1884 he turned to fellow Swede Bror Anders Wikstrom for assistance. After a colourful life on the high seas, Wikstrom turned to art and on a visit to New Orleans in 1883 ran into his old friend Briton. On Briton’s death he became the designer of choice for the Comus, Momus and Rex Krewes. Though primarily an artist and teacher Wikstrom’s designs for carnival augmented his income generously and allowed him to live very comfortably and make frequent trips to Europe.

Mangrove Swamp Wikstrom 1902
Mangrove Swamp – 1902
Brors Anders Wikstrom was inspired by his time at sea and his surroundings in Louisiana.

Over the years he tackled a great variety of themes from the comic to the fantastical to the historical.  It was not until 1898 that he was to return to the Krewe of Proteus when he replaced the mysterious Carlotta Bonnecaze.  His first parade was A Trip to Wonderland which wasn’t about Alice’s adventures but rather took the watchers to the Milky Way, a Lovers’ Hammock,  A New Heaven and many other wonderous places.  He was to design twelve more parades for Proteus until his death in 1909.  As was normal he had submitted his designs for the 1910 Rex parade as Ash Wednesday 1909 was arriving.  He then headed off to New York to work on the design for forty floats to celebrate the anniversary of Henry Hudson’s “discovery” of the river that was named after him.  He had been unwell on his departure and his condition worsened.  He died in April, several days after he had completed the project.  His obituary lauded his accomplishments in setting up art schools and academies in his adopted home but made no mention of his work with the Mystic Krewes.  As with previous designers, including Briton and Bonnecaze, his identify was one of the secrets guarded by the Krewes.

Aid-110-115
The Aids were parade marshals who rode the length of the route on horseback.  For E Pluribus Unum in 1899 Wikstrom gave them the air of French cavaliers.

Though much ado is made of them, the persons chosen to represent Rex, Comus, Momus or Proteus had little to do other than preside over the festivities.  The real work of planning, coordinating, and overseeing went to the Captains of the Krewes and their Aids.  The Captain was the manager of the festivities and for many it was a year round job.  Themes were chosen; designs viewed, changed, rejected or approved; trips made to the costume houses of France drawings and measurement sheets in hand; fabrics and adornments selected; shipments arranged; float and big-head constructions overseen; invitations lists for the ball vetted; ball favours, dance cards and invitations; and the list goes on.  Until on the day of the Parade itself the masked – and unknown – Captain, mounted on horseback, led the parade through the streets of city.  And with him as parade marshals were five or six Aids who had assisted him throughout the year and now kept the parade in good running order.

After all the planning and preparation a smooth operation on the day itself was not always guaranteed.  In 1877 it was discovered that the floats that had been constructed for the infamous Hades, A Dream of Momus were too wide to go through doors of the “den” where they had been constructed.  The parade was delayed as a wall was knocked down.  In 1890 a battle broke out between the Captains of Comus and Proteus.  Comus had not paraded on Mardi Gras night for several years and Proteus had taken over their spot.  Comus returned that year and the two parades took off at the same time only to collide on Canal Street.  Heated words were exchanged and blows almost flew however the brother-in-law of the Comus Captain took the bridle of the Captain of Proteus’s horse and led him to one side allowing Comus to go through.  It was only after some persuading that Proteus returned to his original Lundi Gras place in the festivities.

Despite the weather the Rex Parade of 1899 made it’s way through the winter swept streets of New Orleans.  I’m sure Wikstrom had not envisioned his King of Carnival sitting on a snowy bed of roses!

But the biggest concern for any Captain was the weather.  Rain was always a major threat to the papier-maché floats and big heads.  But rain was not the problem during Mardi Gras week in 1899.  A blizzard swept out of the Rockies and deposited three inches of snow on an unprepared New Orleans.  A bitterly cold wind drove the temperatures to 28ºf during the day; though Rex did parade, atop a Wikstrom designed bed of roses, on Shrove Tuesday it was said His Majesty’s smile was more set by a frozen moustache than from any sense of bonhomie.

