Friday, January 29, 2010

All the City's a Stage

The best thing about New Orleans is that something's always going on for free...second lines, festivals, random acts of parading, political drama, etc.

The worst thing about New Orleans is that something's always going on for if you are an artist trying to sell your stuff, your ideas, tickets to your play or dance gotta work that much harder.

Street theater is so ever-present we don't call it street theater. We call it the French Quarter.

Here's my editorial from yesterday's Times-Picayune, wherein I once again blame the wonders of the city for me not writing any new plays (though I am working on one FINALLY about...guess who...I hope to have a draft by next year's Joan of Arts Fete!)

Monday, January 25, 2010

Why Bienville and Bagpipes?

Mardi Gras is a time when you don't question too much of anything, depending on your state of sobriety, your previous experiences with the season, and, if you so choose, the adoption of an overall "anything goes" are pretty much happy to see a parade go by and you likely aren't too worried about thematics, symbolism,'re just glad there is music, costumes and of course, plenty of throws.
We are a bit different with the St. Joan of Arc Parade in that we take the meaning of costume, music, and throws to heart. Our costumes reflect the times in which Joan lived, our music does the same and/or is representative of various aspects of Joan's life and story, and our throws are typically handmade and if not then they are tied in some way to religious, historical, or cultural aspects of Jeanne d'Arc.
But why Bienville--since he's circa 1700s--and why bagpipes--since they are Scottish?
Bienville is known as The Father of New Orleans and Joan is known as the Maid of Orleans. The Bienville House Hotel is our sponsor hotel and home of the Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc's main events, and we wanted to begin the route near it and at another notable French Quarter statue, the statue of Bienville at Decatur and Conti (a stone's throw from where we began our route last year). It didn't feel like a stretch to make sense of this, and to frame Bienville himself in terms of Joan...after all, there would be no New Orleans without the French, and there would be no France without Joan. This year we chose a local student to be our "Maid of New Orleans" and decided to have The Father of New Orleans send her off into "battle" (i.e. the parade route) with her sword. (This is sooooo not historically accurate, obviously...Joan found her sword in the Church of Saint Catherine of Fierbois...and obviously, Bienville was not born until 200 years after Joan's death!). So in case you were wondering what the guy in the wig was doing...well, he was honoring our French heritage and he was reminding us all that we arguably owe the founding of our city to Joan of Arc. A stretch? Not really...if she had not assisted in lifting the Siege of Orleans...oh, don't make me go there!
As to the bagpipes, this is pretty straightforward. Joan was led into Orleans in 14 by bagpipers and Scottish soldiers...I found this excerpt from a speech by De Gaulle which emphasizes the solidarity between Scots and French--and mentions Joan...
(Excerpt from) Speech delivered by General de Gaulle at Edinburgh, 23rd June 1942

I do not think that a Frenchman could have come to Scotland at any time without being sensible of a special emotion. Scarcely can he set foot in this ancient and glorious land before he finds countless natural affinities between your country and ours dating from the very earliest times. In the same moment, awareness of the thousand links, still living and cherished, of the Franco-Scottish Alliance, the oldest alliance in the world, leaps to his mind.

When I say "Franco-Scottish Alliance," I am thinking, firstly, of course, of that close political and military entente which, in the Middle Ages, was established between our ancient monarchy and yours.

I am thinking of the Scottish blood which flowed in the veins of our kings and of the French blood which flowed in the veins of your kings, of glory shared on past battlefields, from the siege of Orleans, raised by Joan of Arc, to Valmy, where Goethe recognised that a new age was dawning for the world.

In every combat where for five centuries the destiny of France was at stake, there were always men of Scotland to fight side by side with men of France, and what Frenchmen feel is that no people has ever been more generous than yours with its friendship...
We will continue to honor Joan's history in all ways that make sense, taking honorable liberties now and then for the sake of artistry, accessibility, or to bend to the traditions of Mardi Gras parades. You noticed the fire dancers? That's an example of The Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc taking history into our own hands...beginning Joan's story with fire in the hands of women rather than ending her life with fire in the hands of men...a good example of us using elements of Joan's story to make meaning and art, and occasionally...a point!

