For the last few years I’ve actually kind of enjoyed going in to work on Ash Wednesday. The sudden transition back to so-called normality after the craziness of Carnival was bracing. Plus, school was not in session, so it was very quiet on campus. It was a good time just to putter around the office, catch up on things, and reflect on the madness that was Mardi Gras.
But this year, for the first time, Ash Wednesday is a staff holiday, and I’m finding this is mighty enjoyable too. I’m spending the day puttering around the house — I finally fixed a leak under the kitchen sink — reading, and reflecting on the madness that was Mardi Gras.
Forget about the big parades on Mardi Gras. The most fun you can have is by masking. Dress up in a weird costume with your friends and you are the parade.
We (Xy and Scott and Erica and me) wanted to hook up with the mysterious Society of St. Ann, a foot parade that’s been going since 1969, a collection of some of the most mind-blowing costumes you’ll ever see. We got to the R-Bar around 9:30 am. There were quite a few costumed freaks hanging out, but nowhere near the crowd I’d expected. We got some drinks and drank some shots — some guy bought a round of vodka shots for the house — then noticed a small sign posted on a pillar out front, announcing that St. Ann had moved to the Friendly Bar, a few blocks away. So we made our way over there.
Later, I heard that the R-Bar had advertised that it was the place to meet for St. Ann, and that was a non-starter for the organizers of parade. It’s an underground krewe, see. It can’t be advertised or commercialized. I can respect that. And even if it’s not true, it’s a good story.
We spent a long time at the Friendly Bar, waiting for the Society with an ever-burgeoning group of revelers in strange and wonderful garb. This was probably my favorite part of the day.
As for the parade itself, it was hallucinatory. I intentionally left the camera at home, so I don’t have any pictures, and these costumes have to be seen to be believed.
I had fun with my own costume. I made a little girl cry, or at least quake in fear, but soon she came back to announced, “I’m not afraid of you!”
It was sunny and warmer than expected, and the mask was not exactly comfortable. I had tunnel vision. I could hear pretty well, but no one could hear me. So I shut up and just watched.
We stuck with the parade about halfway through the Quarter, then peeled off and got some lunch at Coop’s, and after lunch headed back to Jackson Square to see the ritual confontation between the fundamentalists and the people who make fun of them. There were guys dressed like Jesus toting giant crosses and preachers spewing hellfire and brimstone through bullhorns and people with signs mocking religion and some punk kids dancing around the beer-soaked ashes of a bible. It was quite a spectacle.
While I was watching, right in front of me actually, a guy came up, saw what was going on, apparently got all pissed of by the blasphemy he was beholding, and he hauled off and punched one of the punk kids in the face! I couldn’t believe it. I got between him and the kid, who seemed more than willing to stand his ground. I tried to keep them apart, but the “Christian” got in another punch before the crowd dragged the two of them apart. I’m sure it looked kind of funny, King Death breaking up a fight.
Shortly thereafter, the cops rolled up and took the punk kid away in cuffs, and at least one of his friends. The violent Christian was long-gone.
And then it started to rain. So we headed home. On the way we passed a line of Jesuses with giant crosses headed toward the Square.
In retrospect, if the cops had showed up earlier, I might have ended up spending the night in prison too. I wonder.
I’m already thinking about next year’s costume. And I really want to start a foot parade from Mid-City to the Quarter. I figure if I start talking about it now, maybe it’ll happen in a year or two.