Joan of Arc Mardi Gras parade rolls Wednesday, what to expect, where to see it

Sure, there are still a few charred Roman candles on the roadsides around town, left over from New Years' Eve, and Christmas lights still twinkle in the neighborhood, but ready or not, Mardi Gras will soon be upon us.

The Joan of Arc parade kicks things off Wednesday (Jan. 6) at 7 p.m. in the French Quarter, an hour later than last year.

It's not just the first street parade of the Carnival season, it's the most unusual. Founder Amy Kirk Duvoisin said that it's just a happy coincidence that St. Joan's birthday falls on Twelfth Night, the start of the Mardi Gras season. She said she sees the parade as "a mellow bridge in between the holidays and Carnival."

"We're a parade, we give things out, but we're not your typical Mardi Gras parade," she said.

Indeed not. Forget the masks, plastic beads, cups, high school bands, tractor-drawn floats, celebrities, political satire and all that purple, green and gold business.

The Joan of Arc parade is like a marching Renaissance Festival, dedicated, not to mirth and misrule, but to the birthday of a 15th-century heroine with a tragic fate. Joan would be 604 this year. 

Ask anyone who's witnessed the Joan Of Arc procession passing through the narrow French Quarter streets, it's beautiful, transporting, a bit strange, and the perfect start to the strangely beautiful and transporting season that has crept up on us once again.

And this year it's bigger than ever, with roughly 350 marchers, 100 more than last year. The later starting time, 7 p.m. instead of 6, will allow more time to line up,  Duvoisin said. 

The Joan Of Arc parade backstory begins 80 years before Columbus discovered the New World, with the birth of a shepherd girl, who, as she grew up, heard heavenly voices. Despite her lack of military leadership training, the voices insisted that Joan rescue France from English occupation during the 100 Years War.

The teenage warrior signed up with the stalemated French army, strapped on men's armor and helped beat the bloody British in the town of Orleans. 

Downside: She was later captured and burned at the stake at age 19. Though, later still, she was made a saint and remains a symbol of female indomitability, fearless patriotism, French heritage, religious devotion, and what have you. 

The city she saved from the tea and crumpet crowd became our namesake 300 years after her death, more or less. That glinting golden knight statue at the Decatur Street split; that's Joan.

Joan of Arc parade 2013, New Orleans Mardi Gras Watch as founder Amy Kirk describes the fifth annual Joan of Arc Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans and introduces three Joans. The French Quarter parade took place on Jan. 6, 2013.

You'll meet several Joan of Arcs during the parade Wednesday. There will be the pious Joan the Shepherdess, surrounded by a squad of New Orleans francophone school kids dressed in the red skirts and trousers of her hometown Domremy - this is a new feature of the parade.

You'll also meet the courageous Joan the Leader, Joan the Warrior, and Joan the Martyr, who will be surrealistically surrounded by the somewhat risque Muff-A-Lottas Carnival marching club, dressed in flame costumes.

Duvoisin said the Muff-A-Lottas always seem "quite cheerful, considering they're accompanying Joan to her death."

If you're lucky, Joan the Martyr may toss you an Atomic Fireball cinnamon candy.

Then there's Saint Joan and Spirit of Joan. All the Joans will wear sashes.

"Everyone sees her as a symbol to their liking," Duvoisin said. Some people, she said, just see Joan as "really cool."

For the first time this year, a small cadre of heraldic trumpeters and drummers will lead the parade. As always there will be a bagpipe contingent. Duvoisin explained that Scottish soldiers accompanied Joan during her victory at the Siege of Orleans. Who knew?

As always, the procession will pause at the Historic New Orleans Collection (museum) at 401 Chartres St., where the Consul General of France will toast the various Joans and parade royalty from the balcony. In a pre-parade written statement, the Consul General, Gregor Trumel, put Joan of Arc's importance in succinctly Crescent City-centric terms.

"No Joan, no Orleans; no Orleans, no New Orleans," he said. 

The parade also will pause at St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square for brief "blessing of the swords" ceremony.       

This year look for a new 12-foot bell tower (bells were rung in Joan's hometown when her reputation as a heretic was officially reversed) being towed in the parade along with other Joan-oriented mini floats.

Look for The Amazons Benevolent Society, a group of cancer survivors defiantly clad in red dresses, gold breastplates and swords. Rock on Amazons.

Look for The Skinez and Bonez Carnival marching club dressed as the judges who condemned poor Joan. Look for The Organ Grinders dance club - though, honestly, I can't remember how Duvoisin said they fit into the greater Dark Ages self-sacrifice theme.

And be sure to wait for The Chorus Girls Project, an old-timey dance troupe decked out as angels, bringing up the rear. Unfortunately, Duvoisin said, there won't be room for (actual) fire dancers this year. Too bad.

The most select collectible to be given out during the parade are probably the small, golden "Joanie on a Pony" dolls.

The 90-minute parade starts on Decatur Street near the corner of Toulouse Street and heads up river, turning right on Conti Street, then right on Chartres Street, right on Ursulines Street, right on Decatur Street.

The procession will conclude at Washington Artillery Park (across Decatur Street from Jackson Square), with the parade's annual king cake cutting. On a somber note of solidarity, look for a banner remembering the Nov. 13 terrorist attacks in Paris, where 130 people were killed. 

For more information go to the Krewe de Jeanne d'Arc website. And for a descriptive preview, read my 2014 story "Follow the Joan of Arc Parade through the frosty French Quarter live."