Monday, January 18, 2010

FRANCE TODAY features Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc

France Today writer, Johanna Safar, contacted me last week after a local French diplomat recommended the Joan of Arc parade as an example of "current French influences on Mardi Gras traditions".

I was mortified, of course, to admit to her that I don't speak French, but she was extremely gracious. Luckily, her English was excellent...and my husband could verbally translate this article for me! (I am now more determined than ever to sign up for an Alliance Francaise class in the New Year!)

We are fortunate that The Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc has been embraced by French citizens, leaders, and writers locally (we are members of the Council of French Societies); nationally (The French Embassy in D.C. has twice featured us in their newsletter "News from France") and internationally (with this feature article). By creating these alliances, we are ensuring that celebrating Joan also means celebrating French culture and New Orleans' French heritage.


Friday, January 15, 2010

A note from Alliance Francaise re: Haiti

Dear Members,

We at the Alliance Fran├žaise of New Orleans are profoundly touched and saddened by the recent devastation in Haiti. We would like to share with you a compiled list of organizations working on the relief effort, and encourage you to help in any way you can:

These are 3 and 4-star charities responding to the crisis along with a synopsis of their plans. Each of these charities has a history of working on massive disasters and/or of working in Haiti.


Alliance Fran├žaise(New Orleans’ French cultural and learning center)1519 Jackson AvenueNew Orleans, LA 70130

Tel. 504.568.0770Fax 504.566.1108afno@af-neworleans.org

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Joan geeks unite!

Our first annual Joan of Arts Fete (named so due to a clever slip of the tongue by krewe member Laura Jane Yarborough, creator of the large white heretic hat I wore during the parade) was held January 3, 2010, on the Sunday prior to the parade at the Bienville House Hotel (the Joan of Arc Project's official sponsor hotel) in their cozy Vieux Carre Room (medieval decor c/o Objets Trouves owner Linda Friedlander with decorating help by Store of Two Sisters owners Lee and Rose Ali). While our conversations were going on from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., on the other side of the hotel in a cozy board room off the lobby, Antoinette de Alteriis was hosting an all-day free drop-in costume workshop for current krewe members and those interested in joining. After many a last-minute, authentically medieval costume was constructed, the room cleared out for a songwriting workshop with Paul Sanchez, who assisted local and visiting minstrels on writing their own folk song about Joan, which they presented that night at the Jeanne d'Arc Cabaret.
This day-long conference was an intense and engaging exploration of Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Joan...from the medieval times in which she lived, to her portrayals in various art forms, to why we started the Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc, comparisons of how she is perceived in the United States versus France, to how and why she was finally canonized, 500 years after her execution. Attendees came from as far as Mobile, Madison, and Manhattan. Lots of locals enjoyed the opportunity to talk about our unofficial patron saint and share ideas and resources, ask questions, and a few even joined the krewe that day on the spot, inspired by it all.
(See for full fete program descript and more about the krewe)
Thanks to all panelists who generously donated their time and insights about Joan and to all the attendees who came armed and ready with their curiosity and creativity. It was a sincere, intense, fun day and I look forward to planning next year's to include more conversations with youth (the NOCCA students' candidness, idealism, and intellectual comments were inspiring), more members of the French community (thank you Martine Burtaire and Raphael Bas for being our French representatives for the day!), and even more history experts to discuss various aspects of The Hundred Years War, the political and spiritual landscape right after Joan died, more about Charles VII's reign, etc. (Dr. Sebastian and Thais had me thinking of all possibilities!). Sister Rita was so informative about so many aspects of Joan and sainthood, Catholic processes in general, and Church history that we definitely need another discussion just about Catholic history in medieval times, the role of the Church then and now, etc. Everything about the day felt personal, some of it was political, and much of it was totally satisfied the mission of The Joan of Arc Project to honor Joan by educating as many people as possible about her story and its many fascinating facets.
Photo descripts, from top to bottom:
--Jamie Hauser (moderator) and panelists Thais St. Julien, c0-founder and c0-director of Musica Da Camera, and Dr. John T. Sebastian, Director of Medieval Studies at Loyola University discuss MEDIEVAL CULTURE: THE TIMES IN WHICH JOAN LIVED.
--Deborah McDonald, manager of Garden District Book Shop and Joan of Arc Book Club moderator and host interviews Sister Rita Hickey, OSC, of the local Poor Clare Monastery about JOAN'S CANONIZATION.
--Stephen Bertucci (NOCCA student), Thais St. Julien, Sean O'Brien (NOCCA), Celeste Cahn (NOCCA) and local actress and associate theatre director at NOCCA, Janet Shea, converse about JOAN AS MUSE. Janet assigned her students each one play about Joan in preparation for the panel: Saint Joan of the Stockyards by Brecht; King Henry VI by Shakespeare; The Lark by Jean Anouilh. In addition, the students were well-familiar with Shaw's Saint Joan play and performed scenes from that later that evening at the Jeanne d'Arc Cabaret.
--Martine Burtaire, an instructor with Alliance Francaise, kicks off the day with a full house to teach simple French phrases, including quite a few about Jeanne d'Arc in her native tongue.
To get involved next year as a presenter, performer, or panelist, contact Amy at