Rex may have decided to parade the evening before, when temperatures went to 7ºf, Proteus made the wise decision to stay indoors and delay the parade until two days later – Friday February 16th.  For the only time in Mardi Gras history a parade was held in the first days of Lent.  It was not a success as both carnival spirit and crowds had dispersed with the coming of Ash Wednesday.  And if truth be told Wikstrom’s designs – his second for Proteus – lacked the enchantment or whimsy of his best work.

So here it is February 16th and we’re back to our familiar spot on Canal Street – the weather is still not warm and frankly there’s a certain joie de vivre missing.  But let’s give the parade a passing glance and see what Mr Wikstrom has created.  Frankly it may be just a little to cold to watch the whole thing so we may just go indoors for a warming glass of hot punch and miss a few of the floats.

As always the parade was lead off by the Captain on horseback followed by Proteus accompanied by members of his court. (A left click will enlarge the designs for a closer look.)

In the aftermath of the Spanish-American War of 1898 patriotism was running high in the United States and Proteus choose to celebrate America with E Pluribus Unum, one of the mottoes on the Great Seal.   Though never codified by law it was the de facto motto of the U. S. until the change to a less secular wording in 1956.

Banner-car

Uncle Sam counting the stars was followed by floats representing the District of Columbia, seventeen states* (the Carolines shared a float) and Alaska which wasn’t even a territory at that time.  I have not been able to figure out what the exact criteria was for inclusion or the order in which the states were presented.  Each state was represented by its motto, shield and attributes of its history, industry, flora or fauna.

It is possible that the first state is Maine as a tribute to the sunken USS Maine that had served as a powerful propaganda tool in the Spanish-American War.  The ship had been in port during Mardi Gras 1897 and her officers and crew taken part in the festivities.  I’m a little at a loss to explain the rather Nordic dress of the participants as the Viking settlement theories were not put forth until the 1970s.

There is perhaps a bit of irony to the modern observer in both the State motto and the design of the float representing Pennsylvania. The wheat sheaves and the lumps of coal with the state moto: Both Can’t Survive.  Of course we have been told otherwise.

Though there may be witty asides at the expense of many of the States that are lost on us today there is no question about Massachusetts.  The Mayflower seems bound on a storm sea for a rather forbidding Plymouth Rock.  And the float is peopled by blue stockinged archetypal schoolmarms, academics, and slightly over-the-hill cupids.  Obviously Wikstrom did not hold the good citizens of Boston in the highest esteem.

Given the recent Gold Rush in the Klondike that had beckoned to more than one hopeful prospector from the South perhaps it was not so strange to include Alaska as One of the Many.

We really didn’t need a reminder of the cold from that last float – there’s still some snow on the ground.  We’ll have to be careful going over to the French Opera House, it’s a bit slippery underfoot – those cobble stones can be treacherous.  It does seem a bit anti-climactic going to a ball during Lent but we have the invitation and the dance card and it would be a shame to waste them.  Beside we spent a goodly amount on those costumes so ………

* The floats in order were: District of Columbia, Maine, Alabama, The Carolinas, Kentucky, Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Arkansas, Massachusetts, Missouri, New York, Florida, Louisiana, Rhode Island, California, Texas, and Alaska

On this day in 1951: The Canadian Army enters combat in the Korean War.

Lunedi Lunacy

Not Quite Safe For Work

I am always struck by the incredible amount of musical talent here on the Island. And it isn’t just in one genre – it can be folk, Maritime-country, jazz, classical, metals of various weights, rock etc As an example my friend M. who sent me this link is a talented singer and an incredible Bendy Sex Whistle player. Yes that girl plays an incredible Bendy Sex Whistle!

So what’s the big deal says you? What’s so “NSFW” about silly names for instruments of the orchestra.  Okay you made the puerile comment about the saxophone but that hardly warrents covering the screen and fretting about the IT police?  Well fine then how about this pleasant little piece by Thomas Morely, the master of the English madrigal?  He and Robert Johnson are the composers of the only surviving contemporary settings of verse by Shakespeare.  This fetching little ditty is sung here by the grandfather of all countertenors Alfred Deller.  It is based on various “toys” and dainties to satisfy milady’s appetites that were available in select shops in London in days of yore.

And yes you did hear right! Now back to work!

On this day in 65 AD: Earthquake in Pompeii, Italy.

