Endless Vacation’s Last Parade October 14, 2012Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Gentilly, New Orleans, The Narrative, The Odd, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Endless Vacation, parade
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They came by twos and threes and fives by bicycle up Esplanade as I sat doing my laundry, everyone smiling like it’s a church picnic, the women all wearing something pink and gauzy in their hair, everyone dressed not quite in costume but like a circus on holiday. One guy had a horn case on his back. Something happening in the park, I tell myself as I crush my cigarette and go back into fold underwear.
I get home and toss the surplus dufflebag on the bed where it still lies. My son shows no enthusiasm for going to Blues Fest and frankly I have no stomach for crowds, beer and boogie today, a busy week behind me and another in front of me. I’m dead out on the couch when the sound wakes me coming up Fortin Street, a small band playing a slow, gay, vaguely European march, Nina Rota’s idea of a village band. I missed the banners in front, and call out to find they are Endless Vacation. “It’s their last parade,” I swear she said but in my half-awake, stuporous joy I might have heard them wrong. Most of them just walk wearing broad grins like masks, a few few high step and swing their arms high in time and others prace like parts of a carousel. They turn into the empty lot next door because it is there. The band stops in the middle and continues the same song, the same eight bars over and over again, and more of them break into a broad, skipping dance, a few by twos or threes join hands and do the same skip-dance in a circle.
I look for a camera, a microphone boom, a plump-faced man from off the wall of an Italian restaurant, hair pomaded high and back, to stand with a megaphone to shout directions but this is not Fellini, this is vérité, just another typically Odd bit of life in New Orleans, a reminder of why I am here. After perhaps five minutes, the banners move through the lot toward Maurepas and turn left against the one-way street. The parade slowly reforms, the solo dancers and circles aligning like filings to a magnet, and careens on toward downtown, the circus air fading in the distance, leaving the raucously quarrelsome feral parrots silent in the trees.
I stand on my stoop smoking, trying to reconcile Endless Vacation with a last parade and decide every parade must be the last until someone suggests the next, an inside joke informing their bright-eyed, psilocybin smiles. Perhaps they never mean to stop, the invincible certainly of youth, to march until they pass into that unrecorded ward where every day is sunny, Sunday and Carnival, leaving a puzzled city all humming the same song on Mondays as regular as red beans, with no idea where they heard it and unable to resist its lilting insistence.
Catching Cabbage March 16, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Irish Channel, New Orelans, NOLA, parade, Toulouse Street.
Tags: 504, beads, cabbage, Irish Channel, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, St. Patrick's Day, throws parade
I caught almost two sacks of cabbage (the fullest of which, also packed with potatoes, carrots and the odd onion, was stolen), but this was the real treasure of this year’s Irish Channel St. Patrick’s Day parade on Saturday.
All of my food went with my son’s friend, whose mother the social worker shares it with her clients. I figure there was nothing I was going to do useful with 10 head of cabbage, so that worked out well. As for the stolen one, well, if you’re going to steal someone’s parade-caught food you probably needed it more than I did, so best-of-luck go with it.
We were showered with beads and other throws but the two pair of these, handed down to usein a bag by a co-worker of my wife’s, may be the single best throw I’ve gotten from a parade bar-none. It is certainly the best imaginable catch of the day at a New Orleans St. Patrick’s weekend parade.
Thanks to Celcus for the wee bit of fine Irish whiskey and general hospitality. We ran into Adrastos and Dr. A, and liprap and her spouse there as well.
The Land of Creamy Beans February 13, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in 504, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, Rebirth, Toulouse Street.
Tags: Carnival, drum, Federico Fellini, Marcello Mastroianni, marching, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, oak trees, palm trees, parade
It is not necessarily the big moments, the arrival of the Krewe of St. Anne at Frenchman or the first steps onto the Fairgrounds at Jazz Fest, in which I find myself most perfectly at home in New Orleans. Rather it is in the little moments that make up life here, the odd bits of life in New Orleans that are the sub-title of this blog.
