Krewe of Muses 2015: Are you there, God? It’s us, Muses.

That was actually the title of their theme, in honor of their 15th year. Muses, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned in years past, is an all-female krewe whose coveted signature throw are shoes that have been decorated with glitter, feathers, and beads. It’s the one parade that I’ve been to every year since I moved to Louisiana (barring the first year, 2010, because I arrived about 10 days after Mardi Gras). It’s actually kind of my Carnival season highlight, as I have zero desire to deal with the insanity of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, or even Lafayette. I don’t even get the day off where I work now, because our customers/vendors are all over the world.

I was hugely disappointed to discover that Muses is apparently now drawing large enough crowds to require crowd control barriers all the way down St. Charles Street, where in the past they’ve always been limited to the intersection with Canal Street and maybe the first block down. This makes it harder to catch the throws, particularly when it’s as windy as it was on Thursday night. I know, I KNOW parades are not just about the throws. But the throws are what makes you an active participant in the parade, and not just a passive observer watching it roll/march by. It’s not about having the plastic beads and old shoes, which no one actually needs. It’s about catching them, and there’s something just sad about watching them fall short into the street.

Plus, the barriers kept me from catching another shoe. I KNOW she was aiming for me, we made eye contact, and some total douchecanoe threw his arms in my face and snatched it away. Fuck that asshole and I hope he dies a slow and lingering death of testicular cancer. That wouldn’t have happened if there wasn’t a barrier, because she could have dropped it right into my hands–which is how I got my shoe last year. I was at the start of the parade route last year, around Magazine Street, and I may try going back to that next year. It’s a more residential area and hopefully they won’t have barriers up.

Maybe I’ll try to find Airbnb accommodation in the area, instead of staying in an Uptown hotel. In the past I stayed at the Iberville Suites, but when I went to make my reservation the first week of January, they were charging over $600 a night! I about fell out of my chair. It’s expected for hotels, especially if they’re near big parade routes, to jack up their fares a bit during Carnival season, but that was more than 3 times what I’ve paid in the past. Totally ridiculous. I wound up staying at the Astor Crowne Plaza; they didn’t offer a free breakfast, but the room service breakfast I ordered did not cost $500, so I still saved money. Un-fucking-believable. It was so NOISY, though; my room was on the 2nd floor facing Canal Street, and all night it was police sirens and people yelling and cars blasting hip-hop. I don’t think I got more than 20 minutes of sleep at a stretch, until it finally quieted down around 4:00… for about 2 1/2 hours.

Anyway, I don’t want to imply that the parade sucked or I didn’t have fun. Muses were amazing as they always are, and I actually did catch a respectable amount of non-shoe throws. I’m sure the fact that I did a sign this year helped. I spent weeks mulling over possible phrases, before settling on “Throw me something Muses-ter!”. (“Throw me something mister” is a traditional phrase that’s shouted at the krewes.) I did a Google Image search for each letter in the phrase, printed out one I thought looked interesting, cut them out, and glued them onto a piece of posterboard. Except for “Muses”, I used their logo. I was pleased with the result, which was fun-looking and big enough to read from a distance without being too large to easily hold. I gave away most of what I caught, to kids that were behind me and also to a couple from Chicago I got to talking to that were at their first parade. I just kept a few things that I didn’t already have from past parades.

I didn’t have any concrete plans for my Friday in New Orleans, other than eating at Elizabeth’s and avoiding the French Quarter. My first stop was Valence Street Cemetery, which was satisfyingly old and decayed, all crumbling tombs and busted wall vaults.

open wall vault

Society tomb

Then I explored the Holy Cross neighborhood a little bit, and took some photos of the Steamboat Houses on Egania Street.

Steamboat House (color effect)

Steamboat House

Then I had lunch at Elizabeth’s (fried chicken livers with pepper jelly, fried eggs and country potatoes), did some shopping at F&F Botanica (dressed Steady Work candles, Road Opener Oil, Fortune Incense), and by then I was feeling the effects of standing all night and getting about 3 hours of sleep, so I headed home.

