Endymion

February 10, 2018. Endymion lines up.

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.

The Mardi Gras fountain. Photo courtesy of Yelp

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.

We’re about to conclude the year of the Rooster. Welcome, year of the Dog.

Here, Winter Is

City Park, New Orleans, January 1, 2018

Wherefore no man grows wise without he have his share of winters—from The Wanderer, an Old English poem

As my first post of 2018, I was going to write something about how I resent New Year’s resolutions, yet feel compelled to make them anyway. And work in something about how I began this year as I began the last, with a walk in New Orleans’ City Park. But how the big difference was the weather.

So, I’ll start there. It’s cold! From the morning of January 1:

Okay, okay, I know this is downright balmy compared to some spots in the Midwest and along the east coast. But it’s all relative, right? The average January temperature in New Orleans is a low somewhere in the ’40s, and a high in the ’60s. (Fahrenheit, of course.) See, my app said it felt like 14 degrees! And apps don’t lie. (Do they?) And how about all those hard freeze warnings!

Anyway, I bundled up and took my walk. It wasn’t so bad, except when the wind started to blow. That’s when it must have felt like 14 degrees. I got some nice wintry pics of City Park, so it felt worthwhile.

On to resolutions. They’re awfully “should-y.” As in, “I should exercise more, I should eat more healthily.” It always makes me think of Yoda’s admonition to Luke in The Empire Strikes Back: “No! Try not. Do, or do not. There is no try.” It’s like the difference between intention and resolution. I had intended (not resolved) to swim some laps (in an indoor heated pool) before work yesterday morning. But it was really cold, and it was tough to get out of bed, and my throat was a little sore (maybe from that cold walk). So I did not swim laps. Thanks to Yoda, and the line of demarcation between intention and resolution, I don’t feel like a failure. If I had resolved to swim laps, and hadn’t, then I might be feeling like a failure.

It’s also why I’m hesitant to apply resolutions to my writing. In 2018, I’ll see the conclusion of my eighth year of this fiction-writing journey. Early on, I made writing resolutions—both New Year’s and Lenten—to write something every day, or to finish a short story. Things along those lines. But as I’ve come to view writing as a vocation, resolving to do these things feels like resolving to show up to work when I’m scheduled. It’s an unnecessary resolution. Showing up at my job is something I just have to do, or do not. And be ready to face the consequences if I do not.

So that’s where I find myself this winter, this extra-cold start to 2018. I’m deep into the re-writes for my second novel. I need to make the time to finish these re-writes, in short order. I intend for my time spent “doing” to far outweigh my time spent “do not-ing.”

I’ll go back to the beginning to conclude this post. That quote about wisdom growing through your share of winters is something I remember from high school. I must have encountered it in English Lit, and it’s something that has stayed with me ever since. I hadn’t remembered that it pre-dates the Norman conquest of England—thanks for that, Google. While I’m not that old, I’ve seen at least thirty winters since I first read that line. I can only hope that I’m wiser now for having seen those winters through.

The Spider Queen

There is a theater company here in New Orleans called The NOLA Project. They’ve been around for more than ten years now, so they don’t really qualify as “newcomers.” But I’ve seen many of their productions over the years, and I’m always struck by how they manage to keep things fresh.

Case in point, there’s their annual spring production in the New Orleans Museum of Art’s sculpture garden. A (sort-of) quick aside: the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden is one of my favorite places in the city. There is something transcendent about the way the sculptures are seamlessly woven into the five acre landscape of mature oak and pine.

And an aside to the aside: the name itself features a bit of New Orleans history. Sydney Besthoff was one of the principals in Katz and Besthoff, or K&B—a pharmacy that dominated the New Orleans cityscape for most of the twentieth century. People of a certain age in this city will still describe a particular color as “K&B purple.”

I’m so inspired by the sculpture garden, I set the final scene of The Incident Under the Overpass there. But I guess I’m not the only one inspired by it. I have to believe The NOLA Project’s latest production, The Spider Queen, was at least partially inspired by some of its sculptures. It’s an original play, written by James Bartelle and Alex Martinez Wallace. James Bartelle is the Associate Artistic Director of The NOLA Project.

I saw The Spider Queen with two nieces on Friday. The play was staged on the patch of ground in front of a sculpture called “Spider” by Louise Bourgeois. It’s the one pictured at the top of this post. (That photo was taken about four years ago, during one of the three cold-ish months we have in New Orleans.)

The most remarkable thing about The Spider Queen was, hands-down, the puppets. There was a bird operated by two puppeteers, and a dragon that (I think) had five puppeteers. The ogres had just one puppeteer apiece:

And the production saved the best for last. Here’s the Spider Queen herself. I think she had six puppeteers:

So, back to the original point I was attempting to make, about The NOLA Project keeping things fresh. The spring production in the sculpture garden is an annual thing, and it’s something I’ve done with an assortment of nieces over the years.

For several years in a row, it was Shakespeare in the garden. It was during Much Ado About Nothing, as I recall, when we had messy crepes filled with speculoos and had to fend off a termite swarm. (The two things are not related. Termites swarm in New Orleans every May, regardless of what’s in your crepe. If swearing off speculoos would keep the termites away, I would do it. Reluctantly.)

As timeless as Shakespeare can be, I’m glad The NOLA Project hasn’t felt compelled to stage the Bard every spring in the sculpture garden. While I’m sure some of the universal human foibles that inspired Shakespeare are still around, it was a lot of fun to see a contemporary composition, inspired by one of the very same places that inspires me.

Not to mention, niece Kate can do a spot-on imitation of the ogres. Much better than I bet Shakespeare himself could have done.