February 6, 2008

Mardi Gras (B)Log Post-script: Ashy to Flashy

We awoke today surrounded by boas and sunglasses. An overcast sky dissolved slowly in the living room window after an evening of tropical showers and low rumbling thunder and sky-wide lightning. Beads hang from the front door and down the railing on the frontsteps. Picked up off the floor, the following images and recalls...

Friday Night Lights

Through a work connection, I got us into a party on Friday night along St. Charles. The home belonged to a very wealthy man, whose gusto in decoration, if not his taste, is beyond question. We knew it would be an upper-crust affair, and took a few days to get the Chaplin/Tina Turner look completed, debating if it was enough and unsure of the audience. When we met up with our friends--a man dressed in a cheerleader's outfit and a woman done up as Amy Winehouse--we recieved no further clues.

Upon arrival, the honk-honks were blowing and the owner's dogs had the run of the place. I met a soul sister....

...and we did what we could to get along with some fairly wrecked rich folks. Balconies aren't necessarily the best place to catch beads, but there was enough weirdness to go around and a lot of free scotch. They'd wrapped kingcakes around the bannister and dressed the dogs in boas. As one honest woman drawled to me, "You can't make that sh*t up."


We check out Tucks on a warm afternoon, then ride down to Canal, where Tina Turner walks into the Athlete's Foot like it's a Rodeo Drive boutique and switches out her heels for a pair of Converse.

We spend a few hours at Handsome Willy’s, reflecting, refracting, and requesting songs from the DJ. An island in a sea of parking lots, the bar's isolation makes you feel as if the sky is bigger and brighter and the right ceiling to talk it all over again. This has been a year that I won't forget. Whatever the results, we've been trying and we keep on evolving; that's the only course there is, I guess. Still on the immature side somedays, I decline the jambalaya, which is not a smart move in a marathon.

Kimberly and I ride our bikes directly into the teeth of the parade, past the clutches of the National Guard, the NOPD, and assorted keepers of order. Endmion feels like it’s as long as the city, and as it reaches Canal, dusk sinks it.

Out in Mid-City, the crowds are too damn big. As in every parade, you see more wasted adults toting kids, if not ignoring or bitching at them, then you ever need to. The fever of intoxication and the dark streets around Endymion's route give the air a sinister vibe, and we're glad to get out of it.

We lock our bikes up on Scott St., and walk the rest of the way to Fairgrinds to hear ol’ James Winnfield and meet up with Flavius Josephus and his queen. When we return the next morning to retrieve the bikes, Canal St is a great dustbin of plastic bags and dead bottles and boxes. Things appear left behind, as if someone forgot to schedule a clean up (this is 10am the next morning). I hear they did get around to it after all.

Coming back from the bike pick-up, I drive down our block on Pauline and Kim says, "Is that art?"

"No, baby, that guy drives that car!"

Apparently this Miata exploded in flames at 9am Sunday morning. FJ and his lady listened from the living room to the car's swansong, a dying horn. These things happen, but a bullet casing was found on the sidewalk, and causality is tough to trace in a phenomenon like this. Whether or not their car was shot, our neighbors sent it on home with beads and a mask, and spray-painted the blackended driver's side with "Because it's Carnival Time!" in gold. People are resilient in the city, but it's a bit scary how close everyone lives to the flame of accident and gunfire.

One Way to Crack a Coconut

After taking a few people from a party to the Big Top, where I unexpectedly sit-in on drums to form a very wobbly punk trio (people walked out), we move on to the Circle Bar to see Little Freddie King. Between us, we get that place turned out and dancing til last call. The drummer gives Kim a Zulu coconut, the most prized throw to catch during Mardi Gras. I guess Zulu had a message for the mayor this year.

I wake up Tuesday at 8:45am and scream, "Oh, sh*t!" I have some warped notion that we needed to get up by 7am to catch the Indians, so I force FJ and Kim to get up quick. We ride to Claiborne and Esplanade, and all through Treme and some of the 7th ward. Crowds and plumes of smoke line Basin Street and run up and down Claiborne, but no Indians in sight. The delirium is catching up to me and we go back to the Bywater to catch St. Ann's parade.

In my haste, I forgot the camera, and have no images from the spectacle of that parade, though I don't know if photos/videos could do it justice. The most beautiful group of people in the brightest costumes mosey up from Burgundy and Clouet, cross into the Marigny and then swallow up block after block of the quarter, picking up followers and freaking out tourists. The climax this year for us, not just for the parade, but for the entire Carnival, was a wedding along the river.

After the priest (or whatever his title was) asks us to focus on the power of the Mississippi, a friend of the couple reads the Hopi Elder's Prophecy, which finishes with these lines, and thus captures the soul of the crowd...

And I say, see who is in there with you and celebrate. At this time inhistory, we are to take nothing personally, least of all ourselves.
For the moment that we do, our spiritual growth and journey come to a halt.
The time of the one wolf is over. Gather yourselves!
Banish the word 'struggle' from your attitude and your vocabulary.
All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.
We are the ones we've been waiting for.

It is something else to hear this and to believe, even for a fleeting tear, that it is true, of you, and everyone around you, whether you know them or not. And to look at yourself and see that you are improbably dressed as a warrior of sorts, not of violence or pride, but of defiance and play, have come through again to the reach the river, with your woman and your great friend, and that nature has given a day bright and clear to shine on silk and face paint and skin, to takeover the streets and to strut down them and represent--that's Mardi Gras Day for me.

I am thankful to have survived and enjoyed another Mardi Gras. I'll miss it until next year, but will do my best to live in the good gifts it brings and hold off on the iller visions and pitfalls it bears. Like it's home, Mardi Gras is full of the best and the worst.
That Miata is still sitting out there, the lights in the mask flashing weakly.