In the months that have passed since I rolled over the Causeway on Memorial Day 2006 some of the sense of wonder at being here after a 20-years’ absence has been replaced by the commonplace that I am, in fact, home in New Orleans. Most days I drive down the usual routes — Carrollton Avenue, say — and it is as if I had never left, had never walked out of one home and turned down the street to view the Capitol rising down Massachusetts Avenue North East, or bundled up in the foyer of a Fargo, N.D. home to go out and shovel snow off of my driveway.
There is a familiar parade of sights–Brocato’s and Venizia, Jesuit High School, the Rock ‘N Bowl in the mostly unchanged strip mall where my mother once purchased our school clothes at the D.H. Holmes discount store; crossing the Palmetto Canal, then past the seminary to the leonine pillars at Pritchard Place and the arches at Fountainbleau and then I’m in Carrollton: passing Palmer Park to where the restaurant names change but the buildings stay pretty much the same.
And them I’m rolling home like a small boat in a light swell, dodging potholes like a river pilot navigating sandbars. I might look up from the traffic and see on one hand the branches of a row of oak tree branches extended over the streets like the hand of a priest murmuring a blessing over a small child; on the other side, a procession of the bowed shapes of palm trees slouching on the neutral ground like women waiting to cross, the trunks in the arc of a body with a hand on one hip pushing the other out in a saucy pose, the crowning leaves like an elaborate Sunday crown. And then, the odd bit: something as simple and strange as a man standing like a saintly scarecrow, arms out and hands filled with breadcrumbs, his body covered with pigeons.
At that moment I almost expect to hear a shout of azione! and see Marcello Mastroianni stride into a scene suddenly reduced to black and white, raincoat draped over his shoulders and a cigarette hanging from his lip. He is watched intently by man with a high, furrowed brow and a full, combed-back haircut last seen in a faded photo on the wall of Brocato’s, who peers at the scene over a cameraman’s shoulder. The bird man in a fabulous landscape of trees receding into infinity is reduced to the backdrop of something more than the merely fantastic, becomes part of a pattern that is as comfortable with the irrational as any other state. It feels as if I have been tipped out of a cart, transported away from my routine commute between Carrollton and Mid-City and into a sound stage bounded only by the imagination, arriving suddenly and without warning in the New Orleans of dreamy dreams.
Some days the moments are not quite as mystical but are instead as perfectly New Orleans as any instant could be. Last Sunday as I was taking down the Mardi Gras beads I had wrapped the columns in front of the house with I hear a sound I at first feared might be gun shots. Then two children with drum heads and sticks marched side-by-side up Olympia Street to the corner of Toulouse, beating a march time. They were led by a third child in front with a whistle and, from the motions he made with his arm and the way he rocked his head first one way and then the other while tilted back on his shoulders, an imaginary drum major’s staff and feathered hat. He would blow a few notes on his whistle and the drummers would answer with a few beats of the drum, over and over in perfect parade order. They marched into the middle of the intersection, and with a wave of the imaginary staff and a long, shrill whistle burst, they stopped. The leader, after some pointing and prodding and appropriate huffing on the whistle, got them turned around and they marched off back up Olympia: tweet, tweet, tweet, DUM da dum dum; tweet tweet tweet, DUM da dum dum…
I looked at the beads in my hand after they had vanished, shaking my head slowly and smiling as I silently reminded myself: no where else, man, no where but New Orleans.
Down by the riverside February 6, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in Carnival, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, French Quarter, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, Odds&Sods, parade, Rebirth.
Tags: Carnival, funeral, Krewe of Colleen, Krewe of Kosmik Debris, Krewe of St. Anne, Mardi Gras, memorial, memory, Mississippi River, Moon Walk, mourning, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Queen Colleen
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This year on Mardi Gras, with my family all home sick I took off all on my own oddy-knocky and made a point of trying to catch all of the marching krewes I could and taking a lot of pictures, starting with waiting for the Krewe of St. Anne’s on Royal Street in the Marigny and ending with finding St. Anne’s as they marched down to the riverside. I managed to track down the Ducks of Dixieland and Kosmik Debris, but never saw Pete Fountain (largely because I stayed in Marigny until after 11 waiting for St. Anne’s). I also found the Krewe of Whoo Hooo, Mondo Kayo dancing on Frenchman, and a few other odd groups I had not seen before.