Mystic Krewe of Barkus: Bark Wars

I have this thing where every year I try to go to one festival I haven’t been to before (this year I’m reallyreallyreally hoping that can be the Los Isleños Fiesta in St. Bernard Parish, which I always seem to miss), and every Mardi Gras I try to go to one parade I haven’t been to before. Last year was Krewe de Vieux, and this year I went to Krewe of Barkus. It was yesterday, and they had ridiculously good weather for it in New Orleans, sunny and about 72 degrees.

I didn’t get very many good photos. I could kick myself because I aaaaalmost brought my old digital camera, even started to put fresh batteries in it, then thought nah, I’ll just use my cell phone, this isn’t going to be “art” and it will be one less thing to carry. Well, my phone picked yesterday afternoon to act like a toddler not getting its way. The camera function kept crashing; or the focus would get all weirdly shallow and focus on the wrong thing. Like the crowd behind the parade would be in focus instead of the dogs, or a dog’s paws would be in focus but its face wouldn’t. And almost everything came out blurry, that camera usually has better action capture. It’s not like anything was moving fast. I deleted about 2/3 of the photos I took and wound up with less than 20 worth keeping. Oh well, just means I need to go back next year, right?

Bark Wars

Bark Wars

Bark Wars

Bark Wars

Bark Wars

Barkus’ human handlers must include a small army of discreet pooper scoopers; I didn’t notice any scooping but I walked back to my car along their route and I didn’t see any dog poop either.

I didn’t want to try to drive back through the French Quarter, which was a madhouse getting into–there were like 8 parades happening yesterday–so I decided to skirt the worst of by going down North Peter and getting on the freeway via Elysian Fields. Which I realized would take me past Island of Salvation Botanica, where I haven’t been in… gosh, I think it’s been a couple of years now. I just haven’t been hanging out in the Marigny, I guess. So I checked my phone and it looks like they’ve expanded their hours, they’re now open 7 days a week and even until 6:00 on Sunday.

The place has gotten a little more commercial, everything was slightly overpriced, and it even sells “Voodoo Dolls”, which I know they know is not actually A Thing, but it’s something tourists like to see. I didn’t see as many of Sallie Ann Glassman’s own oils, and the ones I did see had gone from 1 ounce to 1/2 ounce bottles–but the prices were still the same. I can’t really complain, because I know a lot of that money is going to the restoration of the city and the neighborhood–there were a couple of buildings I noticed that had businesses in them that were empty shells the last time I was there–but I think I will be buying most of my spiritual supplies from F&F Botanica when I’m in NOLA from now on.

Home sweet tiny home

Last Saturday was the meetup for my photography group, I scheduled it in Thibodaux, which is the home of Nicholls University (excellent culinary program, naturally) and about 2/3 of the way to New Orleans from Abbeville. I confess to an ulterior motive for having it there: the photography project I’m working on right now (and for the forseeable future, as I keep discovering new potential additions) is called Saints of Louisiana, and I read that the Co-Cathedral of St. Joseph has relics (an arm bone) of St. Valerie. Alleged, anyway; I mean who’s to say the Pope didn’t just nip off down to the catacombs with a chisel and send any old arm bone off to Louisiana. Anyway, they enclosed it in an almost life-sized wax statue, which is in a kind of glass coffin, it’s super creepy.

Saint Valerie

WTF is up with the angle of her neck, she’s either having an epileptic seizure or a massive orgasm. Stay weird, Roman Catholic Church! Speaking of which, they also had a statue of my girl:

Saint Lucy

Yes, that is a plate of eyeballs.

Afterwards we went to Laurel valley Village, which I’ve been to before but Hope hasn’t.

Laurel Valley Village

To sum up: Giant sugar co-op has their workers (not slaves, this was after the Civil War) live in a little village, it goes bust during the Great Depression, place falls apart for a few decades until a history professor from Nicholls re-discovers it, they attempt to restore one building and go “Eff this, it’s too much work/money”, they settle for keeping it in a state of “arrested decay”. I think it makes a more interesting photo subject this way, anyway.

