Four Years

P4

Dear Persephone,

You are four years old today. So: Happy Birthday! But also: Happy Mardi Gras! The last time Mardi Gras fell on the 21st of February was in 1950, which was not only before you were born but well before I was born. These dates will line up again in eleven years, for your 15th birthday in 2023. It happens again in 2034 and 2045, eleven year intervals. Beyond that I’m not sure; I haven’t found any calendars that calculate beyond 2050. I don’t know what’s up with the eleven year intervals either. Weird stuff.

So, how does one celebrate a birthday on Mardi Gras? We tried to tie in with the number four for obvious reasons. We thought about the four seasons and the four directions but ultimately settled on the four ancient elements. You know the elements pretty well. After all, they’re in the lyrics to one of your favorite songs:

Earth, water, fire and air
We may look bad but we don’t care
We ride the wind, we feel the fire
To love the earth is our one desire

(The astute culture critic will have no trouble identifying the origin of these sublime verses as that eco-goth trio par excellence, namely The Hex Girls, as seen in Scooby Doo and the Witch’s Ghost. Only a pedant would quibble that we’ve changed the word slightly. The actual lyric references “earth, wind, fire and air,” which of course conjures images of a certain funk-soul act from the 70s. But wind and air are pretty much the same thing, and everyone knows water was one of the four ancient elements. What’s up with this blatant anti-waterism?)

So for this Mardi Gras you masqued as Air, you mother was Fire, I was Water and your virtual uncle James was Earth. Of course reality was a little more complicated; we were joined by an additional Water, played by Catherine, not to mention your grandmother (my mother) who didn’t dress as anything particular but was a most welcome addition to the festivities.

As for this last month of your life, you’ve accomplished many firsts. You composed your first poem, drew your first representational drawing, and sent your first e-mail.

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So much more to relate, but I’m exhausted from a full day of traipsing round the city in costume. Perhaps I’ll come back and edit this later. For now good night and lots of love.

Continue reading “Four Years”

Mardi Maigre

Or would that be Mardi Mince?

I never completely recovered from the cold I caught in late January. I only missed one day of work, and I felt well enough that my general routine was not disrupted, but I could not quite kick that last stage. I kept coughing up little bits of phlegm, but it seemed pretty minor.

Last Friday morning, I felt a little hoarse and a little off my game. I thought it was just the aftereffects of Thursday night’s parade-going, but come Saturday I could tell something was happening in my chest. I was coughing quite a bit, and the coughs were getting more productive.

That didn’t stop me from riding way way uptown Sunday morning to take Persephone to see some more parades: Okeanos, Mid-City and Thoth. But on Lundi Gras I played it cool and stayed home while Xy took the girl out for a day of fun and more parades. I whipped up a big batch of white beans and brown rice. I drank lots of tea. I still held out hope that I might recover before the big day.

But when I woke up Mardi Gras morning, I was feeling worse than ever. Damn, I thought, we’ll just have to stay home today. But once I had a little breakfast I started feeling better. Meanwhile Xy was dealing with her own issues (don’t ask) and so it looked like maybe Persephone and I would head out by ourselves. Actually we got on the bike and made it one block before we decided to come back. We demanded Xy get ready and come with us.

So we all three rode our bikes down Esplanade to the Marigny/French Quarter, and we spent maybe an hour at the most just wandering about in the vicinity of the R Bar, gawking at the many spectacular costumes. My favorite had to be the Voyeurinal. Alas, I have no photo; I was going to snap a picture when Xy ran into a long-lost co-worker and the moment of opportunity passed. So just let your imagination run wild on the Voyeurinal.

Oh wait, I see that Wendy got a photo.

DSC05701

And speaking of photos, here’s the proof we actually did make it out of the house.

Royal Ghost Family

We reprised our ghost royalty costumes. If we’d been feeling better, if we’d really done it up, we would have taken a wagon and featured our original Brewster watercolor, which would have added a whole ‘nother dimension. But alas it was not to be.

Persephone was plenty tired, and neither Xy nor I were in top form, and it seemed like it might rain, so we decided to head back before the Societé de Sainte Anne arrived. Didn’t even have a drop of alcohol! That has to be a first for me.

