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It's Carnival Time! 

Rex Dukeé, the world's first and foremost Mardi Gras parade critic returns with his annual preview of local Carnival parades.

Hail, loyal revelers! It's that most anticipated time of year, when our proud city turns some of its main thoroughfares into byways for the manifestations of our imaginations, when artists build beautiful and sardonic tributes to our culture, history and collective experiences. Take it all in with thousands of your closest friends on neutral grounds, balconies and ladder chairs. Stretch your arms for the coveted blinky beads and multi-colored doubloons while admiring the artistry that our dedicated krewes have provided and the celebratory sounds of marching bands and sights of dancing girls.

Our revered krewes have worked hard to overcome the torment that shrew Katrina visited upon us and, after valiantly staging parades under less-than-ideal circumstances last year, have come back full force with new floats as well as refurbished favorites.

My loyal scribes at Gambit Weekly have helped me compile maps and previews of the first week of parades to help you select your perfect parade-viewing spot, and I, Rex Dukeé, the world's foremost Mardi Gras parade critic, will don my Carnival finery and join you along the parade routes to take note of the best and worst of Mardi Gras 2007.

Laissez les bon temps rouler!

(Click krewe name for route)

Friday, February 9

Oshun
6 p.m.
Location: Uptown
Theme: "The Second Time Around"
Floats: 14
King Shango: Michael Harris
Queen Oshun: Sonia Smith
Throws: Logo medallion beads and more

After missing last year's parade, the Krewe of Oshun has decided it's time to review. This year's theme, "The Second Time Around," will showcase some of the group's favorite themes of the past, including floats depicting music and African folktales. Oshun, originally from West Africa, is the Yoruba goddess of love, wealth, and the arts -- three things all New Orleanians would welcome onto their streets and into their lives for the coming year.

Cleopatra
6:30 p.m.
Location: West Bank
Theme: "Cleopatra Paints the Town Red"
Floats: 18
Queen: Jennifer S. Rizzo
Throws: Red velour lips, red glass beads and red dolls

The all-female Krewe of Cleopatra made the ultimate sacrifice last year and chose not to parade so other krewes would have ample police protection. This is the group's comeback year and members will let everyone know it's a ladies' night on the town with floats like "Red Wine" and "Strawberry Margaritas" representing their favorite scarlet libations. No word yet if extra police protection will be needed to handle these 500 ladies in red.

Pygmalion
6:45 p.m.
Location: Uptown
Theme: "Pygmalion's Mystical Journey"
Floats: 15
King: Councilman Arnie Fielkow
Queen: Victoria Elizabeth White
Throws: Cups and lighted beads

Pygmalion loves pigskin personalities. Besides former Saints executive Arnie Fielkow, now a city councilman, this year's parade will be presided over by Grand Marshall Les Miles, LSU's head football coach. The krewe is excited to return to its normal Friday night slot, and some of the floats, including "Mermaids," "Dragons," and "Dracula," might remind paradegoers of a few of their own mystical journeys from the past year.

Excalibur
7 p.m.
Location: Metairie
Theme: "A Haunted Knight"
Floats: 19
King: Marian Hill
Queen: Rosalind LaBella
Throws: Stuffed haunted castles, pumpkin- and witch-shaped stress balls, skull and crossbones beads, black visors and black beads with red blinkie lights

Excalibur kicks off the 50th anniversary of Mardi Gras in Jefferson Parish as well as being the opening parade for what the parish bills as "Family Gras." The krewe, with frightening floats including "Vampira," "Medusa" and "Frankenstein," wants the crowd to join in the ghoulish good times by wearing Halloween costumes to the parade. Fuel up on the krewe's "King Cake for 2,000" being served to the accompaniment of music and a second line at Lakeside Shopping Center two hours before parade time.

Saturday, February 10

Ponchartrain
1 p.m.
Location: Uptown
Theme: "Can You Complete the Saying or Jingle?"
Floats: 14
King: Michael Bernard Lemmon
Queen: Tracy Lauren Chesnut
Throws: Frisbees, oversized logo cups, limited-edition Ponchartrain motorcycle division do-rags and medallion beads

The always-quizzical Ponchartrain never lets on what the names of its floats are until the parade rolls. The krewe, which originally was from New Orleans East, is entering its 32nd year and is asking paradegoers to fill in the blanks when it comes to what its floats represent. Without question, the music should be outstanding, because it will include the Xavier Prep band and the all-percussion New Edition band from Baltimore. Laissez Les Bon Temps____.

Shangri-La
2 p.m.
Location: Uptown
Theme: "Renaissance of New Orleans"
Floats: 19
King: William Cowser
Queen: Irene Frances Matthew-Parker
Throws: Monogrammed gold-wing dragons, lantern beads, sexy-lady beads, cute fire dragons and fiber-optic beads

Shangri-La is throwing its support behind New Orleans with many of its floats -- "Bourbon Street," "Brocato's Italian Ice Cream" and "John Jay's Beauty Salon"--reminding locals and tourists why this is just the start of the rebuilding effort. The rebuilt St. Augustine Purple Knights marching band will make its first public appearance with the 400-strong Shangri-La krewe, which includes the ageless Chris Owens and former Bourbon Street club owner Silky Sullivan. As a lead-up to the parade, the krewe will stroll through the French Quarter on Friday, Feb. 9, starting at 2 p.m. at the Omni Hotel.