Video of Krewe of St. Anne at Royal and Frenchman Streets
As a result, I missed most of the day’s parades, only catching a half dozen perhaps of Zulu as they turned onto Canal Street. The corner of Royal and Canal is not a great place for throws. The floats make a turn there and the barricades are kept far back. The only beads I had for the day were two pair I got from Queen Colleen, mother of old friends who famously parades through the Quarter pushed in a shopping cart by her adoring students and family.
My one throw was from Zulu. Not a coconut, but a walnut painted in gold. At the day’s end, when I joined St. Anne’s at the riverside and had taken my fill of pictures, I joined the St. Anne members who were memorializing their dead of the past year by throwing beads or more personal items into the river. I clambered down onto the rocks, and offered the Zulu nut to all of the ghosts of New Orleans and the Federal Flood. Inspired by the story of the Bone Men below, I invited them all to come and walk with me the rest of the day, to come and taste the visions of a day spent walking through Mardi Gras, to see the pictures I had captured not with my camera but with my memory.
Memo to my friends and family: this is how I want to go. Hire a band, invite everyone I know, and take my ashes and put them in a cart and parade them through the quarter on Mardi Gras Day. Take them to St. Anne’s in the Marigny, and parade down Royal to Zulu and Rex at Canal Street. At mid-afternoon go to the Moonwalk and wait for St. Anne’s, and scatter them there.
The Last Mardi Gras February 4, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in Carnival, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, Flood, flooding, French Quarter, ghosts, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Rebirth, Recovery, Remember, Toulouse Street, We Are Not OK.
Tags: Carnival, Federal Flood, French Quarter, Frenchman Street, Hurricane Katrina, je me souviens, Krewe of St. Anne, Mardi Gras, Marigny, memory, MoMs, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Rebirth, Remember, Rex, Zulu
As I did last year, I’m going to just re-post a piece I wrote in the fall of 2005 on Flood Street – Dispatches from an Imaginary Disaster, and then for Carnival 2006 and 2007 on Wet Bank Guide called The Last Mardi Gras.
If I don’t see you at St. Anne’s or on Frenchman, I’ll see you on the other side. As I once heard a Mardi Gras Indian chief say on WWOZ one Monday night in the long ago, “don’t be fallin’ outta yo’ house with no needle and thread in yo’ hand.”
The Last Mardi Gras
In this city, people talk incessantly of past pleasures and of those to come, even as they regard the meal or the drink or the parade in front of them. We live in a stream of memory as dark and deep and powerful as the river. Memory’s currents clutch at us and steer our lives, must be compensated for just as the ferry pilots must at every crossing, must be feared less they take us down into an eddy from which no body returns.
Some of my earliest memories are of Mardi Gras. I remember as a child of perhaps five seeing Indians dancing at the corner that might have been Galvez and Canal as we drove to my great aunts’ on Royal Street. Later that day or perhaps a year before or after, I can clearly recall watching Rex passing down Canal from atop my father’s shoulders. Half a life later, my girlfriend and I slouched outside a hall in Arabi in the lost hours before dawn on the night of MoM’s Ball, and a famous photographer took our picture. I’ve never seen this photograph, but I will go to my grave easier knowing that years from now, on a wall or in a book, someone will see us in our motley glory, dissolute and unrepentant and utterly glorious in the moment. They will see us and say: this is what Mardi Gras was like back then.
Twenty years separate those moments, and another twenty separate that MoM’s Ball from the first postdiluvian Carnival. For all that span of years and a century before, Mardi Gras has been as reliable as high water. No one really needed to tell me there would be a Mardi Gras this year as there has been every year in my living memory, and as I am certain there will be a Mardi Gras when no one remembers what it meant to sit on the lawn of the Wildlife and Fisheries building of a certain winter Tuesday. No disaster leaving behind life more complex than the cockroach could prevent it.