So yeah, it kinda sucks to curtail the fun on the most transcendentally festive day of the year. But it’s far far better to get a little flavor than none at all. When we got back home, my situation deteriorated rapidly. It was almost as if my body had been holding out for me as long as it could. I’m pretty sure I’ve got bronchitis. If it’s viral (as most bronchitis is) the main treatment is bedrest. Oops. Not exactly consonant with an eight-mile roundtrip bike ride.

So I spent Ash Wednesday in bed, and I’m trying to do the same today.

I can’t help but note that this was my twelfth Mardi Gras in New Orleans. I also was somewhat under the weather for my first Mardi Gras back in 2000. Our cat Bilal died on Mardi Gras 2002. We missed Mardi Gras in 2004 out of sheer lethargy, and also in 2008 because of a sprained ankle and advanced pregnancy. Mardi Gras 2009 was compromised when Persephone came down with a fever. Not a great batting average so far.

Next year the pressure will really be on, because Mardi Gras falls on a certain someone’s fourth birthday. I welcome any and all suggestions on how best to celebrate.

Happy Mardi Gras

I imagine anyone reading this post today will be from outside New Orleans. Here it’s Mardi Gras, and people have other things to do. So for all those people in the rest of America, where it’s just another Tuesday, I offer the following mix for your amusement.

My boss challenged me to whip up an “unlikely” Carnival mix, and this is the result. If you listen all the way through you’ll even hear Persephone wishing you a happy Mardi Gras. That was recorded in 2010 just before her second birthday.

And while I’m tossing out the digital throws, here’s a photo which is the best I snapped this season.

Riders

A special shout out to Levees Not War where you’ll see this photo featured. Update: Also featured on Levees.org.

Happy Mardi Gras!

Carnival Time

Yes, it’s that time again. As I’ve noted here before, Twelfth Night is traditionally observed on January 6th in New Orleans, but in other places it’s considered to begin at sundown on January 5th. I guess this relates to the old idea of holidays beginning the night before, like Christmas really seems to start on Christmas Eve, but it’s confusing to the modern mentality.

In any event, last night was the first time I’ve ever been invited to a Twelfth Night party on January 5th. It figures it would take a couple Hoosiers to pull a move like that; sadly, Jeff and Laura will soon be moving back to Indiana for a job opportunity that was too good to resist. We wish them well. We went in costume, of course, and had a good time. I felt like we were getting a jump on the rest of the city, though we had to make a relatively early departure so as not to keep our daughter up too too late. An unplanned theme emerged at the party — the color green. Lou from Denver was serving up a scalding and delicious chili verde, and not one but two of the ladies were dressed as green fairies, and so of course we had to drink a little absinthe.

Now that Carnival is officially here, it’s worth noting that it will be a long season — just about as long as possible. Why? Well, as we all know, Easter falls on the first Sunday after the first full moon following the March equinox. That puts Easter on the 24th of April this year. (April 25 is the last mathematically possible date for Easter to land on, so this is very late indeed.) Of course, Ash Wednesday is 46 days before Easter, so this year it falls on March 9, which means Mardi Gras in March 8. That will be the latest Mardi Gras I’ve ever seen, but I’m certainly hoping to be around in 2038 when Mardi Gras will fall on March 9, the last possible day.

Since the beginning of Carnival is fixed but the end moves, the season can be short or long. It’s like an accordion, expanding and contracting over the years. The response is predictable. During short seasons, we hear people complaining that it’s all going by too quickly. During long seasons, people complain that it’s dragging on too long. Don’t fall into this trap! The variability of Mardi Gras and the Carnival season is a wonderful thing. Embrace it. Celebrate, don’t denigrate. Consider the implications of a convenient, modern, fixed date. The only way this would work is if Easter became a fixed feast rather than a moveable feast, which would mean disregarding the moon entirely. I’m sure some people would like that very much, but the very idea makes me retch. Don’t fall prey to this insidious anti-Lunarism. When a weary fellow paradegoer complains about the long Carnival season, haul off and punch that person right in the face. Strike a blow for the moon.

Happy Carnival, everyone.

Dancing with Beautiful Strangers

P & Me

Our first plan was to reprise last year’s costumes which we didn’t really get to employ last year. But then it became clear that this Mardi Gras would be unseasonably cool, and perhaps downright cold. Costuming as Olympian deities seemed like it would be uncomfortable, and so I scrambled at the last possible minute to come up with an alternative.

