Warehouse Mardi Gras

March 9, 2019

A couple of weeks ago I was lucky enough to be in New Orleans about a minute before Mardi Gras hit its Fat Tuesday height. Even better, I wrangled my way into a few warehouse studios thanks to my friend Reynard, an artist whose fulltime gig is painting parade floats.

Anyone unfamiliar with Mardi Gras in New Orleans might not realize Mardi Gras goes way beyond just Fat Tuesday. Carnival in New Orleans begins as soon as the new year turns, and there seems no end to the parade of parades. The weekend before and up through Fat Tuesday, you can see up to six parades a day, and Fat Tuesday alone has eleven parades going on all day long across the city.0

Catholics might begin their Lenten season of fasting, self-denial, and prayer on Ash Wednesday, but in New Orleans the parades continue. On St. Patrick’s Day, float riders have been known to toss raw cabbages instead of beads, and on St. Joseph’s Day, March 19, the American Italian Marching Club holds their parade in the French Quarter. The Sunday closest to St. Joseph’s Day is “Super Sunday,” because it’s the day the famous Mardi Gras Indians emerge Uptown to parade and display their incredibly ornate costumes.

So if you don’t mind paint by the gallon and a canvas the size of an 18-wheeler, you too could make art every day, then have your creation viewed by thousands for one bright, shining moment. Think big.

Reynard showed me floats for two parades, one playful, one classic. First was Iris, the first female Krewe, dating back to 1917. Their theme this year was “Iris Through a Child’s Eyes.” Yep, you’ll recognize some of these folks . . .

Next was the remarkable collection of floats from the Krewe of Hermes, an all-male Krewe that began in the midst of the Depression. Hermes holds the distinction of having the first-ever parade with neon lights in 1938 and being the oldest continuous night parading krewe in Carnival. Hermes was also one of the first krewes to parade following Hurricane Katrina; their 2006 parade drew record crowds.

The Krewe of Hermes has a reputation for parading floats with the highest level of craftsmanship and detail. The handcrafted and painted flowers, the statuesque props, and the gold leaf create stunning tableaus one after another. This year’s theme? The Court Music of King Louis XIV, the Sun King, with a little art deco styling thrown in for good measure.

I was back in NH before Hermes hit the streets, but thanks to nola.com and the Times-Picayune, I could experience a little bit of the parade online. There was a mystery to seeing the floats waiting in the warehouse for their one night, and a delight to get a close look without getting hip-checked by bead enthusiasts, but I am sorry I missed seeing their one night of glory on the streets. Maybe next year. . .

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Okay, no one was naked, but I’ve had this title in my cache since my friend Reynard used it as the subject line for a post-Mardi Gras email he sent me years ago and I just had to use it if only so now it’s copyrighted under my name. (Reynard’s a painter not a writer, so I feel no qualms about stealing it). Plus, it works in so many ways: All the Wrong People Were Drunk, All the Wrong People Were Dancing, All the Wrong People Were Swindled. Try it, you’ll see!

Anyhow, here I am with the post-reunion blog. . . I came away from the night feeling that curious mix of fulfillment and frustration—glad I reconnected with friends I hadn’t seen in ages, sad that time ran out too soon or was spent in idle group banter about bad haircuts, growing midriffs, and the unfortunate effects of too many Jell-O shots. I wanted to pull one friend after another aside so I could get down to the truer business of how their lives really were, as if I were working on a ninth grade biology project and could (theoretically!) slice down their middles with a scalpel. I wanted to see their inner workings as if, through looking at their lives outside and in, I could understand my own life—the choices I’ve made, the mistakes I’ve made, the triumphs I’ve had that now seem too distant and unremarkable.

But I’m a writer—I assume everyone understands their own lives by explicating the lives and stories of others—perhaps I expected too much from this one event. And while I did file away some terrific anecdotes I heard that I’ll be able cannibalize for future fiction, ultimately the reunion was just another slightly awkward social event that everyone experienced with different degrees of anxiety and delight. I spent part of the night assigning updated senior superlatives to various attendees: Most Likely to Have A Diamond Studded Pinkie Ring, Most Likely To Still Know Every Word to Back In Black, Most Likely to Maintain the Same ‘80s Hairdo Until Death (and no, I’m not being snarky—I could easily win every one of these superlatives myself).

I spent the other part of the night wishing the band–as they got tired of playing all the ‘80s tunes they knew and the lead singer began Googling lyrics to ‘80s tunes on his iPhone so they could try out new songs–had begun playing live Karaoke for the crowd. I know for sure they could have gotten each and every one of us behind the mic for blistering versions of “I Love Rock and Roll,” or “Melt With You.” It would have been wonderful and excruciating, yet overall an event to remember.

And here’s where I look back at the yin and yang of this blog: fulfilling and frustrating, mistakes and triumphs, anxiety and delight, wonderful and excruciating. That doesn’t just describe a high school reunion—it also describes high school to a T, no? We all relived that mix of emotions on Saturday night, and just like we were ecstatic to graduate and be gone so many years ago, my guess is that on Saturday night we also were all happy to get out of Gunstock and escape back to our homes. But it doesn’t mean we won’t come back to give this reunion thing another shot ten years from now, straggling in to Gunstock or Pheasant Ridge with our anticipation and reservations equally intact.

And while many were missed this year because they didn’t attend or, sadly, couldn’t attend, as they’ve left us way too soon—Mark Merlini, Gar Green, Dave Musacchio, Brian Bean, and Tom Fabian—we all were together in spirit. So I’ll end by saying with firm conviction: All the Right People Were With Us.