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October 17th, 2006

Anyway ...

I can't believe how many times I used the word "anyway" in that last entry. I'm feeling much better now, thanks. Anyway ...

By Invitation Only (I'm still snorking at us thinking we'd been invited to some exclusive deal) was an interesting movie made even more interesting by watching it with an audience. The filmmaker, Rebecca Snedeker, is a young woman from one of New Orleans' old Carnival royalty families. Her mother and grandmother were Queens of Carnival; her uncle was Rex; her father, it was implied, was a high muckety-muck in Comus if not the god himself at some point. (Comus' identity is never revealed.) She was slated to make her society debut and likely take her own turn as Queen of Carnival one day, but as she began to comprehend the discriminatory racial/class policies of the old-line krewes, made black and Jewish friends who weren't welcome at many of her social activities, and eventually had a serious relationship with a black man, she began to question whether she wanted to live this life and ultimately stepped away from it ... and then stepped back to make this movie, which is a rather heartbreaking blend of the genuinely disturbing racial issues inside Carnival and Snedeker's obvious nostalgia, if not actual longing, for a life that was once the ultimate fairy tale to her.

The interesting thing about the audience is that it was made up partly of old Carnival types who wanted to see what she'd said about them and partly of young cool types ready to snark at the traditions of the Fascist Pig Elite Ruling Class. Possibly too ready; I have to wonder what Rebecca Snedeker, who was in attendance, made of their constant guffawing at customs a part of her obviously still holds very dear. There were some amusing moments in the movie, but I didn't find it as hilarious as all that, nor do I think it was intended to be. She acquitted herself well during the Q&A session, though the questions were pretty much across-the-board sympathetic. (If I were the type to stand up and ask questions at those things, I would have liked to know what she thought of all the laughing.)

Me, I'm not sure what I think of the various racial/class politics of Carnival ... or maybe I should say I'm not sure how to feel about them. I find it extremely disturbing that krewes with over a hundred years' tradition behind them chose to stop parading in 1993 rather than admit black members. They claimed it was the principal of the thing, but it looks like plain old hate to me. On the other hand, I tend to disagree with the ordinance forcing integration of krewes: they are private organizations, and I believe that private organizations are entitled to be hateful, racist, sexist, homophobic, fanatically religious, politically radical, any combination thereof, or just about anything else they like, as long as they're not actually infringing on anyone else's rights (and it seems to me that no one has the automatic "right" to be in a Carnival krewe). If they want to make utter asses of themselves, that would seem to be their business. However, it's hard to argue with the people who point out that Carnival krewes make use of taxpayers' resources, which would render discrimination illegal.

I do know that, as disturbing as the old-line attitudes are, the pageantry itself will always capture my heart. I kid it pretty hard in Soul Kitchen and I don't think my kidding was an exaggeration, but it also means the world to me when Carnival season rolls around, and you'll always find me at home on Mardi Gras night watching the Meeting of the Courts on WYES like any good old fart. I wouldn't ever want to be a part of the old-line krewes (too exhausting), nor would they ever want me, a first-generation mutt. I'm happy to be a spectator on Fat Tuesday morning, hailing the King of Carnival as he passes, and a member of the Uptown throngs for the rest of the day. For the record, Rex did agree to integrate and never stopped parading. Still, I regret that I haven't seen Comus (the traditional Fat Tuesday night parade, with floats of legendary mystery and beauty) roll since I was almost too young to remember it, nor am I ever likely to see it again.

Ghost Stories

I'll be appearing with Andrei Codrescu and others at an event called "My New Orleans is 300 Years of Ghosts & Their Stories" Thursday evening at the Cabildo, 6:00-8:00 PM. It sounded fun when I agreed to it, but now I'm realizing that I am actually supposed to, er, tell a ghost story. I can't think of any. I don't want to tell something from Gumbo Ya-Ya that everyone already knows. I don't have anything short enough to read except "Wandering the Borderlands" from Masques V, and that isn't scary, just dark and sad. I doubt most people alive in New Orleans right now want to think too hard about the process of understanding and ceasing to fear dead bodies.

I thought of reading an excerpt from "Mussolini and the Axeman's Jazz" -- an old story I still quite like even if no one else does -- but I don't have a copy on this computer and my copies of Are You Loathsome Tonight? are in storage, likely with many other boxes stacked atop them.

The story that scared me most as a kid was from one of those "10 Slumber-Party Scares" type anthologies and ended with the still immortal line, "Only the bloody stump where her head had been!" I don't think I could pull that one off. I believe its title was "The Fur Collar." It was the scariest story I knew until I read Anthony Boucher's "They Bite" a year or so later.

In other news, the storm and the failure of the federal levees continue to claim victims that few people outside New Orleans hear about. Here is one of their stories.

[Addendum: Thank you so much for the several offers to scan "Mussolini and the Axeman's Jazz" and send me the file! I've taken the first person up on her offer, but I truly appreciate all the thoughtfulness.]

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