On the drive to Thibodaux, I passed a property along LA-14 in Iberia Parish that had tiny homes for sale and almost drove off the road. I have been obsessed with the Tiny House Movement since shortly after I moved to Louisiana, and I recently saw the documentary TINY: A Story About Living Small, so it’s been on my mind more than usual. Around here most people buy them to use as camps, but they were the real thing all right, less than 200 square feet and on a flatbed. He had 3 different designs, I’d love to see what they’re like inside.

 photo tiny-house-home-design_zpstfgpglrf.jpg

It’s a daydream of mine to get one and put it on my grandparents’ old property, although realistically I don’t know if I’d really care to live in close proximity with that many cousins. I’m saving for a car right now (my Pontiac has over 180,000 miles on it) and I’m seriously considering getting a truck, because if I have a truck, I can move a Tiny House wherever I need to. Hurricane coming? No problem, I’ll just haul it into Lafayette or Baton Rouge until it passes. Have fun re-building, suckers. I also wouldn’t mind having a boat one day–nothing at all fancy, just there are a lot of places I’d like to see that aren’t accessible by road nowadays (the Sabine Pass Light, Chenier au Tigre, Fort Simon). This is a boat culture and I’m sure I could get a used one cheap from someone who was upgrading.

Photos from my trip to Virginia, FINALLY

I’ve been meaning to post these for weeks, but works’s been busy and then I got sick with an apocalyptic deathcold and then the holidays happened and blah blah blah. Anyway, long story short, I took a few days off Thanksgiving week to drive up to the Lynchburg area. I wanted to see where my maternal grandfather was from; he actually came from Bear Mountain in the Blue Ridge foothills. Nowadays it’s a 20 minute drive from Lynchburg, tops, but 100 years ago it probably seemed much farther away from the city.

Monacan schoolhouse

This is the schoolhouse my grandfather attended. It’s a museum now. Most of the people on Bear Mountain are of Monacan Indian descent and they weren’t allowed at white schools thanks to Virginia’s segregation laws; but due to some bureaucratic fuckery that claimed there were no more “pure Indians” left in Virginia, they also weren’t allowed to declare themselves Native American. My great-grandmother’s wedding license claims she’s “colored”. The Episcopalian Mission (their church is the white building) eventually built this grade school for the kids on Bear Mountain, but none of them went to high school until the 1960s. Funny to think of my grandfather growing up Episcopalian, a religion I associate with rich eastern snobby types.

Monument Terrace

This is Monument Terrace in Lynchburg, it leads up to the courthouse. I liked Lynchburg, which is hilly and historic in that Virginia way (Thomas Jefferson had a house there) and an interesting mix of Old South and college students.

Court Street

It was autumn in Louisiana, but felt more like winter in Virginia–I even drove through some snow on my way in, although Lynchburg itself is in a kind of valley and it hadn’t snowed there.

Old City Cemetery

The Old City Cemetery was of course the first place I headed for. It’s the only public cemetery in Lynchburg, which is a town with a LOT of churches, and for years was the only place where black people could be buried and was also the “pauper’s field” for the city. Apparently it was kind of a mess until some socialite decided to beautify it in the ’90s, and now it’s as much of a park as a graveyard.

Natural Bridge, VA

I had time to see Natural Bridge, which was about an hour from Lynchburg. It’s stunning in person, and much bigger than I’d thought from photos I’ve seen.

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Feast of St. Lucy

…was yesterday, and this year’s altar was a little more elaborate than last year’s:

Feast of St. Lucy

I always have the statue, incense, and at least one candle on her altar. Oh, and the flowers are usually dried, because I’m not made of money, come on. The extra offerings–extra candles (including a novena which will stay lit); fresh flowers; peppermint schnapps; Occhi di Santa Lucia cookies I made myself–will stay up for 9 days, from her feast day to the winter solstice. On each of those nights I will say 9 prayers (now you know why the St. Lucy chaplet I made has 9 beads), instead of my customary one.

The little jar between the candles is Eyes of St. Lucy oil, which can only be made during a novena for St. Lucy and is most powerful when the novena takes place during this period. There’s a few different recipes for this and they really only have 2 things in common, rue and olive oil–St. Lucy was Italian, after all. Mine is olive oil with rue, myrrh, angelica, star anise (2 intact ones, to represent eyes), and a rock of blessed Dead Sea salt. Like frankincense, I add that to a lot of my oils for extra oomph. You can dress candles with it, rub it on your hands before you pray, dab a little (a VERY little–it has salt in it) on your eyelids before going to bed for prophetic dreams. It will only be ready to use at the end of the novena.

