The children are sleeping. The Professor is at work, writing a paper. I’m on the couch, nursing the last lingering effects of a minor hangover (and two horribly scabbed up and swollen knees – but that story to come). I’m listening to the rain. I have a mug of jasmine tea in hand, and some of the kids’ chocolate teddy grahams to nibble on. The world could not be a more pleasant place, in my estimation.
Two nights ago, I was sitting on a dirty street curb, holding my escaping one year old by the back of the pants and trying to keep my three year old from wiping his muddy tennies all over my jeans. We’d selected an advantageous spot along Magazine street, and had lined up our wagons, coolers, and camp chairs (those that hadn’t been soaked at Druids the night previously), all set to wait for Muses to roll by.
In 2000, a group of self-described “diverse” women formed a Krewe and decided to name it Muses, the collective name of Zeus’s nine daughters, many of whose names appear on New Orleans’ street signs: Calliope, Terpsichore, Melpomene, to name a few. Muses is one of the most well-regarded parades (with the most coveted membership) in the whole of Mardi Gras. They have great throws, great floats, great themes. This year, the theme was “Muses go Shopping,” and featured clever floats that played on the names of typical stores in the mall: Adolescent and Rich, Things Forgotten (this had representations of well-loved old New Orleans establishments that had gone out of business, including the bakery that my niece is named after), J.C. Penniless (with cartoons of the empty-pocketed and unemployed), and 22 others. (Their website will list what the floats looked like, though it still has only the details from last year at this point.) The Muses floats usually reference current events, and are often biting, scandalous, and very, very funny.
Every year, in addition to their clever float satire, the overall Muse theme is always shoes – they start their parade with a giant glittering shoe float, in which stands the year’s celebrity Muse (Patricia Clarkson this year).
Lots of the Muse-specific throws have a shoe incorporated somehow – there are shoe bracelets, shoe necklaces, shoe coozies . . .
In addition to spending hundreds of bucks on glittering plastic stuff to throw, each Muse decorates several real shoes in glitter, feathers, and beads, and then they spend much of the ride taunting spectators with them. This may be one of those situations where you just have to live here to understand, but a Muses shoe is a deeply coveted item (along with Zulu coconuts). People go WILD when some masked woman in a neon green wig dangles a Muse shoe overhead.
My SIL, BIL, and niece drove in from South Carolina, and they met us literally three minutes before the parade began – good thing, because once Muses begins, the streets fill up and it gets really hard to find people. We hugged all ’round, and cheersed our Bud Lites, and then turned to face the street and watch the magic happen. (I recommend you click this linkto look at a great photo reel on nola.com – you can see the big shoe, the “mall directory,” the bathtub, and other things I’m about to describe.) The parade began with a truck dragging a trailer that has spotlights and confetti cannons, with Patricia Clarkson and her minions following close behind in the glittering shoe. Behind the shoe, as every year, walked about a dozen performers who carried enormous lit butterflies and shoes – the performers held up the delicate sculptures with poles about five feet tall, and the lovely effect dazzled the children in the crowd.
After the Big Easy Rollergirls skated by (passing out mall directories so we could get a preview of the floats), and then the flambeaus passed (begging for tips), finally the themed floats began to roll by – each carrying between 20-50 women who all wear white masks and neon colored wigs. Beads, light-up necklaces, coozies, cups, Muses shoe pins, and more all went flying off the sides of the double decker floats and into the wailing crowd. The huge Muses bathtub float went by – it’s another that rolls every year, filled with “bathing Muses.” We took turns lifting the children to beg for good throws – my niece was being all cute, wearing a huge ribbon in her hair, and she collected an obscene amount of plush toys from the adoring women.
Jack’s best friend’s mom is a Muse. She told me to look for her on the J.C. Penniless float. I didn’t think I’d see her – it’s dark, there are about fifty women on each float, they’re all wearing masks, and the darn things sometimes go flying by, pulled by tractors that are trying to keep the parade moving. But I knew her float number (12) and her float position (lower level, #4 from front, sidewalk side), so I knew I had a fighting chance at finding her. In between floats, there were bands and dance teams, music trucks, a pack of Elvises on scooters, even tall-walking circus performers. I was distracted by the crowds, the spectacle, the splendor, and trying to catch up with my relatives (in the midst of all the noise) – and then suddenly, J.C. Penniless was rolling by! I dashed across the street to Adrienne’s side, and then searched and searched for her – having totally forgotten where she was supposed to be. Luckily the parade paused for a few minutes, so I had a little bit of time to find her. I almost gave up, and then I recognized a pair of eyes behind a mask, and shouted her name and waved like a madwoman. She screamed my name back, and then ceremoniously lifted a glitter shoe over the railing and handed it to me. I reached up to take it, and two women literally began to fight me for it, grabbing it from my hands and trying to yank it away. Adrienne reached into the fray and grabbed it back, then handed it to me again. This time I tucked it in close like a football, waved and blew kisses, and hurried away before those crazy bitches could tackle me. I’m not too certain they wouldn’t have. As I cleared the crowd and crossed the street to our little camp-chair setup, I waved my prize in the air, and got some appreciate oohs and aahs from our neighbors. I then buried it deep into one of our throw bags – I didn’t want some crazy person to come and steal it.
The children ran circles around the wagons on the sidewalk behind us as we chatted, drank beer, and turned our attention to the floats when they rolled by. Just as Jack and Ella began to totally melt down, float number twenty-five passed our spot, followed by a fire truck – a signal that the parade was over. We piled the children into one wagon and the stuff into another, and then barreled our way through the crowds, heading two blocks down the street and then right into our front door. (I love where we live.)
We collected a nice pile of stuff that I’ll soon package up and ship off to some other household of children (it’s the getting, not the having, that’s fun). We kissed our good nights and went off to bed, because the next day was D’Etat, and I would be participating in that one as a “security guard.” I needed my rest for the upcoming six mile walk . . .