Mardi Gras in New Orleans, like the Burning Dude, is impossible to explain during just one cafe conversation. Like the Burning Dude, too, a newcomer needs to remember EASY DOES IT: enjoy the first year, don’t be too ambitious, focus in on one or two aspects, and branch out from there. Mardi Gras is a lot to swallow, and us, we’ve only just begun to chew.
Someone asked yesterday what we going to wear for our first Mardi Gras as New Orleans residents. “Do we NEED a costume?” Yes!, they said. Ohhhhh crap. Another lesson learned quickly: This is the high holy holiday in New Orleans, and even if thou art just walking down the street, thou shalt style thyself accordingly.
We are not the kind of people to show up un-costumed to a costumed event. In fact, quite the opposite. A friend offered to loan us her costumes from last year … but that just didn’t … feel … right. For our kind, costumes must be hand-crafted, filled with the spirit, and wearable post-event — not store-bought, forgotten about, and donated to the community center along with the bridesmaid’s dress and the fondue set. Our threads won’t be anything fancy — but they’ll be ours. Even at this late date, we’ll get it done.
Preparation for the fete is the spell we cast; costume, the pre-battle warpaint. As we make black-and-gold streamers for the Saints Superbowl game-day party at the Village, we wish on the Saints to win. As we cobble together the effluvia found during our Year One in NOLA, in hopes of crafting a costume that doesn’t suck … our fabric, our spirit, our memories, our treasures ground-scored and laid aside for occasions just such as this, and for that one other burning dude in August … we reflect and ponder and plan for the future. Certainly, many folks in New Orleans — especially the Mardi Gras Indians — are doing the same.
It’s meditative to sew, to make garlands and paint banners and do whatever else this homemade-hoedown type of party requires. You ready for the barn-raising. You gather scrap fabric from friends and thrift stores, and busily make sketches and plans. You lay out materials and notions, cuddle with the borrowed Itunes collection of a musically-discerning friend, turn up the volume, and sail away to inner space.
In summary, the report from New Orleans is that costume-sewing is SERIOUSLY taking place in these days leading up to Fat Tuesday. It is prayer. It marks the end of something, and the beginning of the new. And on Mardi Gras, all that energy bottled up from weeks of Saintsmania and cutting/sewing/gluing/painting things onto floats/costumes/decorations … all that momentum, worry, focus, and anticipation … will become a group hallelujah.