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!