The color of the candle holders all have special meaning; there are many colors associated with St. Lucy instead of the one or two that most saints have. Red because she was martyred; silver (or white) because she is a solstice saint; green for evergreen in winter; gold for light (the Latin for Lucy is Lux, which means light). The novena candle is actually white, as they pretty much all are, but I pulled it out and rolled it in green glitter before lighting it. Also why I chose green and white flowers.

2nd visit to Istre Cemetery

I first went to this cemetery, which is about an hour north of Abbeville, in Acadia Parish, in late spring of last year. I read about it in the south Louisiana guidebook that I took from Granny’s apartment after she died—I love that book, it mentions some really out-of-the-way places that I probably would never hear of otherwise and has led to many photos I might not have taken without it. The book mentions this cemetery because it’s the only one in Louisiana with grave houses, a custom that is more common in the mountain south (Appalachia, mainly) than the deep south. I wanted to see if any new houses had been constructed; the practice had been dying out, but is undergoing a local revival and there were 2 new houses when I last went.

There weren’t any additional houses, but instead I became interested in all the Virgin Mary statues. This is a heavily Catholic region of the country and those statues are by no means unusual, but it seemed like this cemetery had a particular abundance of them. They never seem to get re-painted or cleaned, and you can judge their age by how much blue paint is left on Mary’s robe and how much lichen is growing on her.

11/08/14

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11/08/14

That was Saturday before last; last Saturday I went to the Frog Festival in Rayne but the only photo I took was an Instagram of deep-fried Oreos. I try to go to a new festival every year, but this one has always been on Labor Day weekend before, which is hot as balls, so I never went. I guess the town decided they were competing with too many other festivals on that weekend and moved it. I couldn’t complain of the heat this time, it was a lovely 60° or so, which of course means the natives were bundled up like it was January in Detroit.

It wasn’t that interesting, to be honest. It had the same fair rides, the same ugly crafts (there’s ALWAYS a booth selling hideous fake-leather purses covered in fleur-de-lis at these things), the same local bands as every other small-town festival in south Louisiana. I guess the bands are okay if you like Cajun music, but it all sounds the same to me. (Same with reggae music. Every song has the same beat!) But they had good food, so it was worth the drive. Frog legs of course, both fried and sauce piquant. Frog legs are an old-fashioned kind of food, not very many restaurants around here still serve them. They taste like a chicken and a fish had a baby. And there was selection of all the other wondrously unhealthy kinds of fair foods you find in south Louisiana: boudin balls and red velvet funnel cakes and fried… everything. Pickles, alligator meat, Oreos and Twinkies and Snickers bars.

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Port Gibson, Mississippi: “Too beautiful to burn”

I’ve been trying to post these photos for over a week, but I’ve been insanely busy during the day—I’ve been staying late at work and I came in for a few hours on Sunday—and almost as much so when I get home. I need a real vacation, not just a day off here and there. I’m taking 2 days off Thanksgiving week, which with the weekend and the holiday will give me 6 days in a row, but I’m going to spend them driving to Virginia and back so I don’t know how relaxing that will really be. I’ll have a few days off at Christmas, but I don’t know when I’ll be able to take anything like a real break. Maybe after the holidays I can borrow the ‘rents condo for a few days and veg out—I like the beach in winter.

Anyway, these are the photos I shot the day after Halloween in Port Gibson, a town that Grant allegedly said was “Too beautiful to burn” when it was part of the Siege of Vicksburg. Funny how all these small southern towns adopt slogans uttered by Union soldiers; the fort on Dauphin Island is forever reminding visitors that the Battle of Mobile Bay was where Admiral Faragut said the famous words “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”.

Gemiluth Chassed Synagogue

Wintergreen Cemetery

Presbyterian steeple

hollow building

chimney & bird

old building

Westside Theater

And of course I couldn’t be that close to the Windsor Ruins without stopping by.

11/01/14

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