Just as certain, at some point of during Tuesday;s twilight people will begin to talk of about last Mardi Gras, and of the Mardi Gras to come with the certainty of the sanctified they are most certainly not. The last time in living memory Carnival was interrupted was during World War II. Frankly, I don’t understand why. The soldiers and sailors on leave wandering Perdido Street drunkly in search of women wouldn’t have been harmed by the tableaux of paper maiche floats lit by the dripping oil burners of the flambeau. Carnival was probably canceled by somebody from the wrong side of Canal Street, whose father before him decided Storyville had to be closed to protect the doughboys of World War One from dissipation. There always a Do-Good Daddy looking to tone the city down.
I don’t think anyone with the city in their heart understood the cancellations, but I’m sure those generations accepted those losses the way we accept the closing of a favorite restaurant: by finding a new and equally good one to sit in and eat and drink and discuss the loss of the old favorite, remembering what we ate on such a date and with whom. Until, of course, we discuss where the owner or the cook of the failed place is expected to return, and start to anticipate the day we will sit at that as yet unset table, and remember what we ate on such a date and with whom.
Of course there will be a Mardi Gras. I might need to ask which krewes would roll on what nights, to inquire of friends where the MoM’s Ball might be. But no one needed to tell me that Mardi Gras would happen, especially the one hidden inside private parties in bars or in courtyards, punctuated by forays out into the streets to parade. The year the police went on strike and the parades all fled to the suburbs and the Mardi Gras of the hoteliers and the airlines was canceled, we dutifully assembled at the Wildlife and Fisheries Building on Fat Tuesday.
Suspicious National Guardsmen and out-of-state troopers warily regarded the ragged parade of the early intoxicated, smelling of burnt leaves and breakfast screwdrivers, dressed in ways only the part-time preachers among them could have imagined, and then only in a place warmer than the city in February. We were not about to let a simple thing like a police strike spoil the party. Several among us dressed as the National Guard in uniforms from the surplus stores in Gentilly, armed with perfect replica rifles by Mattel. When we went to buy wine and beer at the Walgreen’s on Canal, and our friends burst into the door yelling “secure the beer cooler,” clerks fell to the floor in fright, fearing perhaps that the Guard had had enough, and were about to shut down carnival.
I fled the city a few years later, and did not return for Mardi Gras once for almost two decades. The few Mardi Gras that followed the police strike were colored by my reasons for leaving the city, memories rent by heartache and drowned in drink. Those last few years did not yield the stories I would tell my children if they fed me too much wine at some holiday dinner years from now. For many years, the police strike was the Last Mardi Gras. My children, a boy ten and a girl fourteen, grew up knowing Mardi Gras through the Disney film fairy tale filter of the stories I dared to tell them, from the magazine that came with the king cake from Ma Mere every year, in the music I played them from Twelfth Night until the day. We ate jambalaya and king cake, and donned masks and beads to dance wildly to Mardi Gras Vol. 1 in front of the large plate glass window of our home in a small Midwestern town. Neighbors across the street peered through their curtains intermittently at the scene, but no one ever worked up the courage to ask us what we were doing.
I have taken my family to New Orleans. The kids had sneezed powdered sugar all over each other at the Cafe du Monde, fondled baby alligators on flat boats out of Barataria, had learned to eat seafood and gumbo and jambalaya, had even wandered with me through Storyland in City Park. I took them to the exhibit at the Cabildo to learn about Mardi Gras. It’s a wonderful set piece but, like a high school health film on sex, it is not quite the same as the actual experience.
So we piled onto an airplane bound for New Orleans the year before the Flood, and went to Mardi Gras. I took them to St. Charles and Napoleon, and my son waved his deftly caught spear with complete abandon. My daughter was bashful about begging trinkets from strangers in a strange land, until I flung myself stone cold sober on my knees in the middle of the Avenue and begged as loudly as I could for a female horse posse rider to give me a purple, green and gold flower for my daughter on her first Mardi Gras. After that, she got the idea. No pretty girl on St. Charles Avenue should go home without her weight in beads. She only needed to ask.