What could we wear and still be warm? Robes, I thought, big robes, big enough so that we can wear anything we want underneath. Since the Saints won the Super Bowl, I could make gold robes for all three of us, and we could wear black beads, and we’d be set. (Black robes with gold beads just seemed too easy somehow.)

I found instructions that looked simple enough. Most of the gold fabric had flown off the shelves of the local fabric store, but I managed to find some drapery-type stuff in back. Couldn’t settle for yellow, mind you — it had to be gold. I also got some gold rope to use for belts.

I borrowed the use of a friend’s sewing machine and soon enough we had our costumes. We added black caps for good measure. We borrowed a wagon from another friend.

Mardi Gras is primarily an early morning holiday, at least to me. It’s kind of like Christmas in that way. This is contrary to the image many casual tourists might have in mind, due to the common association linking revelry with late nights. But I rarely stay out late on Mardi Gras, and for me the best part of the day is generally before noon.

We some friends in the Marigny for a breakfast party. We donned our costumes and around 10:00 AM we joined up with the Societé de Sainte Anne which seemed to be passing by. I say “seemed to” because the Societé de Sainte Anne is so secretive, so mysterious, so surreal and chaotic, that it’s really kind of hard to tell exactly where the parade is, even when you’re in it. It is a collective hallucination.

Soon Persephone was dancing with a beautiful stranger.

Dancing with a Beautiful Stranger

Isn’t that what Mardi Gras is all about?

Persephone has a great time. She had a fever last year, so this was her first real Mardi Gras. At one point she was literally agape, mouth hanging open is amazement, to see so many wild and colorful characters.

I did not take many good photos. I was juggling a toddler and a wagon and of course Xy’s always a handful.

Pulling the Wagon

Xy pulled the wagon at times, but most of the way I found myself carrying Persephone in one arm and pulling the wagon with the other.

We saw a guy in an egg costume. He told Persephone he was Humpty Dumpty, then thought better of it, saying, “You probably don’t even know who that is.” Persephone whipped out her Mother Goose book and immediately turned to this rhyme.

Humpty

While wearing mittens no less!

Later we saw another Humpty Dumpty, a guy with his head made up like an egg, with tiny articulated arms on either cheek which he manipulated by a clever arrangement of rods, complete with a brick wall under his chin. I didn’t get a photo but it was pretty amazing. I saw so many amazing costumes. A Kachina doll. A bicycle hidden inside a giant shoe. A fully functional sound system sheathed in metal shaped like a bull and bellowing steam. Hindu deities with multiple arms. A mobile drum set with stripper pole. Saints-themed costumes were of course ubiquitous. I didn’t even get a picture of my friends as the three big quarterbacks the Saints took down. Imagine Brett Favre with a walker and you get the idea. Everyone wanted to take his picture but somehow I failed.

Perhaps the most mind-blowing costume of all was this tree house.

Tree House

How tall is that thing? They are looking down on people in second story balconies. And somehow it’s moving around. It’s a riff on a recent local news story about an artsy tree house that ran afoul of city inspectors.

Clapping

I wish I’d had the presence of mind to get a portrait of all three of us together in our matching costumes. Some random stranger took a photo of us that looked pretty good — he showed it to me on the viewfinder — but I’m sure I’ll never see that again. Here’s a photo Howie took showing my daughter and me on Royal Street.

B & P

Probably the best photo I took was this portrait of an older man in a wheelchair, wearing a pink boa, smoking a cigarette and taking it all in.

Gede

It was a great day but not without incident. At one point I crossed Royal Street a little too hastily. I was trying to dodge what appeared to be a large ocean-going vessel when a king’s ermine cape got snagged on the wheel of our wagon. For this act of carelessness, I incurred his royal displeasure.

The other near-disaster came when we stopped at a friend’s condo. Persephone was playing with a toy that belonged to the resident canine, and they got into a fight. I got in between them right quick and the girl emerged with only a tiny scratch under her left eye, but she was quite frightened. The dog bit me on the leg, and I shudder to think what might have happened.

We were back home shortly after five. The girl was utterly exhausted.

If this Mardi Gras could be said to have had a theme, deeper than the Saints mania, it was perhaps a renewed snese of optimism and confidence, the hope that we’ve turned a corner in our recovery, that, as Adma Karlin puts it, “deep down the 2010 carnival season marks when, at long last, post-Katrina New Orleans became, again, just New Orleans.”

