A photo essay from that time I was in a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans. Say what?!
Boozy crowds strain for a view underneath centuries old wrought iron balconies. Before French Quarter facades, hands and cameras alike outstretch to cheer a drag queen fairy riding in a bottle of absinthe, Marie Antoinette lookalikes in luminescent ballroom gowns and wigs, a purple-bearded lady on stilts.
I’ve watched such flora and fauna parade the streets of New Orleans throughout Mardi Gras season… but this time I’m parading with them, not watching from the side.
Krewe of who?
How did I end up here, in a New Orleans Mardi Gras parade?
Like all strange travel experiences, it began with a “yes.”
>> Do you want to march in a Mardi Gras parade?
The text from a friend was an unexpected distraction during a coffee shop work session. What? Cool! Yes! Wait, how?
Instructions trickled in. I had to pay dues to join the “Krewe of Full Bush.” And register under the “Krewe Boheme” by the next day. Costumes were necessary. Krewe members had to work together to build a parade float. And make personalized throws.
This being my first Mardi Gras, I had no clue what half of that meant. Krewes? Dues? Costumes? I had no costume clothes in my traveler bag! And what the heck were throws?
Nevertheless, I signed up and paid my dues. Do first, question later.
Lots of flair and pubic hair
Things fell into place, as the seemingly impossible always does.
“Krewes” turned out to be themed Mardi Gras parade groups. There are hundreds of krewes in New Orleans, some older than others. Krewe of Full Bush’s theme turned out to be untrimmed body hair. Krewe Boheme was the overarching group of 20-ish krewes we’d march in the parade with, all loosely falling under a bohemian theme.
A drizzly Sunday was my chance to meet the bushy members of my hair-positive krewe. In a backyard lot on the outskirts of New Orleans’ Bywater neighborhood, fluffy chickens and curious dogs pecked at crafting supplies while we snipped wigs, painted canvases, and stapled our circus float together.
Middle school Home Economics class proved useful for the first time as I battled a friend’s sewing machine hoping to craft a sturdier costume. Necessity mandated a last minute follow up costuming session, sewing machine abandoned in favor of aggressive fabric glue use. Probably should’ve paid more attention in Home Ec.
Before I knew it, parade time was upon us.
Twilight falls as we load up a shopping cart with snacks that will never be eaten and a massive cooler of tequila that will be sucked dry in less than an hour. Fake eyelashes and glitter makeup get their final touches in bars and under streetlights.
A psychedelic menagerie of LED lights, looming floats, and shimmering bodies forms a line. Sounds range from live brass bands to thudding bass depending on where I stand. Vessels dangle from paraders’ hands as livers strain. Bags of powders surreptitiously pass between sniffling marchers.
I begin the parade dancing and prancing on foot…
… but eventually fall back to check on the heavy and lumbering float. Seeing its slow progress, I offer to take a turn driving it.
Perched atop the precariously unbalanced bicycle, I pedal the hairy cart. A breasted lion/ess wearing black platform boots and a bush of pubic hair guards my back. Boys in construction uniforms play instruments in front of me; I try to dance, drink, and pedal simultaneously with varying levels of success. When my dancing becomes too eager the bike sways and the crowd leaps back. Luckily, everyone is in high spirits and (mostly) amused.
Filled French Quarter avenues suddenly give way into standard city streets: the end of the parade route is here. Krewes disband, staggering off to after parties in full regalia. Floats stick out in traffic like sore thumbs as riders cycle them to final resting places. The juxtaposition of real and imagined is an appropriately bizarre ending to this parade experience.
Catcallers eye my costumed body as I dissolve into the streets of nighttime New Orleans, but I ignore them and carry on. Despite not living here, I just paraded along the city’s most iconic streets during my first ever Mardi Gras. I still don’t quite know how, but I do know they can’t pull me down from cloud nine tonight.