Friday, January 8, 2010

Show your support: Joan for Mayor!

If you came to the parade, you likely received one of the matchbooks above. We also had t-shirts created with the same design (created by Tom Harvey, local graphic designer and dj) at POP CITY, located across the street from Joan's statue on Decatur Street. Thank you to Rhonda Findley, POP CITY owner, for offering the krewe this opportunity--and for putting us in touch w/ Tom for the stellar design!
One of the Joan shirts is on display in the front window of POP CITY, in bright Saints colors, alongside other black and gold clothing. Come get yours in time for the Play-offs (Jan 16) but before the Mayoral run-offs (March 6) and choose your own color...they are $20 and proceeds benefit the Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc.
What a fabulous way to show support for the Saints, Saint Joan, and to suggest that perhaps a 598-year-old female Saint turned statue is as good an option as a living candidate! Hummmmmm!

Thank you Arthur Hardy!

Don Ames from WWL Radio called me on Monday January 4 to talk about the Joan of Arc Parade but when he called I was at a funeral mass for my mother-in-law, Betty LeBlanc Duvoisin, who I am ever-grateful to for giving birth to my husband as her last child! Spending the day with his family and her friends at this very sad but eventually celebratory gathering made me remember what's truly important, and hearing the priest refer to her as Saint Betty gave me pause to think of Joan and how we really are surrounded by Saints!

Because I was in the presence of Saint Betty I couldn't interview about Saint Joan, so Don Ames called Arthur Hardy..and thank God he did. It enabled the Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc to get an unsolicited endorsement from the guru of Mardi Gras, who said, among other nice things, "They truly came out of the gate fast a couple years ago, and it's become a major event already."
Wow! We are major! Geaux Jeanne!
Listen to this wonderful interview where Arthur, beloved Mardi Gras authority and expert, talks about both the Joan parade and Phunny Phorty Phellows as the kick-offs to our favorite season:

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Candles instead of swords!

Thanks to Linda Friedlander, owner of Objets Trouves, for purchasing 598 candles for us to hand out for Joan's birthday AND to Janet Gisleson, new krewe member, for hand-numbering them to make them legitimate!

I love this image because it looks like someone saluting Joan (that's Blair Davis as our selected student Joan this year...see Maid of Honor contest info on with a candle rather than a blade!

Joan would appreciate this, as she claimed she carried her banner in place of a weapon. Yes, she DID have a sword (and we gave one to Blair as a gift from the krewe), and a special one at that (, but she claims to not have used it. As she said in her trial:

"I have told you often enough that I did nothing but by God's commandment. I bore this standard when we went forward against the enemy to avoid killing anyone. I have never killed anyone".

We celebrated life last night: the beginning of Joan's life and the beginning of Mardi Gras season, which is how we in New Orleans show the world our joi de vivre. By lighting a candle for Joan, we hoped to shed a little light on all the good things in our wonderful city. Thanks for sharing it with us and spreading the love!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

St. Joan Second Annual Times Picayune shots

Happy Birthday Joan!

This morning a dove sat in the sunlight on the lowest branch of our satsuma tree, facing our kitchen. When I went near the window to make coffee, the bird flew straight towards me, then dipped down and disappeared. I thought it might be headed for the bird feeder which is on the other side of the porch, but it seemed to have another idea. It likely never saw me, but for a second it made me hold my breath because today I associate the sight of a dove with Joan of Arc, who, legend has it, released a white dove from her mouth as she died.

