Mardi Gras, Masking, and the Cathartic Mythos of Liminality


In the first few days of March I was lying on an artificial animal skin on a day bed in a tiny New Orleans apartment flipping through the 2011 Arthur Hardy’s Mardi Gras Guide, and taking great interest in the Hardy-penned piece looking back at a decade of Mardi Gras—the oughts, the naughts, the naughties, whatever the hell you like to call the most recently deposed decade, a blur of Republican atrocities, Democratic disappointments and false hopes, stagnant wars, and embarrassing, embarrassing reality shows.  And nobody got laid as much as they did in the 90s.  But Hardy caught my attention, not for the sturdiness and plenitude of his prose, but for the context of a clinical eye and for his attention to something that is inherently hard to document: the science of secret societies and a preserved recipe for distributing a good time.

As a student of anthropology in the rudest sense, and as a mystical being undergoing an unending search for self, I am fascinated—one could almost say preoccupied—with the notion of liminality, a transition from one state to the other, the threshold between states of being.

Sacred space is what’s important, finding a place outside of society but parallel to it, a place to explore self and commune with both others and the Other, to find religious communion.   A search for catharsis has largely given rise to summer blockbusters and multiplexes, sadly, and the native American kiva has been replaced by a 47-inch 3D Hi-def flatscreen, so in this day and age I find it even more necessary to appreciate the few places left in the world where a group mythology can be celebrated, and where wild abandon can be practiced in a safe environment.  And I don’t do hallucinogenic drugs anymore, so you can dig how fucking hard it is to find such a place.  Hence my fascination with burlesque.  Hence Mardi Gras.  New Orleans understands the idea of having a good time and also appreciates the fact that it doesn’t come easily.

My last Mardi Gras before the storm was, in fact, the last Mardi Gras before the storm, in 2005.  I recall being scandalized by the proclivity of cameras—and even video cameras—in the quarter, and watched their use squash what would have otherwise been fantastic moments of abandon.  Sacred space isn’t sacred if someone’s video taping it for their own enjoyment.  I’m happy to say that one sobering effect of the storm and the oil spill—New Orleans has literally had its ass handed to it in the last five years—is that even the quarter is a little more tame.  If you’re looking for tits you kind of have to work at it.  But this year, I spent all week uptown catching parades with families and drinking trackdogs and playing music with my friends, and I can say that the spirit of Mardi Gras—masking, stepping, celebrating and bead-whoring—is fucking alive and well.

I’m no ethnographer but until we get a Nola-based essayist and some invitations to some serous balls to interview some heavy hitters from serious krewes (anonymously, of course), and until someone pays me (natch), I’ll just share a few observations.

I’d really like to do a major piece on the New Orleans adult step teams, or dance troupes, or whatever they call themselves.  They tend to be full of total hotties, absolutely legal, who strut and call attention to their own loveliness.  Last year I was completely under the spell of Gris Gris Strut, who rolled again this year with Minor Mishap during Muses, and were scheduled to roll again with Thoth—but I completely failed to see them if they did.  I managed to roll up St. Charles a few minutes with the leader of the troupe, Cherie, who convinced me she was some sort of superhero since she was also leading another dance troupe and had recently been in a car wreck.  I didn’t get any tasty quotes.  I did get a view of the crowd from the route, which for an interloper like me was worth a ton of beads.  And holy crap, they walk fast.  No fears, someday I’ll manage a followup.

Which brings us to the Muff-a-Lottas. If you’re a Yankee bastard and don’t get the joke, look up muffaletta on wikipeeds.  Anyhoo, their slogan is “All you can eat.”  And if that’s not hot, take a look at these girls.  I mean, holy crap.  You won’t find anything hotter in New Orleans, leastways not vanilla-flavored.  And they steppin’.

Video of the 610 Stompers

But speaking of steppin’, can we throw some love at the 610 Stompers?  “Ordinary men.  Extraordinary moves.” Embracing the aesthetic of the mustached, mulleted tube-sock wearing man’s man, these guys are just awesome for the sake of being awesome.  The ladies seemed to love them in spite of themselves and the guys just find them… hopeful.  Maybe even I could do it.  I want to see these guys have a spin-off group at the Mermaid Parade.

Oh, Muses.  Why must you be so awesome?  Making my list of both best and worst, Muses again delivered a stunning parade—the mysterious dancing lights way down the route, hallucinatory, questionable, turned out to be neon shoes manipulated by sticks held up over the heads of marchers.  The simple ingenuity of Muses’ parades translates into their throws—the most varied and unique on the calendar, I think—and the ladies do tend to be generous.  but while their theme this year was hilarious—“How to Dance Like a Muse,” using the names of dances to diss on every political event of the last decade—I’ve seldom seen an uptown parade get so out of hand.  I really thought I might actually be torn apart ala The Bacchae by the hordes of women fighting each other for shoes.  Yes, Muses is all about shoes, and their most coveted throw is an actual high-heeled shoe on a strand, and these women were at it like Carrie Bradshaw clones at a Monolo Blahnik giveaway.  I was literally scared for my safety.  And that just ain’t Mardi Gras, not to me.

The severely mixed blessing of Endymion being moved to Bacchus Sunday.  Sounded cool at first—hey, we’ll be able to catch Endymion after all, and right outside our apartment!—but really didn’t work that way.  People camped out the night before.  Edymion people.  Sigh.  I barely caught any of Bacchus, it was such a fuckin’ zoo.  Totally not Uptown.  Endymion… I basically skipped it.

My all-out favorite parade this year had to be Tucks, which got moved up to before Iris due to impending rain, and somehow seemed to be more generous than usual and also featured some of the best bands I heard all week.  We had Pink Slip, and all-female cover band that rolled past us doing a blistering version of “Dance to the Music,” and a handful of ragtag brass bands, tight, a bit loose, and gnarly.  Stillman College Band ripped a serious version of “Ring My Bell,” and I’m beginning to notice that the George Washington Carver band always kicks ass.  Oh, and there was also the Star Wars sluts on bikes—ok, I don’t know what they call themselves, but seeing a bunch of hot chicks on bikes all dressed up as every female—or vaguely female—character from the Star Wars movies… I mean, that’s just awesome.

-Thank you, unknown lady of Zulu, for giving me a coconut.  A masked coconut, no less.  It’s beautiful.

-Rex, why do you suck so bad?  I would be ashamed to throw the bullshit you throw coming right behind Zulu. Seriously.

Happy Mardi Gras everyone, I hope Lent is treating you all right.  See you next year—

Kiss kiss,

JDX

All photos ©Melody Mudd. Please contact the photographer for any usage at melodymudd@gmail.com.

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