Sparta
6 p.m.
Location: Uptown
Theme: "By the Gods"
Floats: 14
King: Ken W. Jenkins II
Queen: Vanessa Louise Gale

Throws: Medallion beads in krewe colors, laser-lighted beads, jumbo polystone Spartan beads, plush Trojan horses, plush footballs and officer dubloons

Sparta wants people to know it's not all Greek to them. This year, the 250-member all-male krewe will showcase some of those other mythologies and legendary deities on floats, including the often-misunderstood Danish demon "Grendel," "Bathomet" from Babylonian mythology, and the wolfish "Odin," father-god from Valhalla. This parade will offer a lively float-to-marching band mix of 10 bands accompanying 14 floats.

Caesar
6 p.m.
Location: Metairie
Theme: "Caesar's Movie Madness"
Floats: 30
King: Michael J. Beecher
Queen: Stephanie Regan
Throws: Crawfish plush dolls, cups, doubloons, laser-lighted beads, themed footballs, snake beads

With Imagination Movers, a band that performs hip children's music, serving as grand marshals and playing the entire stretch of the route, Caesar wants parents to know this is a kid-friendly parade. The krewe carries a movie theme through its costumes and floats -- look for "Batman," "Pirates of the Caribbean" "Charlie and The Chocolate Factory" and many others -- because members want children to see recognizable faces rolling along the street. Still, no Caesar parade would be complete without the 85-rider, double-decker tandem, five-headed Hydra bearing down on the street.

Pegasus
6:45 p.m.
Location: Uptown
Theme: "Mirrors of Time"
Floats: 17
King: Shane Smith
Queen: Alexis Smith
Throws: Golden wooden horseshoe medallions, logo fiber-optic beads, limited-edition 50th anniversary medallions, vinyl Pegasus horses, 50th anniversary gold doubloons

Pegasus will honor its 50 years of parading by reflecting on the past with floats depicting some of its most treasured themes like "Leprechauns" and "Apollo." Its greatest nod to the past, however, has to be the rebuilt King's Float, the krewe's original float that was lost to the storm. Get a glimpse of the next 50 years with the krewe's "Pan" float, a double-decker with 40 riders --Pegasus's biggest ever.

Sunday, February 11

Alla
Noon
Location: West Bank
Theme: "Alla's Diamond Jubilee"
Floats: 34
King: Paul J. Leman
Queen: Megan Elise Ducote
Throws: Foam diamonds, stuffed golden gryphons, plastic poly-stone genie lamps, cups and doubloons

Originating from a one-float parade in 1932, Alla celebrates its 75th anniversary in grand style. Special anniversary throws like foam diamonds and genie lamps are sure to be crowd pleasers. The storied West Bank parade also is including floats from previous years like the 1960 King Kong float and the 1950 Cinderella float into one big blast-from-the-past procession. In addition, paradegoers will be entertained by 25 bands, including the always-popular Marine Corps band.

Krewe of Carrollton
Noon
Location: Uptown
Theme: "Celebrate Good Times"
Floats: 23
King: John Thomas Williamson
Queen: Ashleigh Nicole Foote
Throws: Two new krewe logo beads, cups and doubloons

The third oldest parade and krewe in the city is determined not to leave anyone out of the celebration this year with floats like "Superbowl," "Easter," "Cinco de Mayo," and slew of other holiday themes. If you somehow still feel left out after the 23 different themed floats, you can simply celebrate the Krewe of Carrollton's 83rd anniversary.

King Arthur And Merlin
1:15 p.m.
Location: Uptown
Theme: "King Arthur Celebrates 30 Years"
Floats: 24
King: Douglas Melancon
Queen: Stephanie B. Bender
Throws: 30th anniversary captains beads, krewe beads, 17 different colored doubloons and Merlin the Magician dolls.

In addition to celebrating 30 years of the past, this parade also is making history in 2007. It will be the first to have an African-American king and queen rule over a predominantly white krewe in the history of Mardi Gras. Floats will feature a hodgepodge of past favorites like the 1982 "Tour America on 4th Street Express" float and the 2000 "Millennium" float.

Nemesis
2 p.m.
Location: Chalmette
Theme: None
Floats: 22
Royal Knight II: Charles H. Ponstein
Goddess Nemesis II: Kim Campo
Throws: More than 3,000 Nemesis T-shirts will be thrown, in addition to medallions, beads and cups.

Former members of the Krewe of Gladiators make up what is now the Knights of Nemesis Social Club and Parade, which aims to promote business and fellowship in St. Bernard. In the group's second year, it's landed none other than Cajun cannon Bobby Herbert as its Grand Marshall. He is joined by former St. Bernard Parish President Charles Ponstein as the Second Royal Knight, Nemesis' version of a king. Featured in the parade will be the pride of St. Bernard, the Chalmette High School Band and the Charmers dance team.

Rhea
3:30 p.m.

Location:
Metairie
Theme: "They All Asked For You"
Floats: 19
King:
Clifford Morris
Queen: Nina Rome Loup
Throws: Court and themed cups

Often referred to as the first ladies to parade on Veterans Memorial Boulevard, this krewe is four generations strong. It now includes male riders and children, giving it a family atmosphere. In conjunction with Rhea's theme, floats will include animals like flamingos, alligators and zebras. Also featured will be a heavy dose of bands and dance teams.

Centurions
4:15 p.m.
Location: Metairie Theme: "Centurions Under the Big Top"
Floats:
20
King:
Wayne Allain
Queen: Amanda Leigh Bayhi
Throws: Centurion cups, doubloons, peanuts, stuffed animals and clown noses.

This parade hopes to bring out the child in everyone, since Mardi Gras is the greatest free party in the world and this krewe's theme is an ode to the circus, which once billed itself as the greatest show on earth. In Centurions' 28th year of riding, floats will include "Bearded Lady" and "Snake Charmer." Archbishop Rummell Marching Band will lead of the musical entertainment.

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