Friday, December 31, 2010

Yes Patti there is a Joan of Arc Parade!

"And I feel just like a misplaced Joan of Arc..."--from Smith's song KIMBERLY

Yes it's true. I personally invited Patti Smith to be in our parade and ride as Joan of Arc. I offered her a horse and armor...

She was in town in the spring to lecture on her photographs that she was donating to New Orleans Museum of Art. Thanks to my friend Grace, I was able to get a seat in the auditorium to hear her and not have to stand out in the lobby with so many other fans, waiting and hoping for the televisions to work (as satellites of her live lecture inside). Every time she put up a slide with a Joan of Arc photograph (there were several of the statue in Paris that ours in the Quarter is triplet to) someone would turn to look at me and grin, as if to say, "Heeyyyyyy!"

(It's no secret, the links between Patti and Joan...she's been called rock's Joan of Arc, and she references Joan in her KIMBERLY lyrics, among other books, poems, and interviews...just Google "Joan of Arc, Patti Smith" and you'll see Joan shows up constantly, most recently in her memoir JUST KIDS)...

After the lecture, I found Patti standing alone as a scarecrow in the gallery, as if everyone was afraid to talk with this goddess genius in her signature black. Her mangled mane made it nearly impossible to make eye contact and it was like there was an invisible force protecting her as she stood among her photo gifts to our city. I approached her, speaking as fast as I could to say "Joan of Arc" in my introductory sentence so she realized I had a specific purpose in chatting...She was calm, steady-eyed, gentle and gracious, looking down at my Joan of Arc Project "business card" with interest. She said she was heading down to the French Market the next day to photograph the statue and go to Cafe du Monde and said that she'd "give me a call". Naturally, I acted like it was the most normal thing in the world for Patti Smith to say she'd give me a call. "Great!! Sure! I'm in the office all day! Right by the statue!" I smiled idiotically and made my exit as her agent approached, eyeing me warily (No, sir! I'm here to talk business...about martyrdom and Mardi Gras with Ms. Smith! This is serious!). It didn't help matters that ten minutes later I was standing a few feet away from Michael Stipe as he admired some of Patti's photographs. Had I died and gone to My Favorite Rock Star heaven?

Maybe...because the next day I walked in the rain to buy Patti some white lilys, and delivered them to the Soniat House where she was staying (thank you Grace for telling me! although at the time I was like, why would I want to know THAT? what am i, some kind of freak??) with a note inviting her to ride in our 2011 parade. I promised her a costume and a horse and included photos from previous parades, press materials, one of our signature matchbooks, and a fleur de lis Mardi Gras necklace for some bling--which was kind of stupid since we don't give out plastic. But I know Patti has a fondness for cool kitch, so it seemed right as a nod to Mardi Gras overall. I left it all at the front desk, where a sweet but clueless clerk had to check the ledger for her name--making it clear that she had absolutely no idea who Patti Smith was. (No wonder so many famous visitors apparently stay at the Soniat House! You can stay there in peace...the worse that may happen is someone may drop off flowers for you and hope that they get to the right person!)

A week or so later, Susan Gisleson (our banner designer and first person I EVER had a conversation with about the Joan parade..she encouraged me to such a degree I consider her one of the parade Voices!!) told me that her friend had lunch w/ Patti and Patti asked her about our parade. Gulp! Patti Smith spoke the words JOAN OF ARC PARADE aloud in New Orleans???!!! That's something, isn't it?

I haven't heard from her of course...(did I really think she was just going to call me and we'd wander in the rain through the Quarter, talking about Joan of Arc, Robert Mapplethorpe, NYC in the seventies and Detroit in the nineties? Not at all, though I considered that maybe the rain cancelled her Cafe du Monde and photography outing...but really..would rain stop Patti Smith from anything?) but I have this fantasy that when we get to the statue this year after the parade, she'll be standing there in a black raincoat, aside from the crowd, with her camera, acting like she stumbled upon our spectacle.

I'll leave her alone..but sometime in the spring, I will mail her a letter asking her to be our Joan of Arc in 2012, for Joan's 600th birthday. "Dear Misplaced Joan of Arc: Find your place with us, the Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc!"

If the world is supposed to end in 2012, I'd gladly go up in flames with Patti Smith in New Orleans. Wouldn't you?

Monday, December 27, 2010

Owning the Fire

The only flames that flicker in our annual January 6th Joan of Arc parade are the processional candles we hand out to spectators with matchbooks for Joan's birthday (this year--599 numbered candles will be given out for spectators to light and walk with alongside the parade). This is our way of giving homage and celebrating her life, rather than emphasizing her death (as is more common with saints, who are celebrated on their feast days, i.e. their death days, NOT their birthdays!).
Yet it's impossible not to associate Joan with her burning at the stake--alas, it's the only thing most people know about her. That's why we are especially glad that her birthday falls on Twelfth Night, when we can acknowledge her achievement of the coronation of King Charles sharing king cake at the Joan of Arc statue we're recognizing what she was "born for", as she put it: to ensure that the Dauphin became King, as her Voices said he would--with her assistance.
But because Joan is so deeply and obviously associated with fire, we have representation of it at the beginning of our parade. Local fire artist Monica Ferroe (pictured here) will be at the Bienville statue before we roll, showing us the power of fire--and the power of a woman who wields it. In this way we are turning the tables on the fire that surrounded and extinguished Joan. While the religious Joan may find it perhaps not as reverent as our processional candles, I think Joan's soul would rejoice to know that the fire is not swallowing the girl--but instead, the other way around.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Joan is Everywhere

It seems not a week goes by that a Joan of Arc reference does not catch my ear or eye, or someone sends me an article or a photograph about something week it was a friend visiting Ireland who snapped a photo of a Joan of Arc piece of stained glass in a church there..a few weeks later, another friend read an article in the New York Times about a piece of graffitti featuring Joan (above image, and full article at 10/27 issue)...last week someone sent me a photo of the golden Joan statue in the Place des Pyramides in Paris (the one ours in the Quarter replicates)...

And this week, I heard the lyrics to a song on the radio that I've heard before, but it struck me anew...the grouping of these three together--Cause she's so high, high above me, she's so lovely...She's so high, like Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, or Aphrodite ("She's So High" by Fastball) --because I had just read a review of a new book by Cleopatra, noting especially how she continues to be reinterpreted by everyone who writes about her, especially in terms of how threatening she was to men (with a focus more on her sexual prowess than her political abilities), how she "is" Elizabeth Taylor just as Joan "is" Ingrid Bergman to many...and how admiring contemporary males were of her, most notably Octavian, who was disappointed he could not capture her alive but was nonetheless impressed by his enemy's "lofty spirit". Sound familiar?
Thinking about Joan's relationship to other near-mythical female figures (and truly mythical, like Aphrodite) and her continuing relevance in pop culture is an ongoing fascination for me and it's why we had a Joan of Arc book club the first year and a full day conference about her (The Joan of Arts Fete) the second year. It's why as we approach 2012 and her 600th birthday we'll be planning more and other events about her (look for the Fete in May 2011 between her victory day of May 8 and her feast day of May 31). The possibilities for discussion and conversation and art-making surrounding Joan are inexhaustible...which is lucky for us in The Joan of Arc Project. Never a dull moment, and never a week without a connection made through Joan's legacy and light.