While Joan's trials are recorded, and we have other evidence of her life and story, plenty of beautiful myths abound, such as white butterflies following her banner, and the story of the dove, and other tales about what she may or may not have said, seen, or done. While there's certainly no proof for the white doves flying from her mouth as she was burnt at the stake, I love the poetry that has sprung up around Saint Joan, and our parade honors this as much as we honor the historical records about her and the knowledge of the times in which she lived.
Today we celebrate her birthday, though, rather than the day that she was martyred (May 31). Most Saints are honored on their death day, i.e. "feast day", but we've gone a different route with our parade. We honor St. Joan on her birthday because that's the day we think deserves celebration. We also honor her crowning achievement--the placement of the Dauphin in his rightful place on the French throne as Charles VII, King of France. Because of Joan's success at Orleans, France, she became The Maid of Orleans, regained the hope of the populace and the military, and was instrumental in getting Charles crowned. So tonight we'll crown our first Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc king, again celebrating the positives in her life rather than the sad thing she is remembered for--her horrible death.

Still, terrible as her death was, I can appreciate the poetry that has sprung from it. That's why I'll be wearing a white dove on my shoulder tonight when I walk in the parade. I believe that whether or not a real dove every came anywhere near Joan the moment she died, there's no doubt that something wonderful took flight from earth on that day.

Yet rather than celebrate her ending, tonight, with purpose and a healthy sense of New Orleans partying, we celebrate her beginning as we celebrate the beginning of Mardi Gras. Join us for some poetic processioning and partying. Happy 598th Jeanne!

Monday, January 4, 2010


To all who made the first annual Joan of Arts Fete happen, I bow down to you! I hope this is a sign of more good things to come with all things Joan and New Orleans. The event was more than I expected and all I hoped for (with plenty of lessons learned for next year!) We had an awesome first-year turnout (a packed room for Power French, which began at the crack of dawn in New Orleans' time, 10 a.m.!), excellent panelists who came prepared and energized, and Erin at the Bienville House was her usual organizational goddess self, being calm cool and collected. Add to that completely generous individuals from the krewe, like Roberta who from A to Z organized our silent auction, to Linda who provided the decorations and expertise to transform the Vieux Carre Room into a Medieval-style conference room complete with swords, shield, red drapery, and a 14 foot fairy tree that she and Molly, one of the krewe's guardian angels, made!!

Thanks to Jane for homemade fleur de lis cookies. Thanks to Sister Rita for coming in full habit just for the panel (since she and other Poor Clares no longer wear them) and for our pleasure of being able to visualize, as she put it, what nuns and some women in secular society as well (who knew?) would have been wearing in Joan's time.

Thanks to the open-hearted and well-spoken NOCCA students who gave of their ideas and acting for a panel and the Cabaret.

Thanks to local musician and native Frenchman Raphael Bas for wearing a totally different hat and sitting at the table to talk about perceptions of Joan in France.

Thanks to Kathy Randels for opening up the Cabaret with a mind-blowingly beautiful haunting song from her 2004 piece "The Maid of Orleans". I keep getting images of her rocking back and forth in her all-white outfit singing her heart out in pain and passion. Lovely and eerie stuff.

Thanks to my husband who meticulously made large batches of medieval punch (a version of wassail) and mulled wine and served as our bartender...(though he didn't wear the jester outfit I brought for him!)...yummy stuff that we'll also serve to the krewe before the parade to warm us up!

I am leaving out dozens of others but that's a sliver of my gratitude to everyone who came to share their interest, questions, and knowledge. That's what this is all about--sharing the experience of Joan and the many layers of her story, from medieval history (thank you Dr. John T. Sebastian, head of Medieval Studies at Loyola University) to her continuous pop culture influences, to her religious and artistic inspirations. We all aspire, ultimately, I think, to be more like Joan and that's what draws us together. It's a mad, mad, world, and she may have been a bit mad (speculation abounds) but at least she did good. At least she led a purposeful life. At least she listened to her Voices...which we cannot always access within ourselves...

