New Orleans and Mardi Gras

Appointment in New Orleans by Tod Claymore

published 1950

Appointment in New Orleans 1

[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…

Appointment in New Orleans 2 Mardi

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.

Appointment in New Orleans 3 Mardi

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.


  1. Walker Percy's first novel, The Moviegoer is set in New Orleans around Mardi Gras 1960. I didn't read it for the clothes, but I can recall many mentions of what this or that character was wearing. The Moviegoer won a National Book Award, and was for my money the best by far of Percy's novels.

    "Tod Claymore" is an odd pen name. I have known a number of Americans named Todd, but none named Tod, and I have yet to encounter one with a surname taken from a large sword or an anti-personnel mine. Was there a high casualty rate in the book?

    1. I loved the Moviegoer - I can clearly remember reading it on a train,and it wasn't at all what I was expecting (I think I had got it mixed up with another book!) so it came from nowhere and amazed me. Haven't read anything else by him.
      It is an odd name, and very much the pseudonym. I have never come across a one-d Tod, but I have come across a Claymore family - my daughter ( featured in yesterday's Valentine entry) had a friend of that name when they were both 5. It hadn't occurred to me, but it is unusual. Tod I associate with the German word for death - was he making the point that the claymore would bring death....?

  2. And while I'm at it: either John Kennedy Toole stole the parrot act for A Confederacy of Dunces or both Toole and Claymore derived it from a common source.

    1. Are we sure it's not just a common form of stripping ;)? I have no experience in these matters, perhaps there are specialists training up birds and young women....

  3. Oh, this sounds interesting, Moira. Just from the snippet you've shared, it sounds as though there's a solid sense of New Orleans at that time. I always think a strong sense of place is a real asset to a story.

    1. It was great fun, Margot, a short easy read. Sometimes that's just what you need! And I loved the New Orleans setting- how can you go wrong?

  4. I am glad George mentioned The Moviegoer. It is on my long list of books to read "soon." I did not know it was set around Mardi Gras, but don't think I want to wait that long to read it. I did go to Mardi Gras once just before my first husband went into the Air Force but I remember little about it except that we camped in our new camper van. Ah, the memories of youth. My later visits to New Orleans with Glen were much more memorable, book stores and gumbo. I do plan to get a copy of this book to read sometime.

    1. New Orleans is somewhere I have always wanted to visit, though I doubt I will ever get there for Mardi Gras. I think you would enjoy Mr Claymore if you can find him.

  5. Another pass. Time for some Block on the blog!

    1. It is quite a thriller-ish book, but you are definitely right about Block!


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