Mardi Gras 2014: Oshun & Cleopatra (Flanking Armies Armed With Beads)


Which One Will It Be?!

Which One Will It Be?!

With Mardi Gras now in full swing, I’ve been running like mad (and slowed by either a cold or vicious allergy attack!), so yesterday–eve of my Chewbacchus parade debut–I was in a flurry making last minute touches to my costume. I won’t tell you what it is but, being a member of Krewe of Really Awesome Parodies, I came up with a really awesome parody of popular Star Trek character–and probably not one you expect! You’ll want to tune in for pictures! Yet, after spending the day finishing a post, making a sign for my costume, and following through with some promotion for Jeremiah’s Scrapbook, it was 4 o’clock before I headed out the door to the Salvation Army Thrift and Wal-Mart for an embarrassing self-fitting that perhaps I’ll detail later.

Arriving back home at 6:15, I tossed leftovers in the oven to warm, intending to go help with the set-up of the Chewbacchus after party. As I waited, I clicked on FB only to see my friend Daren (in Baton Rouge, no less), announcing the start of the first parades! Oshun would roll down St. Charles at 6:00 followed by Cleopatra at 6:30. I was so busy preparing for my own parade that I’d forgotten there was a whole weekend of revelry! Some job I’m doing of covering it. Doh! I’ll miss today’s parades as I hit the pre-party with K.R.A.P. as soon as this post is up (so excuse any rough edges!), so didn’t want to miss last night–the first wave of traditional parades rolling down St. Charles.


One thing New Orleans taught me is not to panic. Or bother hurrying. A year ago I would have scarfed down my meal, but instead I enjoyed my leftover pork & red cabbage (I’m just bragging now–it was damn good!), packed a small cooler, and casually headed to my truck. I knew it was going to be tough navigating traffic so left it up the fates. I’d see what I’d see.

bill-paxton-and-helen-hunt-twisterI started by heading down St. Charles past Audubon Park but cut down Nashville to Prytania knowing I’d hit the parade route at Napoleon, but it completely slipped my mind that the parade headed up Napoleon from the river, and thus I ran into barricades, realizing Prytania would be cut off by the route. I began weaving and bobbing down side streets, constantly getting caught in traffic jams in normally deserted neighborhoods, but embraced the adventure of it. I felt like one of those storm chasers in Twister (though sans a busty Helen Hunt in wife-beater t-shirt), R.I.P. Phillip Seymour Hoffman.

helen huntAfter much darting and bobbing in search of a Mardi Gras super storm, I arrived on Tchoupitoulas–the industrial road following the river and supposedly below the start of the parade, yet traffic was backed up for miles and stopped. My mental fantasy switched from storm chaser to Civil War general. In the abstract I’ve always understood the concept of a 90 degree bend in you lines to make it difficult for attacking army’s to breach your flank, but now I was experiencing it first hand. I was effectively flanked and would not be able to get behind this army of pageantry and peace on the march. Instead, I instructed my squadron to regroup and prepare to race the slow-moving army via Claiborne Avenue and try to beat it downtown. As I drove, I (recklessly–let the angry messages begin) downloaded a parade tracker app. It was after 7:00 and the parade had reached Felicity, which is just before the CBD. I felt certain I’d lose the race to high ground, but marshalled the troops and dove into the night.


It Would Have Been Nice to See This Float . . .

It Would Have Been Nice to See This Float . . .

Long term readers may recall my disappointment during Krewe of Boo when my friend Aimee brought her 13-year-old daughter to town for the parade. In my first and last transaction with Fiorelli’s, they failed to prepare the to-go order of fried chicken I’d called in eight hours in advance, making us late getting back to the viewing spot I’d arranged. Having learned to roll with it in NOLA though, I assured Aimee it was fine. Parades (hell everything) always runs late in this town and moves slow. It was set to start in Marigny at 6:00 and we were in the French Quarter. We arrived back at our spot in the neutral ground at 6:30 to find 2/3 of the parade had passed. Doh!

