Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,
Ralph Melton

New Orleans Roadfood Festival, Mar-28-2011: Mardi Gras World

At Lori's request, we went to visit Mardi Gras World, to tour a warehouse where they make and store the floats for the Mardi Gras parades. (We had navigation challenges; apparently our GPS chose an old site for Mardi Gras World, and told us to take a ferry to get there. Google Maps dropped a pin in the correct location, but when we asked for directions to that pin, it gave us directions to a different location.)

To give a hint of the visual impact of Mardi Gras World: Imagine the warehouse scene from the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, as if it were done by the visual designer of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. We were taking lots of goggle-eyed pictures even before we went in to take the tour.

I included Lori in this picture for a sense of scale:

The tour started with a short movie that taught me a lot about the parade tradition. I hadn't previously realized that parade season starts at Epiphany and last through Mardi Gras - though there are enough parades that they have to spread it out over that time to fit them all in. I also hadn't realized that the parades are more of a suburban thing; women collecting beads are on Bourbon Street aren't collecting them from parades. (It makes sense, once I think about it - piloting a parade through the French Quarter would be a big challenge.) One more fact: 80% of the floats are new each year - so Mardi Gras World is a place where the floats are being broken down after one parade season and redecorated for a new one.
After the movie, we were all served king cake. The king cake was so brightly iced that I expected that it would be very sweet, but it was more like a sweet bread than a cake.

Taking pictures in the warehouse was difficult, because everything was large enough that I had to aim upward, but skylights in the roof made it hard to get good light aiming upward.

There's a whole lot of reuse that happens. A fine head that graced one float may grace another - or even a piece may get sawed off and reused. And there's a figure of a football player that wears many different numbers in different years.

This polar bear was getting a suit of clothes to become one of the Three Bears:

These Kong and Mrs. Kong figures are of the maximum possible height for float figures; tree limbs and power lines prevent figures from being any taller. These are currently wearing sailor and nurse outfits for a WWII themed parade.

The floats from Krewe of Orpheus were still mostly intact. Their theme this year had been "fantastic places", and the floats were covered enormous flowers and brilliant imagery. (I'm only including a sampling of the pictures; there are more in my flickr account.)

This splendid flaming skull was made for Harry Connick, Jr.'s superkrewe, but I forget the name of the krewe.

I think that there's potential for a graduate thesis in American history on the race relations signified by the Krewe of Zulu (the first black Krewe), and I can only dimly see those complexities myself. (Such a thesis has probably already been written, but I haven't looked.) On the one hand, this was an example of New Orleans blacks organizing for a visible presence in a white-dominated society. On the other hand, the Krewe of Zulu uses a lot of "African savage" imagery that I would feel hesitant about using myself - but, of course, it is different for me to use such imagery as a white man. I know that Louis Armstrong (who probably knew much more about mid-century race relations in New Orleans than I do) was very happy to be the King of Zulu's parade.

One last picture: an outfit from one of the fancy-dress parties for one of the krewes. I suppose I could say that this brings this back to a Roadfood theme...
Tags: roadfood
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