This krewe and the people who are drawn to it continue to interest and inspire me on deeply personal levels...I am enjoying watching this fleur de lis grow and never tire of tending to it (like the Little Prince and his rose?). It just goes to show you that Joan has a following of all sorts of people...or at least she has enough intrigue of various types of people of both genders and all ages to sustain more and other activities investigating and celebrating her.

Joan said, "I have no fear for lack of men." I always hear this in my head when conceiving Joan of Arc Project events. We're not putting together an army, but we are bringing together a force...and it always draws an eclectic bunch of smart, fun, talented people. It may not be extraordinarily large in quantity, but the genuine quality of interest and reference points and sincerity is what's important. And we have that in spades.

For example, one of my favorite moments yesterday came when a woman who said that Joan can remind us all to listen to the wisdom of teenagers and respect them for being more than just consumers or just annoyances or just almost-adults. She has a 17 year old daughter (who dressed up as Joan of Arc in third grade, when, as she put it "everyone else dressed like Britney Spears") who she said has changed her mind about the power of youth and the possibilities we squander by ignoring them. When she left she said to me, casually, "My grandmother did research and claims we are related to Joan of Arc." She shrugged. "I don't know if that's true, but...she did go to France to do our tree...this was before the Internet..."

The day was filled with moments like that. Quite a few folks stayed for 3-4 panels in a row, clearly engaged by all the angles covered. Several people travelled in from nearby cities in Louisiana and Alabama. Two panelists came in from Texas, one from Manhattan, and a large group from Madison, Wisconsin who's marching in our parade came to the cabaret and filled the air with that kind of excitement and joviality that tourists bring to town.

As far as we know, we're the only group in the country who puts on a festival for Joan of Arc. This confirmation in one of the panels made us all feel a little more NOLA proud, as we always do knowing we're unlike the rest of the States. As one woman who came in from Mobile said, "We don't do it like the rest of the country in New makes sense we'd be the only ones doing this!"

After an exciting day of discussions, dinner, and artistic presentations about Joan at the cabaret, I got up early and spent the first few hours of the morning with our student Joan of Arc, Blair Davis, her mother Jane, and their friend Ty, who will play her page in the parade to assist her with giving out our coveted, glittery gemmed wooden swords as she rides her horse in armor and cape. (We donned our parade costumes for a WWL-TV Morning Show interview, a good albeit nervewracking experience in that I was in full-blown marketing mode and the students I had hoped would shine couldn't get a word in...) This and other media opportunities, combined with the Fete experience, (where, although I got to enjoy plenty of it as an "audience member", I was still in event-planner mode) makes me look forward to the parade, where, once the event is underway, I'll be among the marchers, letting our Joans on horseback lead while I walk behind them, glad to be part of something so much bigger than me...

Friday, January 1, 2010

Another Saint to Watch

New Orleans is full of Saints. Whether it's our football team shining golden on the field or the golden statue of Joan gleaming on Decatur Street, this place has a way of making us believe in miracles. While I sometimes think that living here has turned me into a cynic, I'm renewed constantly by the random acts of kindness of strangers, the spontaneous celebration of a second line, the unifying force of a Mardi Gras parade, or the daily moments of surrealism that I almost take for granted now that I work in the French Quarter.

Until I fulfill one of my several Joan-meets-New Orleans fantasies of Joan of Arc riding onto the Saints field before a homegame, leading the boys out of the tunnel onto the field, I'll have to settle for the simple but profound idea that our awesome team has a name that evokes Joan...and that some day when Joan officially becomes our city's patron saint, they'll have no choice but to use her image somehow when rallying the troops.
(Two of the krewe's JoaNola goals are being accomplished this year: one, the choosing of a local student Joan of Arc who will be leading our parade; and two, local singer/songwriter Paul Sanchez penning and presenting a song about Joan and NOLA--examples of how Joan and New Orleans go together like...well, like France and New Orleans or like powerful chicks and the South or like...Catholic Saints and pop culture..)

Our first annual Joan of Arts Fete is happening at the same time as the Saints game on Sunday...but they are going to the playoffs no matter what and they have home field advantage throughout the playoffs...aka it's a "meaningless game"...

So bring your Iphone and check the score while listening to stories about another Saint whose life was far from meaningless. Go Saints and Vive Jeanne d'Arc!

Visit the for details about the fete and parade.