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.

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another show, another trip to NOLA

I decided to go to the Push Pin Show, basically because I will use any excuse to spend time in New Orleans. There are things I love about the country, but it’s also nice to recharge my batteries in a more liberal environment. Saturday evening was hot and humid, but a cold front moved in that night, making Sunday quite pleasant: temps in the low 80s, a slight breeze, and LOW HUMIDITY.

A push pin show is just what it sounds like. I didn’t want to be greedy, so I only brought 2 photos along. I had bought some pre-cut mats at Michael’s, but the sizes were wonky and I didn’t like the way they looked, so I opted to just tack ’em to the wall (which is what most other people were doing, anyway). The pins aren’t going through the actual image, since I have a white border, so if/when they’re matted it won’t show anyway. I also added one of my business cards, which has the address of my Etsy shop and my Facebook page, among other info. I have a couple of new “likes”, so clearly that was a good idea.

This dog was just cold chillin’ at the gallery.

This trip I decided I wanted to explore a little bit of the Bywater neighborhood, which is where the HomeSpace Gallery is located. I saw a bit of it last year, when we had a photo meetup in the Marigny–the 2 neighborhoods sort of bleed together–and went to a tintyping demo at the gallery. It’s a sort of working class/boho artistic neighborhood–I read an article in a NYC publication that compared it to Red Hook, which I found fitting. It reminded me of Lincoln Heights, the Los Angeles neighborhood where my sister and brother-in-law live: you get a sense that this a real place where real people actually live, and not some tourist playground.

I decided to pass up the free hotel breakfast on Sunday morning in favor of something actually worth paying for. Elizabeth’s is at the end of Gallier Street, a residential street, and it’s in a converted, 100-year-old house. I had the duck waffle: duck and sweet potato hash with a well of pepper jelly, served on a cornbread waffle. And I couldn’t resist a side of praline bacon, their specialty. (You could tell who was from Louisiana and who was there from somewhere else for the Saints season opener by listening to them order it: in Louisiana you pronounce it “prah-leen”, but everyone else says “pray-leen”.) It was all ridiculously delicious of course, in addition to being enough food for two people, and the service was fast and friendly. The ‘rents are going to NOLA this weekend for a medical convention, and I told Mom they HAVE to eat here while they’re in the city.

In my ongoing quest to photograph every cemetery in the city (I could live to be 100 and still fail at that goal), I went to St. Roch. There’s a chapel dedicated to the titular saint, who Catholic residents prayed to during the cholera and yellow fever epidemics of the 18th and 19th centuries, right in the middle of it. And I’d read there’s a strange little grotto tacked onto the side, filled with medical braces, cast-off prostheses, and even body part casts. They’ve been left by people who believe they were cured by intercession of the saint. It was (Firefly nerd alert!) morbid and creepifying, but really interesting (and photogenic!). And I literally stumbled over another photographer as I was leaving the chapel (he was lying on the ground), so clearly a popular spot.

(I’ve been thinking NOLA cemeteries or Louisiana cemeteries or maybe just rural cemeteries would be a good photobook idea, but I also feel like it’s been done. Opinions?)

A note: St. Roch is supposedly a bad neighborhood, but it seemed quiet and peaceful while I was there. It was a Sunday morning, I imagine not much crime goes down on Sunday mornings. As in any allegedly “bad” neighborhood, use basic common sense (be aware of your surroundings, don’t flash your equipment or carry lots of cash or wear loud clothing) and you’ll be fine.

I had wanted to go to Conrad’s Store, a funky thrift store on St. Claude’s (down the street from Island of Salvation Botanica, where I’ve been a couple of times), but they never opened. I suspect Conrad preferred to stay home and watch the Saints game. Maybe I’ll try again next month when I pick up the photos.

So instead I went to the Ogden Museum of Southern Art (which is on Camp Street downtown and not in the Bywater). I had an ulterior motive: the next NOPA show will be displayed there during PhotoNOLA, and I’m probably going to make a submission. They have a couple of great photo exhibits right now, and I recognized the names (and work) of some of my fellow NOPA members: Sesthasak Boonchai’s Broken Flowers and a Heidi Kirkpatrick piece that was donated by Peter Buck.

I came across this painting on the 5th floor, and it was a deeply surreal moment because I know exactly where that is: it’s the corner of St. Mary and Sophie Wright, and it’s a few doors down from the NOPA gallery. I went into that bar the night the member’s exhibit opened–the first time I ever had a photo in an exhibit, unless you count school exhibits (and I don’t)–and ordered a whiskey sour. Is there a word for the feeling of unreality you get when you see a location that you know first-hand portrayed in art? The Germans probably have some 7-syllable word for it.

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