We stood for hours all weekend, parade after parade, never tiring of it, interrupted only by a friend’s party Endymion party on Saturday night. After Endymion, I left them with Ma Mere and set out after midnight to return to the MoM’s ball for the first time in two decades. MoM’s had always been one of my favorite things about Mardi Gras, a gathering of all who chose to live in the fabric of Mardi Gras and not just inhabit a costume for a few hours, a party only the resolutely dissolute can enjoy, or survive. MoM’s is what I hope Saturday night in Hell will be like, should I find myself stuck there between planes. But thousands in a shed did not hold up to the memories of hundreds in a hall in Arabi decades before. I don’t know if I will return to MoM’s, preferring this one true memory of carnival’s past. And then I can say well, I don’t go anymore, you know, but back when…
I agonized for weeks and months before we went: should I take the children to the Quarter on Mardi Gras Day, or back to St. Charles? As I child, I spent most Mardi Gras at my great aunt’s apartment on Royal Street, now the Hove’ Parfumier. I decided they should have a glimpse of the secret heart of Mardi Gras, or as least as much as they could handle. So we rose up early on the day, donned our costumes, and boarded a cab bound for Frenchman Street. We waited endlessly across from the R-Bar for St. Anne’s, not knowing those marchers had chosen another route. Facing a rebellion, we took off and made our own way up Royal, stopping to sit a moment on Tante Gert and Sadie’s stoop, making Canal just in time for Zulu.
After Rex, I left them in my sister’s care for the endless truck floats, and retired to friend’s places in the Quarter. I stopped briefly in the Abbey, a place that had never been the same since Betz sold it. Instead of the usual motley crew of bikers or transvestites or other folk I had often encountered on past trips home, I found it full of drunken twenty somethings who looked frighteningly like the crowd I remember from my own days, as if the Abbey were haunted for the night by the spirits of the place of my memories. I bought a round of snakebites for a familiar seeming couple and then the currents swept me back to Frenchman Street, a mad Green Man second lining with a huge palm tree totem given to me be someone who knew just how to complete my costume.
Now I have a new last Mardi Gras. We are coming back to the city to stay, to march again and again, so that there is no longer a Last Mardi Gras, just the last Mardi Gras. I will march until my time is done, and then I will borrow a ritual from St. Anne’s, in this city of borrowed rituals. I will have my children scatter what remains of me into the river on Fat Tuesday. For me, it will be the Last Mardi Gras. For them, it will simply be a moment from last Mardi Gras. They will say a few words, shed a tear, and then all of us will be swept away by the currents. They will turn away from the river, while nearby a drunken trumpeter will perhaps blow a few bars of Oh Didn’t He Ramble, and I will march in their hearts back into the Quarter once more.
Shoe February 2, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in Carnival, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, NOLA, Rebirth, Recovery.
Tags: Carnival, Mardi Gras, Muses, New Orleans, NOLA. Krewe, parade, shoe
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All Hail Muses!
Krewe du Vieux Soldats: Fading, fading… January 20, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in Carnival, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Krewe du Vieux, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, New York, Rebirth, We Are Not OK.
Tags: absenthe, absinthe, beads, Bywater, Carnival, French Quarter, hangover, Krewe du Vieux, Mardi Gras, Marigny, New Orleans, NOLA, parade
This morning’s exchange of emails among the New Orleans bloggers who march in Krewe du Vieux:
Me, 9:32 am: Subject Line: Ughhhhhh Message: Who turned on the sun?
Maitri, 10:10 am: Just woke up. Hobbling around kitchen in search of coffee and bloody marys. Oy.
Karen, 10:20 am: My fallen arches are killing me.
Peter, 11:29 am: My feet are still cold and my legs are in need of an amputation or something.
Kim, 11:41 am: Can ya’ll please keep your voices down? It’s making my head hurt.
On another note, my last blog post was perfectly prescient: two years running now I’ve managed fabulously drunk and I managed to not find several of the bloggers in a space of a few thousand square feet. That tiny space was packed, however, with the skimmed cream of New Orleans insanity. I tried several times to get back to Mama Roux’s table to try to cadge a jello shot and find Kim, but it was simply impossible to squeeze back there. (I finally got one from my co-worker, L.H.; questioning him and his charming wife still didn’t uncover the secret of how two newcomers to New Orleans managed to get into MR).
