Appointment in New Orleans by Tod Claymore
[The narrator – confusingly called Tod Claymore – is in New Orleans during Mardi Gras]
We were going to the Carnival Ball given by the Krewe of Neptune… The balls given by the Krewes are usually very lavish affairs, and each of them is graced by the presence of a King, a Queen, Dukes, maids of honour, and other high-ranking masqueraders. Only the members of the Krewe, and a number of selected women, known as ‘call-outs’, take part in the actual dancing. Other people invited – and admission is strictly by invitation only – go there merely to watch. To be anybody of any social importance in New Orleans it is necessary to be invited to watch at least a couple of the more important balls.
[Later his is wandering around the city centre with his friends]
The sun was shining; and the gaily decorated streets were crowded thickly with maskers in every variety of fancy costume – Indians, Spaniards, gypsies, Chinamen, clowns, cowboys and other disguises. Bands were playing; trucks gaudily decorated and packed with light-hearted revellers passes slowly through the crowds; the air was full of the sounds of music and laughter. Rex, Lord of Misrule, was King of New Orleans for the day, and nobody had any worries…
In St Joseph’s Street, where the big parade was due to pass soon, the crowd was even denser. All the office widows were lined with spectators, and people were perched on step-ladders, soap boxes, lamp standards -anything they could climb on to get a good view. We four hooded skeletons elbowed our way through the crowd by sheer force till we reached a position at the top of some steps.
commentary: Mardi Gras is the period before Lent: the world celebrates and feasts before starting on self-denial and serious preparation for Easter. The first day of Lent, Ash Wednesday, was yesterday.
I’ve already written about Appointment in New Orleans, but the description of Mardi Gras from 1950 seemed worth noting. In the tense final section of the book, Tod Claymore and his accomplices fight their way round the city solving their problems, amid the cheering crowds and carnival atmosphere. It is very well done, and would make a great film.
Earlier on he has visited the upmarket ball – but into the mouth of the maverick Poppy (Tod’s much older woman friend, who is a great help to him) he puts this:
‘Imagine that,’ she said slowly. ‘All this dressing up and hoo-ha so that a lot of businessmen can dance with their fat wives.’ She paused, and suddenly mirth overcame her. ‘Haw haw haw haw,’ she croaked.Tod is embarrassed:
I felt myself growing hot all over. Quite a lot of people round us were laughing. A couple of rows back a girl’s voice remarked clearly: ‘I think the old dame has something there.’ The Curels [their hosts] didn’t seem to be noticing what was going on. They were watching the dancing with polite attention.Poppy is meant to be an embarrassment, but she also often seems to be the author’s mouthpiece.
This book is elsewhere on the blog, and I also recently found out that the same author is also Hugh Clevely, see this entry. New Orleans high society life features in Maria Semple’s Today will be Different, lowlife and astonishing Bellocq photo in Michael Ondaatje’s Coming Through Slaughter. Then there’s Amanda Eyre Ward’s under-rated How to be Lost: key quote is ‘Why is that stripper crying?’
Mardi Gras, carnevale and the beginning of Lent have been featured most years on the blog. Last year it was the terrifying Magic Mountain; we’ve also had Lord Byron in Venice. All with tremendous photographs.
The top picture shows a Mardi Gras Ball in the 1930s, photo from the WPA via Wikimedia Commons.
Then there is King Rex at Mardi Gras in the early 1950s.
And a gaucho in Canal St in the early 50s.