Someone Is Watching

lacey-tvAbout fifty years ago, give or take a decade, my friend Margaret’s mother – a dotty old Irish gal if ever there was one – thought that she was being watched through the television.  She also thought that if you were watching the same programme as her she could talk with you. This led to some concerns on the part of the family and serious speculation as to the ma’s mental well being.

Fast forward to last Monday when  my friend Dee mentioned in passing on Facebook that she was looking for a new mattress.  Within five minutes ads for posture enhancing, non-allergenic, memory-foam mattress were popping up like mushrooms on her news feed.

Could it be that Margaret’s ma rather than being touched in the head at the time was just a touch ahead of the time?

What brought this to mind was a meme that showed up on my own FaceBook feed earlier today.  Though I had not committed anything to post I had been complaining – yes I talk to myself, I mean don’t we all?  I said DON’T WE ALL?  – about the amount of work I put into writing and creating posts to then have them go unread, even by my own family, or only glanced at quickly.  Then this showed up:

Writing-meme

Has it gone one step beyond Ma’s suspicions and were the ubiquitous “they” not only watching but reading my thoughts?  Or have they been monitoring my struggles as I go through the process of writing these shambolic postings.  And how long has this been going on because this is process I’ve gone through most of my life whither it be writing procedures, lesson plans, proposals, essays, or posts about obscure topics.  Thank god I’ve never tackled the Great Canadian Novel!

On this day in 1916: The Centre Block of the Parliament buildings in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada burns down with the loss of 7 lives

Siren with a Lens

I was searching for a past post earlier this week and came across this item from September of 2009. We had gone to the Palazzo delle Esposizioni to see the much publicized Bulgari Exhibition and as so often happens another show proved a more satisfying and memorable experience. And the memory had me turning to a bookshelf to retrieve the wonderful catalogue that had been published.

Willy Or Won't He

I fell in love with the circus and Burt Lancaster when I was about 10 or 11. Back in 1956 my brother took me to see Ringling Bros Circus in one of their last appearances under canvas and I was enchanted. That same year Trapeze was released and I remember having the comic book and reading about it in one of the screen story magazines. And it had some poster! Lancaster and Tony Curtis in white circus tights. And standing between them Gina Lollobrigida all spangles, cleavage, doe eyes and pouty lips. But even at 10 the sight of Burt in tights did more for me than Gina in spangles.

La Lolla was one of those buxom foreign stars that came into the studio system as it was fading into oblivion. She was exotic, she was beautiful, she was Italian and she was hot. But she was always more than…

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Mercoledi Musicale

In which an old fart moans about those youngsters today.

A recent posting on the CBC addressed the number of singers who seem to be developing vocal problems these days – Adele, Celine Dion, Michael Bublé et al.  It went on at length about the trials of touring, two shows a day, and audience expectations based on recordings.  Looking at that list I saw nothing that singers have not had to deal with in the past.  One thing that was not mentioned was sound engineering that gives the balance of sound to the instruments.  Nor the David Foster inspired arrangements that required a singer to start forte and end at fortississimo.   It’s a bit like bad sex – if you start with a climax where the hell do you go from there?

And something I’ve noticed in musicals recently:  despite the presence of those wireless mini-mics that are taped to widow’s peaks and ear lobes often the lyrics are unintelligible.  Last year we saw a production of The Threepenny Opera  at the National Theatre in London in a specially commissioned translation.  They should have avoided the expense for all that could be understood of the lyrics even with the body mics.  Only one of the performers who was intelligible – not a good thing in Brecht-Weill.

Now lest you think I am being an old curmudgeon – well fine I am but .. – I have two videos of singers who have the technique to sell a song without resorting to shouting to indicate emotion, who make every word count, and who were able to withstand the touring, do two or three shows a night, and meet their audiences expectations.

And here’s Mel Tormé showing how to set a mood and deliver a song without destroying your vocal cords.  And just for the fun of it as a coda June Christy chirping, Mel drumming and Nat King Cole jamming.

It was surprised and sad to read in the article that Sophie Milman, a singer I have admired since hearing her back in 2015, has developed trouble.  But she admits that she hasn’t learned how to husband and manage her voice.  It would seem to be a skill set that is lacking in vocal training today.

On this day in 1747: The first venereal diseases clinic opens at London Lock Hospital.