Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Carnival Parades

Colin and I went to a lot of parades over the carnival season. Every parade is a bit different, there are mule driven floats which specialize in satire and home made costumes (Krewe deVeix) parades featuring only dogs (Krewe of Barkus) Historically black parades (Krewe of Zulu) and krewes who ride on motorcycles (Shriner's parade). To really understand Mardi Gras parades though, you first need to understand Krewes.

Krewes are the organizations that put together the money and riders for every parade. They are called Krewes after the first New Orleans parade association, the Mystic Krewe of Comus, who thought the spelling of crew with a k and an extra e looked more archaic. (shoppe anyone?) Apparently there are two kinds of krewes; those that are traditional, and the newer bigger superkrewes. Superkrewes tend to be larger and have more floats, with celebrities invited to ride on them, while the traditional krewes tend to choose their royalty from within and hold very old fashioned balls.

Grand marshal of the Endymion parade, Kevin Costner. Note that in the second photo Costner is photographing the crowd photographing him. Meta!

In the krewes with royal courts (king and queen, princess and or prince, dukes and duchesses, and knights) the royalty ride on special floats in more elaborate costumes. The more elaborate the costume the higher up in the hierarchy that rider is. Queens, princesses and maids are often debutantes. Some of the aristocracy (knights or lieutenants) ride on horses that accompany floats, and some parades employ horse troops that ride between official floats. Colin was noting that he found the combination of the masked riders and the flambeaux a bit too reminiscent of the KKK. I think you can see what he meant below.

Horsemen of Mardi Gras. In the first photo, we feature the scary KKK like rider wearing a Capucon (you can almost hear him saying ' I'm gonna get you, Jew!', but I think he is actually just tossing a doubloon). In the second, a less threatening rider who gave me a plastic rose. (My hero!)

If the parade is taking place at night, it is traditional for some Krewes to employ lit flambeaux or torches carried before each float to provide lighting. Flambeaux date from the era before electric street lights in New Orleans, and the flame carriers were slaves and then after the Reconstruction, creoles or free black men. Today it is often homeless or underemployed individuals who can make a bit of extra money for an evening of work. It used to be the case that parade watchers would tip the flambeaux carriers to make sure that they were compensated for the service they were provided, although I did not see anyone stuffing dollars into the pants of the flambeaux carriers we saw.

Flambeaux carriers and their torches resting momentarily as the parade is delayed during Endymion. You can see the kerosene tanks and the aluminum torch backings.

In the larger well funded parades you have multilevel decorated floats complete with masked riders who toss objects out at you as the floats go by. Except for Krewe de Veiux who use mule driven floats, all the floats we saw were driven by tractors from Kern's Mardi Gras world, the company that creates most of the Mardi Gras floats.

A tractor pulling a float at the Zulu parade, with a member of the royal party on board. A photo showing that the tractors are powered by Biodiesel.

Float exteriors are created from elaborately sculpted paper mache, then painted and further decorated with silver and gold gilt sheets. Some floats also have built in lighting. all of the float designs are made to match the krewe's parade theme for the year. This year, for example, the parade of Rex 's theme was "Royal Rivers" and featured the great rivers of the world, and the parade of Orpheus featured "Cocktail Concoctions" where each float represented a drink.

a float from the parade of Endymion with built in lighting, a float from the Hermes parade with gilt.

a siren from the parade of Morpheus, and Riki Ticki Tavi from Endymion's "Salute to Rudyard Kipling".

Between floats with krewe members, there are marching bands from local high schools or musicians on their own small, less elaborate floats. There were some amazing marching bands in the parades we saw, with flag girls, cheerleaders and high steppers. There was this hold up at one point during the Muses parade, and we were entertained by the impromptu music and dance maneuvers of the local high school band in front of us. It was strangely moving to watch these teen agers basically entertaining themselves and dancing and playing just for the pure joy of it. All I can say is those kids had more rhythm than I will ever have.

the steam powered calliope and band from Arizona, the most ridiculous band we saw.

Other than the parade of Krewe du Veiux, the only parade in which we saw krewe members walking was the krewe of Zulu, which had adjunct members parade in costume behind floats and between bands. Krewe du Veiux has its members walk because each of their floats is powered by a single mule, and the float revelers would be far too much weight for that poor animal.

Walking paraders from the Krewe of Zulu.

All of the krewe members, whether on horses, floats, or even walking carry with them throws. Throws are trinkets for the parade attendees, named after the phrase "throw me something, mister!" a phrase that is shouted at floats as they drive by. Throws can range from plastic beads in a variety of colors and sizes, to cups and doubloons with the krewe's name and year emblazoned on them. Small stuffed animals are also commonly thrown to children and cute drunk college girls. Probably the most treasured Mardi Gras throw are the hand decorated coconuts thrown by Zulu(Colin and I each got one, score!). Throws are perhaps the strangest part of a Mardi Gras parade, since they cost thousands of dollars and some people collect only one type of throw. We saw signs that people held up to floats with requests for just doubloons, or only beads. Also, people will get into arguments or fights over a particular coveted throw.

An assortment of cups and doubloons. Some of the small stuffed objects we received.

Throw me a Lemur, Zulu king! ( The Lemur was actually being tossed to the small child next to me.)


Blogger Benjamin said...

How beautifully insane.

February 13, 2008 at 9:03 AM  

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home