David Spielman: Guest blogger. Assignment: 5 – Mardi Gras. Location: New Orleans. Equipment: D-Lux 5.
Mardi Gras, is almost impossible to fully describe in words and pictures. The event coincides with the debutant season that officially begins on Twelfth Night/the Epiphany/January 6 and runs until Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday, which is, of course, the beginning of Lent. New Orleans isn’t the only place where it is celebrated; Venice Italy has their Carnival, Mobile, Alabama also has their Mardi Gras and several countries in Europe celebrate Fasching. Let’s not forget about Rio’s celebration. I don’t believe that anyone celebrates it longer and with more gusto than New Orleans.
Every element in our society and population participates. There are over forty organized parades, all featuring dozens of floats, marching bands and dance troupes. The parading is usually confined to the last ten or so days of the season. There are easily as many or possibly more walking groups and clubs that will wander through the neighborhoods. No organized route, no standard program, just a group of like-minded, fun-loving people who enjoy celebrating. Celebrations even include cross dressing fashion shows of the French Quarter and the Mardi Gras Indians where African American’s dress as American Red Indians while acting out their tableau in which they fight and defend their territory from other Mardi Gras Indian Tribes. These tribes carry on a long and beautiful tradition of costume making and Indian dancing. All the while large, and I do mean large, volumes of alcohol are being consumed, not only by the participants but by the spectators as well.
Of course, words and images leave out a couple of very important components. You aren’t able to hear the music, the chants, screams of laughter and hoots of humor. Unfortunately, you can’t experience the smells that fill air of all the culinary treats being cooked along the routes. This is exactly why Mardi Gras must be experienced in person. Reading about it and looking at pictures tells a large part of the story, but by no means does it convey the entire story. The experience is sensational, intoxicating even, something comes over you, envelopes all of you. Is it the bands playing or the beating drums of the marching bands or the push of the crowds? It is all that and much more; all your senses come alive.
On Fat Tuesday a million or so people work their way into the streets, along the parade routes, gathering in their neighborhoods and cut loose. Cutting loose is one of the things we do the best “down yonder in New Orleans.” There are night parades, day parades, boat parades, walking groups who cover the city and outlying parishes. Some of the walking groups even enter and parade through our finest restaurants. Nothing is sacred or safe, everyone and everything is fair game. You can become whoever, whatever you want for a day. Men become women, ladies, men, adults are kids, some become animals, fairies, clowns. Political satire is high fashion, naughtiness and bad taste are normal for a day. Those who have experienced it liken it to controlled chaos. Most will agree that it is very difficult to get your mind around the size and scope of the day. Just about the time you think you have a working understanding, something else makes itself known to you and bang another dimension has been added. It can be thought of like a small bead of mercury, as you try to move or gather it together by pushing from one side it breaks into many new parts. Very difficult to capture and contain, just like this celebration.
With my Leica D-Lux 5, I’m always at the ready. Small and quiet, it is easy to carry and I can get shots before anyone realizes what I’m doing. A perfect companion for this colossal event we call Mardi Gras.
-David G. SPIELMAN