It’s impossible to live in the Gulf South and ignore Mardi Gras. It spreads from Galveston to the Florida Panhandle, affecting our judgment, so that ‘normal’ becomes beads, wigs, costumes and masks.
(pictured, Four for Mardi Gras, 2012, 24x38 inches, edition 190)
In New Orleans we expect parade traffic most evenings and all weekends, shrugging our shoulders, ditching our cars, and missing whatever obligations we set out to make, standing instead on the neutral ground* and shouting,
“Throw me something, Mister!”
…or, in the case of the all-female Muses parade,
“Throw me something, Sister!”
Like me, George Rodrigue grew up with Mardi Gras. His mother dressed him in costume for the country parades and balls. He’s been king or grand marshal of various krewes* from Lafayette to New Orleans to Washington D.C., where 5,000 Louisiana residents gather annually for a three-day Mardi Gras extravaganza. (related post here)
(pictured, George Rodrigue with his cousin Arlene, dressed for Mardi Gras in New Iberia, Louisiana, 1949)
For the past ten years, my sister Heather and I ride in the Krewe of Muses parade. This year, for the first time, we ride on the coveted Float Number One! Not only do we have the honor of greeting the crowds at the head of this magnificent and popular parade, but also we vary in head gear from the other Muses floats.
(Our wigs, custom-made by Fifi Mahony’s, sit on display in our living room on the heads of Jeff Koons’s famous Puppy and George Rodrigue’s tribute, a junk shop sculpture he painted blue)
This week, after purchasing our wigs, Heather and I, wearing dresses and heels, strolled down Royal Street for the fun of it. Used to anything on the streets of New Orleans, most people passed us with barely a glance, our confidence contributing to our normalcy. One comment, however, stands out:
“You guys look great!”
...exclaimed a well-dressed gentleman, confirming our drag queen suspicions. At 5’10” without the wigs, Heather and I tower at about 6’5” in our heels and hair.
“I can’t believe he missed our curves,”
...mumbled Heather, as I smiled and hollered “Thank you” towards our admirer.
Mardi Gras runs in our blood. Our mother, Mignon McClanahan Wolfe, reigned as Queen of the Fort Walton Beach Mardi Gras in 1993-4. Along with her wedding day, she spoke of it as the best day of her life, an occasion she prepared for over the course of a year, seeking the right dress and shoes, decorating the stage, and practicing her dance routine, as she boogied in the ballroom of the Okaloosa Island Ramada Inn.
Admittedly, George and I have slowed a bit in our Mardi Gras enthusiasm, unable to sustain the non-stop weeks of parades and parties while fulfilling other obligations. We still attend the Washington D.C. festivities; we occasionally ride on the Blue Dog float in the Argus parade; we dress in formal attire and drag our cooler into the Superdome for the Endymion Extravaganza; and (our favorite), we stand in our Faubourg Marigny window watching the Krewe du Vieux.
This year, at the request of the Sheraton Hotel, George decorated a slice of Canal Street. (click photo to enlarge)
Over the coming weeks, I’ll post stories of our Mardi Gras adventures and trace, in words and pictures, George Rodrigue’s years as King. I hope you'll stay tuned...
And Happy Mardi Gras!
*'neutral ground': New Orleans-speak for 'median'
*'krewe': Mardi Gras-speak for 'club'
-I hope you also enjoy “Remembering Etta James and More,” my latest story for Gambit Weekly, linked here
-for more Rodrigue Mardi Gras images, see the post "Mardi Gras Silkscreens: A History," linked here