This past Sunday was the Epiphany, or King Cake Day as it’s known to some around these parts. January 6 marks the date the three wise kings visited the baby Jesus in Bethlehem. In New Orleans, it marks the start of the Mardi Gras season, and also the date when king cakes become available.
If you’re not familiar with king cakes, I wrote about them a few years back, in a post titled, appropriately enough, King Cakes. For the next two months, these sweet treats will be purveyed at bakeries all around town.
There were also parades and parties on Sunday, of which I did not partake (I’ve been fighting a cold for the past week and a half). The weather was perfect, however, so I did get out for a nice long walk right after sunrise. A good opportunity to clear the lungs and nasal passages, (not a pretty picture) and, more suitable for this blog, capture a few photos (hopefully prettier pictures).
It’s a long Carnival season this year — Fat Tuesday isn’t until March 5 — so I’m confident I’ll have ample time to join in the festivities. In the meantime, here’s my own, simple, gentle epiphany: I’m happy to be part of a place that elevates food, music and frivolity to royal levels, but still allows me to escape into its sylvan expanses when needed.
The 2018 Mardi Gras season just concluded yesterday. Today is Ash Wednesday, but I’ve written about that before. I marched in the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus on Saturday, February 3. It’s a sci-fi themed Mardi Gras parade, and it’s a good fit for me. As it was my fourth year participating, I’ve written about that experience before, too.
I realized I’ve never written about Endymion, though. The Krewe of Endymion is one of the self-proclaimed “Super-Krewes,”—gargantuan, extravagant parades that punctuate the days leading up to Mardi Gras. I don’t know the exact parameters of a Super Krewe, or who determines that designation. Growing up, Endymion was always the big parade that rolled the Saturday before Mardi Gras, and Bacchus on that Sunday.
Those two parades still own the Mardi Gras weekend. But in the decade and a half that’s passed since I returned to New Orleans, three other parades have become a pretty big deal. Orpheus, which rolls the night before Mardi Gras (Lundi Gras); Nyx, on Wednesday a week before Mardi Gras, and Muses the next night, Thursday. The Krewe of Muses was the inspiration for local writer Bill Loehfelm’s latest novel, The Devil’s Muse.
It’s one of those things about living in New Orleans, and being from New Orleans, that must seem pretty alien to those not from around these parts. This innate knowledge of all the different krewes, and the components that make up a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade. There is a fountain on the south shore of Lake Pontchartrain, the Mardi Gras fountain, that I used to love as a kid. Our dad would drive us out there some evenings; and when the fountain was turned on, and the lights were a-blazing, it was a pretty impressive sight.
I took a walk out there this past summer, and perused all the placards that line the fountain. One for each krewe that has paraded during Mardi Gras, going back about a century. Many of those krewes are not around any more. I had a thought of making a blog post about each of those krewes—I’d have more than a year’s worth of material.
But, obviously, I didn’t give it much more than a thought. I knew I’d get bored with the subject matter pretty quickly.
So, anyway, Endymion. This parade runs a different route from all the other big parades in New Orleans. (Chewbacchus also runs a different route, but it’s not a “big” parade.) Whereas the big parades roll Uptown, and along historic St. Charles Avenue, Endymion rolls through Mid City. And for the decade and a half that I’ve been back in New Orleans, I’ve lived right at the start of the Endymion parade.
The parade’s floats line up alongside City Park. This past Saturday, I took a walk with sister-in-law Christie, and mother-in-law Aprill, and captured a few photos of the dormant creations, before they were loaded with riders.
Rain threatened all day, but we managed to stay dry for most of our walk. We only had to employ the umbrella in the last few minutes before we made it back home.
So, this past Saturday, I had a blast participating in The Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus Mardi Gras parade. It was my third year marching with The Leijorettes, a subkrewe of Chewbacchus; this is my second year writing about it.
For those of you not from around these parts, here’s the interpretation of that first paragraph. The name of the parade is an amalgam of Chewbacca, the legendary Wookiee warrior of Star Wars fame, and Bacchus, the Greco-Roman god of wine. The organization that pulls a Mardi Gras parade together is called a “Krewe;” so if a parade consists of many different marching groups, like Chewbacchus, those groups are called subkrewes. The Leijorettes are a subkrewe honoring Princess Leia Organa of Alderaan (also of Star Wars fame).
I think I saw Chewbacchus listed as an “alternative” parade in the official Mardi Gras guide. It’s been around for less than a decade…I’m not sure how much time it takes in the eyes of the official Mardi Gras guide to no longer be alternative. It sure felt bigger than alternative. This is from Chewbacchus’s website: “Chewbacchus has grown from a scrappy band of a couple hundred Science Fiction lovers into a walking super krewe of a couple thousand enthusiastic freaks and geeks representing the vast spectrum of pop culture fandom.” Judging by the thick crowds we marched through, Chewbacchus seems to resonate with a lot of people.
But I’m sure the crowds gathered for Chewbacchus pale in comparison to those who come out for Bacchus, the huge parade that rolls through the streets of New Orleans the Sunday before Fat Tuesday. Bacchus the parade has been around for nearly fifty years, and it’s likely what most folks in New Orleans think of when they hear the word “Bacchus.” It’s the opposite of alternative parade.
It’s kind of interesting, because according to Wikipedia, Bacchus the deity has a more comprehensive title than just god of wine. He’s listed as “god of the vine, grape harvest, winemaking, wine, ritual madness, religious ecstasy, and theatre.”
I can’t think of a more perfect descriptor for Mardi Gras than “ritual madness.” Truth be told, that madness is one of the reasons I’m very picky about how and when I partake in Mardi Gras. At my age, I’ve grown to dislike standing around in a crowd, much less a rowdy crowd. In any given year, I might be a spectator at two parades, and that’s only if I have immediate access to a nearby establishment where I can sit down, eat, take a respite from the noise (and use the facilities, if necessary).
Which brings me back around to why I thoroughly enjoy participating in the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus. The theme of this year’s parade was “The Revel Alliance.” Walking to The Leijorettes’ spot in the lineup, I got to see some fantastic costumes, banners, and themes. I loved the 1984-themed subkrewe (picture featured at the top of this post.)
And then when the parade rolls, I don’t have to worry about standing around in a rowdy crowd. Instead, I get to see the crowd’s reaction when they hear the taps on the boots of nearly one hundred Princess Leias, or see those same Leias dancing to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody.”
Chewbacchus’s brand of ritual madness is, for me, especially cathartic.