Here’s hoping.

Good ‘n’ Burnt

I was really looking forward to this Mardi Gras, in part because we skipped the last one, and because it was my baby girl’s first, and because it’s also the first for my septuagenarian parents, and most of all because I’ve come to learn that all celebrations have an aspect of transcendence, and that’s good for the soul. No celebration so completely transforms your sense of reality as Mardi Gras.

Our planning was intensive. Costumery, comestibles, cocktails… We were well prepared for a day of masking and madness. We’d made up our minds to seek out the fantastic and surreal Society of St. Anne. Dad even painted his nails for the first time in 75 years of life.

So I was mighty disappointed when Persephone came down with a cold the night before. (Actually we don’t know if it’s a cold or what. She’s still got a fever today and will be visiting the doctor this afternoon.) It was going to be challenging enough juggling an infant (and my parents) in the chaos of the masquerade, but there was absolutely no way I was dragging a sick baby into that mess. Too stressful for me, though I suspect it might have cured her. Mardi Gras has miraculous powers.

So we resigned ourselves to staying home. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t have some fun. We could still have a few drinks and a few laughs. And we wouldn’t have to worry about where to pee. Dad and I had a little Amaretto in our coffee. We tuned into WWOZ and started rocking the carnival tunes.

We were saddened to hear Antoinette K-Doe had passed away. But like her friend said, “If she had to die, Mardi Gras day was the appropriate time.”

Now then. We had these costumes ready to go. So we dressed up and took some family portraits.

Δημήτηρ & Περσεφόνη

Κρόνος & Ῥέα

Family Portrait

By this time it was early afternoon. Then I remembered that, even with some recent changes, the Zulu parade route still ends pretty close to our house. In fact we could hear the brassy blare of marching band horns wafting over from Orleans and Broad. So I poured myself a cup of my patented carnival cocktail (Vita Water and whiskey) and we walked over there, Cronus and Rhea and I, while Demeter stayed home with Persephone.

Big Shot

And thus we ended up catching a good middle section of Zulu, ten or twenty floats, and my parents got a little flavor of the fever that infects this city’s psyche so insidiously and gloriously. The krewe members and marching bands were pretty weary at that point, having been on the hoof for a good four hours already, but everyone was in high spirits and it was a barrel of fun. The weather was just about as good as it gets, sunny but not hot, with cooling breezes.

I got a nice sunburn — but only on my right shoulder.

Κρόνος & Ζεύς

And so we had a festive Mardi Gras after all. It wasn’t the day I’d envisioned, but then it never is.

Persephone Meets Persephone

Here’s Persephone (my daughter) with Persephone (the float):

Persephone & Persephone

Also pictured: Persephone’s father and grandparents.

In fact, this morning we got a tour of the Rex den from the very kind Dr. Stephen Hales, who also took the photograph. It’s my parents’ first Mardi Gras as well, so this is all new to them. I think they appreciated the tour most of all.

I was also interested to read a story about Rex getting involved in the public schools in yesterday’s paper. Another Katrina effect.

Spirits of Spring

It’s three weeks until Mardi Gras.

I’d been meaning to post something here about masking on Mardi Gras, how it’s pretty much essential to the spirit of the day, how it differs from Halloween, and so forth, for the benefit of my parents who will be coming down for their first Carnival ever. But I’ve ended up talking with Mom on the phone a few times instead, so that essay will have to wait for another year.

Though I’m a big proponent of masking, normally I don’t have very good ideas for costumes. But this year it occurred to me: Since it’s Persephone’s first Mardi Gras, she could go as Persephone and Xy could go as her mother, Demeter. Perfect!

(That leaves the question of me. I’ve always identified with Hades but I’d feel a little creepy in that role now. Some myths say Zeus is Persephone’s father, but I’ve never liked Zeus much, and moreover that strikes me as a latter-day patriarchal insertion. In earlier versions of the myth, I believe Persephone was a product of parthenogenesis. No father. So I hit on the idea of going as a celebrant in the Eleusinian mysteries. Say what? Yes, I fully realize no one would “get” that; I’d have to distribute an explanatory pamphlet. But it makes perfect sense, since I do worship my Demeter and Persephone, and the conceit does have the virtue of being extensible, so my parents could also mask as celebrants if they so desired.)

