Saturday, February 12, 2011

Our Royalty, N'awlins style

For the second year in a row, we honored a local girl and a local man by naming them our Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc Maid of Honor and our King, respectively.

The idea for a Maid of Honor came from the tradition in Orleans, France, where a local girl is chosen to lead their annual May 8 parade, as part of their Fetes de Jeanne d'Arc commemmorating her lifting of the siege of Orleans in 1429.

Our Maid of Honor is selected by application, which includes a short essay required by the applicant on how Joan of Arc's story serves as inspiration. She must be between 16 and 19 years old, a local student with evidence of leadership abilities, community involvement, and some basic French speaking skills. A letter of recommendation is also required, noting the girl's talents and skills and why she best represents our Joan of New Orleans.

The final applicants are "interviewed" briefly in English and in French by someone from the local French community; either someone from the French Consulate, the French American Chamber of Commerce, or Alliance Francaise. The final selection is ultimately made based on a combination of the girl's community service, confidence, and a sincere interest in Joan and all that she represents.

(It's worth noting that most applicants are clearly new to Joan and her story...rather than a disappointment to the contest committee, this warms our hearts to see that we are giving young women an opportunity to learn more about Joan and celebrate her. Both our Maids of Honor came into the role knowing very little about our parade's namesake, and left feeling a new relationship to this iconic Saint and soldier--and to their city in general, by experiencing it in a new way on Twelfth Night, on horseback in the French Quarter).

Our first Maid of Honor was Blair Davis, a student at Newman who showed exceptional community service through her work with disabled adults at The Arc. Our second Maid of Honor, Mallory Young, had an impressive demonstration of leadership skills through innumerable roles in school and city organizations, as well as receiving a Certificat Laureat National in the 2010 National French contest. Both girls had an astounding array of diverse talents, from ballet to vocal studies.

Our King is appointed by our krewe, selected based on his relationship to the French-American community in New Orleans, and chosen as someone we hope will remain an ambassador for the krewe. He is someone who is a leader in the community and shows an interest in working with other organizations to celebrate French culture and New Orleans in general. Our first King was the executive director of the Degas House, David Villarubia. Our second king was Lilian Cadet, executive director of Alliance Francaise New Orleans.

Interesting twists on the New Orleans Mardi Gras tradition of royalty:

--We don't have a King and a Queen. We have a Maid and a King.
--Our Maid rides on horseback; our King walks on foot.
--Our Maid of Honor "crowns" the King...representing Joan's hand in ensuring that the Dauphin was crowned at Rheims.
--Both give out throws unique to their roles. The Maid hands out 16 hand-decorated wooden swords with the assistance of her page. The King, this year, tossed Ring Pops candy. Obviously a sense of humor is required for our royalty...

We have a ceremony honoring both Maid and King at the end of the parade whereby the official cutting of the King Cake (it is Twelfth Night, after all) serves several purposes. It represents a birthday cake for Joan, as January 6th is also her birthday. It stands as the first king cake of the season, and it's shared first by King and Maid, then given to the public, thanks to donations by local bakery Gambino's and other generous individuals who bring king cake to share.

Both King and Maid have a chance to give a speech at the end of the parade and both did so this year in French and English. We continue to develop this ritual...
We also capped off this year's king cake ceremony with our first year tradition (skipped last year) of sipping Goldschlagger cinnamon liquor. The gold specs reflect Joan's golden statue, and the cinnamon...well.

Vive Jeanne d'Arc!