Peter, Grace, Lisa, Ashley and his bride looked fabulous in their seersucker robes and cocktail hats honoring Lafacadio Hearn. I also never managed to squeeze my well-lubricated body into C.R.A.P.S’ tight cranny (now cut that out, filthy minded old sot), and so I never did see Matri, either. I did see Ray, who walked with C.R.A.P.S. as security. Bec of New Orleans Slate marched with us and shared our throws since she rejoined our Krewe at the last moment when the captain sponsored her to march. (Hurray for Billy). She’d been out of circulation mostly taking care of her husband after his terrible accident involving his mule and carriage.
I lost my flask of Absenthe somewhere early along the parade route. (Dude! I’ll give you a hundred dollars if you drink the greed shit in that bottle in the street). This was probably a good thing, as a little absinthe goes a long way. Thankfully d.b.a was close to hand, and in spite of their sociopatheic manager-cum-bouncer we finished up the night with a raft of good German beer. I didn’t know a single name on the band list but spent an hour or more scrunched up at the front of the stage and had a blast. It was all good.
Coming to Take You Away January 19, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in Carnival, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, French Quarter, Krewe du Vieux, Mardi Gras, New Orleans, Rebirth, Remember, Toulouse Street.
Tags: beads, Bywater, Carnival, French Quarter, Krewe du Vieux, laissez les bon temps roulet, Mardi Gras, Marigny, obscenity, parade, parody, public drunkeness, satire, Vieux Carre
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The Magical Misery Tour is coming to take you away (coming to take you awaaayyy….). Perhaps, once you’ve seen us all out on the streets, you’ll think they should be coming to take us away. No matter. It’s time for the Krewe du Vieux to once again stain the shiny, Sidney-Torres washed streets of New Orleans and once again diminish the city’s magical brand as They City That Forgot to Care.
Our King is Ronald W. Lewis of the Lower Ninth Ward in New Orleans: Director, House of Dance & Feathers and President, Big 9 Social Aid & Pleasure Club.
The secret sub-subKrewe of B.L.O.G.* will once again celebrate by getting notoriously drunk and failing to each other at the ball. Our featured drink will be Absinthe. As the self-appointed captain of this nearly non-existant group, I proclaim Bec our Queen, since I’m so pickled she’s going to make it and march. Not as pickled, however, as I will be later tonight. My personal theme this year is Getting L.H. Really Drunk and Taking Embarrassing Pictures I Can Use To Advance My Career at the Bank. My costume is titled: Oh! Wendy? but only someone who thinks Capitol when they hear “hill” will figure out how the hell it fits into the Seeds of Decline’s theme of Fools on the Hill.
And don’t forget the Krewe du Vieux Doo, at 2121 Chartres St., featuring 101 Runners (Mardi Gras Indian Funk), Juice with Special Guest J.D. Hill, Honey Island Swamp Band, and Late Night Trip by Quintron and Miss cat (whatever that is). Tickets are advance sale only at:
- Mardi Gras Zone: 2706 Royal Street
- Louisiana Music Factory: 210 Decatur Street
- Up In Smoke: 4507 Magazine Street
- Miss Claudia’s Vintage Clothing and Costumes
*B.L.O.G. is the Benevolent and Order of the Garrulous.
Space is the Place January 18, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, home, Hurricane Katrina, New Orelans, New Orleans, NOLA, poem, Poetry, quotes, Rebirth, Remember, Sinn Fein, Sun Ra, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized, We Are Not OK.
Tags: New Orleans, NOLA, parade, poem, Poetry, Rebirth, space is the place, Sun Ra
“The first thing to do
is to consider time
officially as ended.
We work on the other side
— Sun Ra
I want to march like Sun-Ra
in glittering alien threads
into an Oakland pool-hall
and declare our intention to embark.
New Orleans, as ruined as the pyramids,
rising up majestic in the air
on howling trombone notes of joy
to launch another crescent in the sky.
The sun will strike us colorblind
once we’re beyond the atmosphere.
We’ll cast the last debris off over Kansas
and shower them a carnival of stars.