But look out — here comes a mind-blowing revelation. The inimitable Dr. A sent me a message via Facebook yesterday:

I was reading the Andy Hardy Mardi Gras guide last night and saw that Rex’s theme is “Spirits of Spring” and that they have a Persephone float!

I could hardly believe it. I had to verify, it seemed so incredible.

And it’s true.

I should mention that I’m usually not checking out the big parades on Mardi Gras. After all, you can see parades all through Carnival if you so desire. The real fun on Fat Tuesday is not to watch a parade but to be a parade. So although Rex is a classy affair, with some of the most sophisticated and highbrow themes and some of the most aesthetically pleasing floats, I wasn’t planning to make a point of checking Rex out. We’d been planning to hook up with Saint Anne.

But this seems too cool and too cosmic to ignore. Now I’m inclined to change our Mardi Gras plans entirely and head uptown, which I haven’t done for years. In fact, Mom & Dad, if you’re still looking for costume ideas, you might want to check out some of Rex’s other Spirits of Spring as outline in this RTF document. Or — this only just occurred to me — you might consider Persephone’s grandparents, Cronus and Rhea. For some reason Zeus is sounding better to me now.

Persephone’s first Mardi Gras, and there’s a float in her honor. My mind is still reeling.

Oh, one last thing: If anyone reading this has an “in” with Rex, my daughter would love to get a sneak peek at that float.

Avoiding Debauchery at Mardi Gras

So my parents want to come visit for the girl’s first birthday. That’s cool. Her first birthday falls on Samedi Gras — the Saturday before Mardi Gras. That’s a special day for us, as it’s the only day when Carnival comes to our Mid-City neighborhood any more. We usually have a party on that day, a big blowout with a keg of good beer and live music, and this year it will be extra fun because it will also be the girl’s first birthday party. Super cool. Come on down, Mom & Dad! They can even do some volunteer work at Camp Restore.

But, of course, as long as they’re here, they really ought to stay for Mardi Gras. Everybody should experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans at least once in their lifetime.

And that’s where things get a tad complicated.

In a recent e-mail, Mom says:

Now I have to convince your father that we should do this. He doesn’t want to be part of any debauchery, I guess.

And that cracked me up: the image of my respectable, somewhat conservative, slightly puritanical Midwestern father trying to enjoy Mardi Gras while avoiding debauchery. It’s a funny thought, and I mean that in the most loving and sympathetic way possible.

Of course, locals know Mardi Gras really is a family-friendly event. But an air of cheerful debauchery does prevail. That’s one of the things I love about it. Mardi Gras wouldn’t feel complete to me without venturing to the Quarter. One definitely will glimpse some debauchery there. But I wouldn’t be afraid to take my one-year-old daughter, or my parents — if they can get in the right frame of mind.

Masking is essential. Mardi Gras is so much more fun if you’re dressed up in costume. It doesn’t have to be salacious — though that certainly helps. The main thing is to don something truly outlandish, such as you’d never wear in ordinary life.

I guess I really need to get on the horn and talk to the folks about this, but I dropped my phone while replacing some boards on the deck this morning, and apparently I’ve killed it. And since we no longer have a landline, that means I’m vox incommunicado.

So, since I know they’ll read this:

Dad, think of it as an athletic experience. We’ll rise early, breakfast at a friend’s house in the Bywater (hopefully) then walk through the Marigny, colliding with the Societé de Sainte Anne if we’re lucky, then through the Quarter. We’ll take a gander at one of the big parades on Canal Street, then retreat back to the Quarter, get some lunch, visit the river, and then we’ll slowly make our way back to the Bywater. And we do it all in costume, with an infant, while drinking a few beers along the way. No, we won’t get drunk, but we’ll see some people at various levels of intoxication. We’ll see a few rowdies and a few risque costumes. We might catch a whiff of a funny-smelling cigarette or see someone just plain acting a fool. But mostly we will see all manner of folk — all ages, races, classes, nationalities — having a great time at a great party and dancing to great music while decked out in the most eye-popping, hilarious, beautiful outfits you’ve ever seen in your whole life. It will be fun, and an unforgettable experience. I can guarantee you that. And as you might note from that itinerary, it will tax our stamina. We’re usually back home, exhausted, by early afternoon. But with the added challenge of bringing the girl along, we’ll need all the help we can get.