Oshun Arrives

Oshun Arrives

My experience with Oshun (a modest family-friendly and year-round philanthropic krewe, per the description) and Cleopatra (the first all-female krewe ever founded–yippee!) should illustrate why I felt so confident. Oshun departed fifteen minutes before I remembered there were parades that night. Once I decided to attend, I finished my dinner, packed, attempted a failed Uptown insurgency, re-routed, drove downtown, parked deep in the CBD and walked several blocks to St. Charles just a block past Poydras, arriving a little past 9:00. To my surprise my mobile army beat the creeping column. In fact, we had a good ten minute wait to decamp and fortify!

I’d planned my Krewe of Boo experience for weeks; I decided to catch these two parades after the first had already hit the streets. Just another example of how New Orleans punishes planning but spurs spontanaety!


Muted Parade

Muted Parade

As Oshun finally passed, I quickly grew restless. The floats were the most modest I’ve seen in a major parade and their throws were sparse, which meant they certainly weren’t going to throw to a 6’4″ 250lb white boy. Understandably, pretty girls and children get targeted first, then women and elderly or über cool men. Big guys like me only tend to draw the sadistic throws. Dudes usually won’t throw to dudes–especially big, brawny ones–until they look the other way. Then, sadistic male riders love to pelt you upside the head; thus, I’ve grown cat-like reflexes (that were later complimented several times that night be nearby watchers) and usually go through Mardi Gras with a lingering mild concussion.

EinsteinI couldn’t even elicit sympathy from the women in this mixed krewe, so growing bored I started wandering up St. Charles, speeding up the pace of the slow-moving procession. As I moved alone through the CBD through the boisterous crowd, it suddenly felt like it had only been a week since I’d arrived in town for Krewe of Rocckus not knowing a soul, wandering these streets in a strange mix of excitement and melancholy solitude while chasing floats. Although Einstein mathematically proved the relativity of time, any aging adult understands this intuitively. My favorite book as a child was A Wrinkle In Time where the characters learned to time travel by bending or wrinkling time like a thread, making two distant  points meet. The older I get, the more such wrinkles I experience. There were times this summer during A Nightmare on Decatur Street with my crazy landlord and unwanted roommate where a single morning would stretch on for weeks, yet at that moment my entire year had folded and I was only hours beyond my wide-eyed and naive arrival in town. It now felt like my entire year had rushed by in a flash and suddenly My Year of Mardi Gras lay both behind me and before me at the same time. Getting older is freaky!


Watching (but not catching) Oshun

Watching (but not catching) Oshun

As I wandered and reflected, I passed the last Oshun float as I reached Lee Circle at the border of the CBD and Uptown. I’d caught one bead. My minor disappointment was quickly drowned out by another moment of unexpected magic. I passed the advanced scouts for Cleopatra in Lee Circle–riding dune buggies–followed by a small horseback Calvary brigade. As I passed under the massive Calliope underpass, however, I encountered the first marching band which heralded the true arrival of the parade.

2014-02-21 20.50.38New Orleans has a beautiful tradition of praising and supporting high school marching bands, giving an outlet for accomplishment and popularity for the creative kids equal to or greater than the jocks–a true American rarity. Anyone who knows New Orleans, though, knows that of all the legendary and loved marching bands, St. Augustine High is the cream of the crop. I’d heard them before, but encountering them under eight lanes of overhead concrete made the hairs on my neck raise. Their thundering sound reverberated in the semi-enclosed area amplifying their precision and power to magnificent effect. Stunned, I stopped until they passed. Amazing.


Cleopatra Arrives

Cleopatra Arrives

After St. Augustine passed I encountered Cleopatra‘s first float, and this parade proved to be more lavish and visually interesting, and her throws more generous. I also had considerable more luck pleading with the all-female krewe. As I worked my way Uptown, my single Oshun bead was quickly buried beneath an expanding mass, and I began wishing I’d brought a bag. Soon I started hiding them in my back pocket so as not to discourage further throwing.