Together like stranded astronauts
who’ve exhausted the last of our air,
we’ll lift off the mask at last
and dare to breath together.
We’ll claim our place at last
in the ancient parade of zodiac
where Bayou Andromeda
brushes up against the Milky Way
Cross-posted from Poems Before Breakfast.
Stringing up dozens January 13, 2008Posted by Mark Folse in Carnival, cryptic envelopment, Dancing Bear, Debrisville, French Quarter, Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, Toulouse Street, Uncategorized.
Tags: beads, Carnival, French Quarter, Krewe du Vieux, Krewe of St. Anne, Krewe of St.Anne, march, Mardi Gras, Mardi Gras Indians, New Orleans, NOLA, parade, Societe de Sainte Anne
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In a world where all of our holidays come cleverly packaged on the shelves–Christmas trees with embedded lights decked and holiday cookies ready-made at the local grocery’s bakery–most people no longer have the simple traditions long ago. I once cut my own tree, wading through a foot of Minnesota snow at 20 degrees to do it, but I can’t say I’ve ever strung up popcorn. Holidays like Halloween are much the same. Our children’s costumes come in plastic bags and no one dares put out a homemade treat since we now another parents will just dump it in the garbage.
Mardi Gras is one place where the handmade is still valued. Yes, the parade floats are largely mass-produced and much recycled by a handful of shops, the stores are full of kitschy decorations and of course there will be lots of people roaming St. Charles Avenue and the French Quarter in costumes from some store named The Party Pit. That is part of Carnival, but not the heart of Carnival.
On the big day, hundreds of African-American men and women will step out of their houses in costumes like these. The Societé de Sainte Anne and all of the other small marching groups will step out in elaborate costumes made by hand, either by themselves or by seamstresses. My own costume for Krewe du Vieux is still forming up, but it’s fairly simply and mostly conceptual. I may find it easier in a busy life to dress my son store-bought, but I’ve always tried to assemble my own costumes. I don’t got to the lengths of Danger Blonde, who yearly makes custom beaded-object throws and fabulous bustiers for the Divine Protectors of Endangered Pleasures, but if you’re going to dress you might as well be do it right. Every year around this time, I head in my head the admonishment of one of the Mardi Gras Indian chiefs being interviewed on WWOZ sometime back in the 1980s: Don’t be fallin’ out of your house with no needle an’ thread in your hand. I wish to hell I knew who had said that, but it’s stuck with me forever.
One thing we must do every year at our house is collect all of the caught beads we’ve saved up (and my son and I are dogged parade goers, working the neutral ground from morning to night all the week-ends before Carnival), and begin the slow process of untangling, matching up by size, and making up new dozens to toss back out when we march through Marigny and the Quarter.
Stringing up dozens is one of those tasks like cleaning out the attic that is often is slowed down by “remember when” moments (wasn’t Chaos funny last year? Remember the guy we saw….), as well as interrupted by comedy: finding that whoopee cushion, or the little foam rockets you can launch with a rubber band on the tip that turns our bead stringing party into a temporary war zone.
My son groaned this year when I told him it was time to string up the beads into dozens. He would rather hang out with a friend and play his WII. For him, Carnival is mostly new. I am a native with thirty years of Carnival under my belt before we came back to New Orleans in 2006, but this is really only his third year and his second as an Orleanian. It was not, for him, a tradition but a chore like cleaning up his room: until we got started, and found the whoopie cushions and rockets.
As long as I have legs to march I will look forward to stringing up the dozens, especially the few years I have left before my 12-year old boy is either too damn busy to help (like his socially swirling 15 year old sister) or gone from the house. For me, it is not the arrival of King Cakes in the stores (and most places were putting them out with red and green sugar in December), or the first time I open the paper and it falls open to the débutante pictures of Krewe’s ball, or even taking down the Christmas decorations with Mardi Gras Vol. 1 blaring on Twelfth Night. Carnival begins at the Folse house when I start to haul in and down the bags of tangled baubles and dump them out onto the table, and we closed the circle that connects the last Mardi Gras to this year’s Carnival, one string at a time.