Those who think I’m discouraging my parents don’t know them. They are world class athletes, in much better shape than Xy and I. The athletic angle might be just the ticket to transforming Mardi Gras from frightening debauchery into fun sport in the eyes of ole Grandpa Ray.

I should note too that our friends in Tuscaloosa, Herb & Jenny, will be joining us for Mardi Gras, and might be bringing their bairns too. At least I hope so. More is merrier.

Of course, if Dad doesn’t really don’t want to come, if what I’ve described above doesn’t sound like a good time, that’s OK too. No pressure. Forced merriment is the worst thing in the world. There are plenty of locals here who flee the city at Carnival time, to escape the crowds and the madness. So come at Christmas or Easter instead, or anytime.

Dad, I hope you’ll feel free to post comments here. Mom too. And anyone else for that matter. Let’s hash this out, address any concerns you might have. If you’d rather discuss privately, that’s fine too. But I think right here in the open might be more fun, and that, after all, is the spirit of Carnival.

Super Fat

Today is Mardi Gras, the most wonderful day of the year. Ideally I’d be getting up at the crack of dawn, donning a wild costume, and venturing forth to partake in a day of mad revelry, probably hooking up with the Societé de Sainte Anne and walking from the Bywater to the Marigny to the French Quarter and back again.

Alas, not this year. My twisted ankle is still not up to a normal day’s activity, much less Mardi Gras. Also, Xy’s very pregnant and not up for it either. So we are staying home today.

Often we remark that in the rest of the country it’s just another Tuesday. But not so today. It’s Super Tuesday, the biggest day of primaries in the history of the nation. I expect I’ll be watching some of the returns and rooting for Obama.

Often we remark on this day that there’s no place we’d rather be — except maybe Rio. And so I have Black Orpheus cued up in the DVD player. No, it can’t compare to the real thing, but it will have to do.

Maybe I’ll put on my papier-mâché crown and hobble around the block just for auld lang syne. But to tell the truth I don’t mind staying home today. I’ve got a few tasks to tackle, and it just feels like the right thing for us this year.

Happy Super Fat Tuesday, everybody.

Another Day

Is it possible for one day of festivity to change everything?

I woke up Mardi Gras morning wondering if I had a friend left in the world.

Turns out I’ve got hundreds.

Outside the R Bar

If not thousands.

Up Royal

We saw many old friends. We met many new friends. Some were almost a little too friendly, like the guy who grabbed my ass or the dude who kept hitting on Xy. But it was all good. It was all about the love this year.

In the battle of the Sainte Anne factions it would seem that the Bywater faction is ascendant. They had the band. They rule.

Bearded

The costumes were amazing as always, maybe a little less jaw-dropping than last year. Fewer blue people, for whatever reason. I think my favorite was the tourist who got kicked out of his hotel room mid-shave and was forced to wander the streets wrapped in nothing but a towel.

Locked Out of His Hotel Room

As for me, I went for extreme silliness as the Love Raccoon. This costume was based on a velvet painting I found on a trash heap around the corner from our house. That and some face paint and a red fur collar from MF in China and I was set.

The Love Raccoon

I’m happy to report that the costume provoked a lot of smiles and laughter. The woman behind the counter at Envie said it was the best thing she’d seen all day, which is pretty amazing when you consider the competition.

Danger & Son

Tall

Spooky Beautiful

And Xy, the Purple Lady? She did well. She held her liquor, didn’t get lost once, caught her second wind at lunch, and had strength for the bike ride back home. I’m proud of her.

By My Side

I thought last Mardi Gras, six months after Katrina, was the ultimate celebratory event, the most meaningful ever. I was sure this year would not be able to compare. I was prepared to have some fun, but I didn’t expect to be moved, deeply.

Was I ever wrong.

We followed Sainte Anne further than ever this year. I’d heard that they eventually made it to the river to commemorate those who have passed away during the preceding year. But I’d never actually made it that far.

Somehow, this year, we did.

Down by the Riverside

The whole thing was profoundly uplifting and decidedly surrealistic.

And now, the euphoria wears off, and the blood of our people is still running in the streets, but hopefully we all have the collective strength to get through another year and rebuild the city.

PS: I took a camera along for the first time in years, so you can see a set of thirty more selected pix if you’re so inclined.