In past years I’ve caught beads but afterwards didn’t know what to do with them. This year, though, I’m a man on a mission. I bought 3 bags of Morpheus beads and have a couple of bags of plain beads from years past to throw. The more I catch this week, though, the more I’ll be able to recycle on Friday. I’m glad to say, I did quite well.


2014-02-21 21.13.25As my collection grew, so did my excitement. The bead phenomenon seems so weird, but there is an undeniable thrill and perceived value and catching a throw. Some of this is the egocentrism of our need for attention. When someone from a float targets you, it is outside affirmation of your worthiness–a small step up in social status. Be as glib or dismissive as you want, but if we didn’t need outside social affirmation we’d all be felonious hermits.

2014-02-21 21.11.37Then there is the natural love of getting something for free paired with our innate attraction to shiny things. Think I’m kidding? Trying giving a woman a coal engagement ring and telling her it’s a diamond in waiting! Think of all the wars fought over gold and diamonds and other gems. Yes, gold doesn’t corrode and diamonds cut glass, but it is the perceived value of their beauty that makes them valuable and not their functional application. Money itself is an abstract concept of perceived value. If I give you a green piece of paper with Rutherford B. Hayes on it, you’ll look at me like I’m nuts, but if it has Ben Franklin on it you’ll do a happy dance in the street–and he wasn’t even a president! Beyond food, clothing, and shelter most of what we value is primarily a product of perceived value (like paying a million dollars for a ten-dollar baseball because who hit it when) and, though you have no clue what to do with them afterwards, you feel rich as the glittering strands literally rain from the sky.


beadtreeIn fact, the throws were so generous that at times I experienced a common condition I shall dub here ‘bead blindness.’ Sometimes three or so riders target you (or you’re just in the line of fire) and beads approach your head from multiple directions. When this happens you see them all at once for a split second and then your vision goes black, cueing you to close your eyes–but the blackness precedes the blink. This reflex allows your to squint a millisecond before your head is pelted from three different directions. Someone should seriously study this!


Daddy Done Good!!!

Daddy Done Good!!!

I was so soon swept up in this bead frenzy that I reached my favorite coffee shop, Krewe du Brew, without even realizing I’d gone so far Uptown until the owner greeted my, breaking me from my reverie. We chatted a while and he generously invited me to use the place as home base during the coming festivities–score! An available bathroom alone is a godsend during a parade! But I’d only paid for two hours parking and had gotten so swept up that I only had twenty minutes to make it back. I waved goodbye, promising to take him up on his offer, and crossed to the other side of St. Charles, working the women on the opposite side of the floats as I made my way back.

2014-02-21 21.11.33It was 10:30 by the time I located the Trash Palace in Marigny where Chewbacchus is holding their ball, and the small group was wrapping up their prep efforts as I arrived. I’d conveniently shown up in time to not do anything. At moments like that, you feel it would be best not to make an appearance at all! Instead, I headed back home and put a batch of black-eyed peas in the crock pot, waking early this morning to start a pot of collard greens to accompany them–my contribution to the K.R.A.P. pre-party. It’s not NOLA if unless you’re cooking!

The parade doesn’t line up until 7:00 and roll at 8:00 and some of the group is showing up at noon to begin pre-gaming. I’m too old for that much fun, so spent the morning cooking, touching up my costume, and writing this piece. As soon as I hit publish I’m packing up and out the door. Tonight My Year of Mardi Gras begins to reach fruition. Despite a lingering cough, I’m primed and ready to go. It’s going to be a wild ride. Stay tuned!!!





  1. Love your posts! Cleopatra(1972) isn’t the oldest female krewe though. Iris holds that title. Founded in 1917,they rolled for the first time in 1959 and they still roll today.

    • WV Gumbo says:

      Thanks for the info. I read that in one of the guides, but those don’t always seem so trustworthy so I’m not surprised if it was incorrect!

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