'Buy us back Chirac!': appeal from New Orleans

13th February 2006, Comments 0 comments

NEW ORLEANS, Feb 12, 2006 (AFP) - New Orleans' first parade since Hurricane Katrina rolled through chilly French Quarter streets Saturday night, greeted warmly by cheering crowds embracing the spirit of Carnival in a flood-damaged city.

NEW ORLEANS, Feb 12, 2006 (AFP) - New Orleans' first parade since Hurricane Katrina rolled through chilly French Quarter streets Saturday night, greeted warmly by cheering crowds embracing the spirit of Carnival in a flood-damaged city.

Powered by brass bands and mule-drawn floats, costumed members of the Krewe du Vieux parade organization tossed beads and toys to spectators, drinking cold beer or hot coffee.

Locally renown for its adult humour and biting satire, the "krewe's" brightly lighted floats poked fun at the government's handling of the worst natural disaster in US history.

"Buy us back, Chirac!" begged the sign on one float, which featured a man costumed as a French artist trying to "escape" from a tall plastic case.

Some spectators missed the historical reference to France's sale of New Orleans to the United States, in the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. Others laughed and clamoured for "Buy Us Back, Chirac!" bumper stickers.

"Since the federal government isn't taking care of us, our best strategy may be to sell Louisiana back to France and hope that President (Jacques) Chirac and the French Government can do a better job," joked Keith Twitched, a spokesman for the Krewe du Vieux.

The parade's overall theme "C'est Levee" took aim at the US Army Corps of Engineers. The federal agency has admitted failing to adequately maintain the city's protective levee system, which Katrina punctured on August 29, flooding most of the city.

Hundreds drowned; thousands were rescued and tens of thousands were displaced. Looting, fires and deprivation followed. An acute lack of housing and healthcare persist. The city is still less than half of its pre-Katrina population of 460,000.

At the parade, however, the shivering crowds seemed to enjoy the respite of the krewe's dark humour. One float titled "The 'Corpse' of Engineers presents: 'A Day at the Breach'" showed water cascading over a levee with two beach chairs in front of it.

Another float 'LEWDers Gone Wild!' suggested a city happily consumed by sexual appetites, rather than by post-Katrina looters.

Jimmy Roberts, 50, a native New Orleanian smiled widely as spectators and revellers danced to the pulsating music of the brass bands. Roberts, a vending machine service operator, wore a necklace of silver stars he caught from a krewe member. "Life is good," he said. "I feel sorry for the people who can't come back."

The Krewe du Vieux is the only one of the 34 Carnival parade organizations in New Orleans that still uses mule-drawn floats.

Because of its small size, the krewe also is the only Carnival parade allowed to march through the French Quarter, says Carnival historian Errol Laborde. "I love this parade," Laborde said. "This is what the early Mardi Gras parades must have been like in the early 1800s, when small bands of people marched in the streets."

Krewe du Vieux parades a week before the beginning of the Carnival season as defined by city ordinances, Laborde said. "Technically, it's not a 'Carnival' parade. But it's one of the greatest parades in terms of capturing the true spirit of Carnival."

Copyright AFP

Subject: French news

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