One Day

For the last 364 days, life here may have sucked for most of us, but on this one day (at least) there’s no place I’d rather be than New Orleans. We got up early, we had a good breakfast, we’re rocking out, we’re getting into costume, we’re hitting the streets. Happy Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras

When you’re in a big robe, it’s much easier to pee if you’re not wearing underwear.

King for a Day

Unfortunately I was wearing underwear, and yes, I kept ’em on all day. Must be my Midwestern Lutheran upbringing.

The major parades? Zulu? Rex? Missed ’em entirely. We started in the Bywater eaaarly in the morning, made our way up through the Marigny and into the Quarter, but never even got as far as Jackson Square, much less Canal Street. We were with the Societé de Sainte Anne, at least for a while — at least I think it was Sainte Anne. It was all rather confusing and mysterious.

In some ways it’s a shame I didn’t bring a camera, because you have to see this to believe it. You could check out this great set by jonnodotcom, who managed to snap a few before his camera went south. I didn’t want to spend the day looking through a viewfinder, and there’s no way I could have juggled a camera as well as the essentials. Scepter in one hand, drink in the other. No room for a camera. Besides, even the best pictures don’t really capture the sense of being there.

So: Imagine dancing down a city street with a thousand of your closest friends, all dressed in the most outrageous outfits imaginable, soaking in the subtropical February sun, cooled by a refreshing beverage perhaps, moving to the beat of the hottest brass band you’ve ever heard, the scent of heady herbal incense wafting through the air, until you slip into a trance and lose all sense of time and place.

It’s good. I felt a wild surge of pride and hope. Yes, this city is coming back! Hell yes! Nothing can stop us now!

That remains to be seen, of course.

Of the many audacious and beautiful and sexy and hilarious costumes, it’s hard to pick a favorite. But in front of the Spotted Cat there was a very proper, somewhat British-looking silver-haired gentleman, with a neatly trimmed beard, a nice hat, an impeccably tailored suit — the only odd detail: no pants.

Oh, and we enjoyed the most beautiful weather seen on Mardi Gras for years. I got a hell of a sunburn on the back of my neck, but thankfully the facepaint must have some serious SPF value.

Memo to future self: Under no circumstances should you ever allow Xy to drink on Mardi Gras. Certainly not hard liquor. Certainly not before noon.

As for today, it’s Ash Wednesday, and I’m back at work and school is even back in session, a first for all the years I’ve worked here at the University. I got here early, before 8:00 am, and there were students already hitting the books, waiting for their first class.

I kind of like the shock of being back in the normal world of the office after so much craziness. It’s bracing.

Call to Carnival

When I moved to New Orleans back in 1999 I didn’t really know what to expect. Certainly I didn’t anticipate that at age 32 I’d discover a whole new holiday. And not just a new holiday, but an entire holiday season.

I’m talking about Carnival, of course, and Mardi Gras, and it’s not really new at all. In fact, tomorrow will be the 150th Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans.

But it was new to me. Mardi Gras was in a cultural blind spot. I really had no idea what it was all about.

I still don’t. That’s part of the charm. It’s too big and too weird to grasp fully. Like any major holiday, it is many things to many people.

And make no mistake, Mardi Gras is a major holiday here. They say it defines this city, and I believe it.

I just got this poem (via e-mail) from Cristophe, the magistrate of the Krewe of Clouet, which evokes the spirit of the day:

CALL TO CARNIVAL

Hear Yee, Hear Yee revelers all!
It is once again time to heed the call
Of the pantomine and ribald of carnival.

Be a king or a queen and wear a crown,
A jester, a muse, a siren or a clown.
The day is marked for fantasy and mirth,
A day set aside by our mother earth,

Who in her wisdom conjures the spirits of jest,
For her children one grand day to fest
And invoke the heros of myths and odes
To raise joyous toasts as mysticism unfolds.

Join with the masks, the capes, and the plumes.
Don the cloak of a thousand costumes.
Be led by the music and move with the dance
For the day starts early and well in advance.

Thus informed partake with your friends
And celebrate the magical distant ends
Of Mardi Gras and all that it lends!

And today is Lundi Gras. We’ve got friends from out of town staying with us, and more friends coming over to visit soon. My toenails are painted bright green and my costume is coming together. It’s the most weirdly wonderful, wonderfully weird time of the year.

Happy Carnival, y’all.

Ashes

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.

Purple Xy Lucy, Erica, Scott

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.