It seems like a tall task to write about Mardi Gras in New Orleans without coming off trite, twee, or washed up. But it's been the single most omnipresent and pervasive definer of my human existence for so long that to let it go undiscussed feels wrong.
So in general, here, “Mardi Gras” is an umbrella that refers to the entire Carnival season, stretching from Twelfth Night (or Epiphany) on January 6th, escalating (the real beginning is Krewe de Vieux on January 31st) and reaching frenetic climax on Fat Tuesday or Mardi Gras Day. I suppose it's all based on the Jewish Calendar which is lunar and thus falls on different days of our standard solar calendar each year. But don't worry, it's not all monotheism and straight-laced catholic holidays (ha.) There are huge pagan roots running through the veins of this celebration (like any christian holiday) and to me they meld more seamlessly than anything I've seen before. Without further ado, some Mardi Gras recap from the world of Kate.
• My Mardi Gras beginning was Krewe de Vieux, (was sick in bed for Twelfth Night) and I borrowed Justine's car, went to Walmart, realized I forgot my wallet, went home, went back to Walmart for Jello, ramekins, and vodka. Hustling in the streets here was something I knew I wanted to do, a rite of passage of sorts, so I nervously, hurriedly made Jello shots all day while Justine worked, picked her up with over 300 in tow, and we headed into the CBD to intersect Krewe de Vieux. Floats were satirical, referential, and vulgar, Dickstartr crowdsourcing, Spank Squad, stuff like that. We made stacks, had a blast, and celebrated with delicious kebabs and a coconut with a tiny umbrella. Ah.
• Chewbaccus (whose name is one of many spinoffs of Bacchus, a major parade) was the best, went to a party, ate queso, geeked out with this Sci-fi themed parade that comes right through our neighborhood. I spun many Leia's and Chewy's in my impromptu dance-one-move tradition. Right before Chewbacchus was 'tit Rex, (the 'tit is pronounced tee and short for petit) which is a mini-parade, where folks pull floats made from shoeboxes down St. Claude to the delighted squeals of everyday people.
• Muses is one of the big ones. It was cold, I had given up my work shift that night out of sheer exhaustion but still managed to get dragged into a costume and out the door. The streets were littered with trash from previous parades and as the bitter wind whipped them into trashnado frenzy on St. Charles I sipped my clamato and told myself to hang in there. We watched, walked a ways along the route to go meet some friends and accidentally witnessed a double homicide. I froze in the noise and gunsmoke, I'd been looking down at my phone, texting Dizzy. Hundreds of people were running all around me. I slowly snapped back into the moment hearing MC shouting my name “Kate. Kate. Kate.” He pushed me behind him, squatting, baring his skateboard like a Viking Shield Warrior. We were shook up, everything was lights and sirens and cold. I ached desperately for forest, for wood stove and seed catalogue, for pastureland. I settled for drink with friends at Molly's and an early bedtime.
• The weekend before Mardi Gras day I worked a ton pedicabbing, wore myself out, made great money, had an awesome time. It was total chaos, streets closed, more streets closed, more streets closed. I pedaled uptown, downtown, uptown, downtown, until my legs burst through my bike shorts, turning green and unfurling as grotesque muscles and veins developed on top of other muscles and veins. I carried this sweet old couple's luggage for two blocks across a parade and caught a football from Iris on the way back.
•Eris was a culminating highlight of the season for me. An unpermitted (thus illegal) DIY punk parade, Eris begins at dawn at the End of the World (near our house, where the industrial canal meets the mighty Mississip') with a choral performance, then the band strikes up and the whole shebang moves slowly, disruptively, to the river for another band and choir performance, then weaves back through the quarter ending with free brunch near the tracks. I sang in the choir this year, practicing twice a week since I got here. What a powerful thing to have a completely homemade parade, no plastic beads, no tractors pulling floats. The music was all original, the bands tune's largely sprawling, dirgey, brassy and circusy. Choirs tunes were reverent, with elaborate imagery, sea creatures, rivers weaving courses and eroding and the way deposition rebuilds land. The one band-choir collab is the Eris anthem, it is triumphant, concise, yet still funky, with Latin lyrics about reflecting and refracting each others' lights. This years theme was 'Washed Up' I think many years themes reference the gulf and oil spill in some way. Every costume was homemade, elaborate. The whole thing was gaudy, reverent, loud, soft, and beautiful.
• Lundi Gras we saw a few great bands: Steamboat Calypso and Deslondes. We were paraded out.
• Mardi Gras Day we went to a fabulous party in our neighborhood, we're talking 8am, complete with champagne fountain, full bloody mary bar, meat cooked over an open fire, and platters and platters of po-boys. It really inspired me to throw parties, get old, have an awesome house. Then we followed parades all through the Marigny and Quarter, drinking a lot, dancing, having a great time. I ran into (and twirled) pretty much everyone I know in the city. We ate a delicious Po Boy and got home before the sun.
Yesterday was Ash Wednesday and it was passed at home, cleaning, hydrating, cooking moussaka, coming back to the basic things adult humans do to ensure their survival. We are balancing out all this revelry with some Lenten observance: me, I'm giving up faybo on my phone and taking on a yoga intensive and a daily flossing habit. MC is giving up booze which is pretty awesome, I'm going to make him fancy mocktails and shrubs.
I have lots of thoughts about this parade culture, this Mardi Gras culture, and the way it holds people. One recent one was how healthy it seems to delve deeply into vice, drink too much, stay out too late, be brazen and brassy, and then voluntarily and gleefully choose living well, rising early, breathing deeply. In cultures that rely on forbidding vice, it seems the temptation is always there, dancing in the darkness and sort of unchecked. This city was never an English colony and maybe it thus lacks some of the puritanical bent that formed America.
I don't know, I'm sure my understanding and reflections will change and grow with each year. For now, I know that what I've witnessed in these past weeks, in the old city, is something special, and I am glad for it.