James Gill: Don’t sneeze at the Joan of Arc parade | Columnist James Gill


Joan of Arc’s birth in 1412 is not officially recorded, but many people like to believe it was January 6.

This date, being the Epiphany, would correspond well to the affirmations of Joan concerning the celestial visions. She was burned at the stake for crimes including heresy and witchcraft, at the age of 19, after an unlikely military career during the 100-year war with England. Her first coup d’etat earned her the nickname of Maid of Orleans for having led the resistance fighters who freed this city from siege.

It also suits us in New Orleans to believe it was born on January 6, as it’s Twelfth Night that kicks off the carnival season. The brotherhood named in his honor that began to mark the occasion with an annual march in 2008 will be a particularly welcome sight on Thursday after COVID-19 put the kibosh on public celebrations last year.

When the walkers sing “Happy Birthday” to the golden statue of Joan in the Quarter, it would take an irritated soul not to raise a glass and savor the return of normal times.

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Do you object that this would be a toast to self-delusion, while omicron is hiding in the shadows? For shame. It’s Mardi Gras, when bankers and heavy executives become kings for a day and even cynics bend a knee in good spirits.

If you can’t indulge in a fantasy this time of year, you’ll be stuck in the daily gloom for the rest of your life. The number of those days in your future is still pending, sure, but, if we continue to refuse to have fun while waiting for the danger to pass, we will all be bored to death anyway.

It makes perfect sense that Joan of Arc joined the Phunny Phorty Phellows streetcar as a harbinger of Mardi Gras madness, as she was clearly as mad as a hatter. She always saw archangels and dispelled any doubt that she was possessed by leading the French troops who defeated the English in various battles and placed Charles VII on the throne.

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Her statue, a gift from France in 1964, is a replica of that in Paris which was commissioned to restore morale after the French, for lack of a general teenage girl, were whipped by the Prussians in 1870/1.

The Catholic Church believes Joan was a miracle worker, otherwise she would not have been canonized. As the patron saint of France, she is all the more suited to a leading role in Twelfth Night, as it was from Paris that New Orleans adopted the attributes of Mardi Gras.

The refinements, introduced for Comus’ inaugural parade in 1857, included medieval English spelling that allowed an American marching group honoring a French saint to be named the Krewe of Joan of Arc.

We might need a miracle right now if we are to come away with a near-normal Mardi Gras. Parade routes will be shortened, due to a police shortage, and floats will be fitted with accessories such as hand sanitizers, but if not, Mayor LaToya Cantrell said, Mardi Gras “is happening.” Four days later, the Louisiana Department of Health warned that COVID-19-related hospitalizations had doubled in a week.

Perhaps the best argument for resuming a normal life is that we are all too tired of precautions to continue taking them.

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