Bishop Arts Mardi Gras Parade, Oak Cliff, Dallas, Texas
Laissez les bons temps rouler
The Girl With Many Eyes
One day in the park
I had quite a surprise.
I met a girl
who had many eyes.
She was really quite pretty
(and also quite shocking!)
and I noticed she had a mouth,
so we ended up talking.
We talked about flowers,
and her poetry classes,
and the problems she’d have
if she ever wore glasses.
It’s great to know a girl
who has so many eyes,
but you really get wet
when she breaks down and cries.
—- Tim Burton
The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes.
I think the eyes flirt most. There are so many ways to use them.
The tree which moves some to tears of joy is in the eyes of others only a green thing that stands in the way. Some see nature all ridicule and deformity… and some scarce see nature at all. But to the eyes of the man of imagination, nature is imagination itself.
When a woman is talking to you, listen to what she says with her eyes.
Men are born with two eyes, but with one tongue, in order that they should see twice as much as they say.
—-Charles Caleb Colton
When you are old and gray and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire, take down this book and slowly read, and dream of the soft look your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep.
—-William Butler Yeats
The hardest thing to see is what is in front of your eyes.
—-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Wicked thoughts and worthless efforts gradually set their mark on the face, especially the eyes.
So if you’re down on your luck, I know you all sympathize
Find a girl with far away eyes
And if you’re downright disgusted
And life ain’t worth a dime
Get a girl with far away eyes
—-Mick Jagger/Keith Richards
I love Mardi Gras in New Orleans but we simply couldn’t afford to go this year. When I’m at a parade, I suffer from “bead frenzy” – where I want to grab those throws, no matter how many tons of cheap plastic beads I have stashed away in the back of a closet. It gets crazy… but that’s the idea. I love grabbing beads, and especially Doubloons… but there is one Mardi Gras throw that I have never caught and always wanted. I wanted a Zulu Coconut.
The Krewe of Zulu – full name Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club – has a long and storied history, intimately intertwined with the racial politics and culture of New Orleans. The legend is that Zulu started out as a satire on and parody of the upper-crust white celebration of Mardi Gras. After its beginings in the first decade of the 20th century, Zulu became the largest primarily African-American parade in New Orleans’ colorful panoply of Mardi Gras Krewes.
Zulu had its struggles over the years. The civil rights movement in the 1960’s threatened the Krewe, but it was able to survive and reformed its image somewhat. Katrina was a terrible shock, both financially and spiritually, but the Krewe fought its way back. Now, the climax of Carnival in New Orleans is on Tuesday, Mardi Gras itself, with the two (arguably) most famous Krewes taking to the streets, The Krewe of Rex, and The Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club.
Through all the changes and decades though, Zulu was famous for one thing especially. The most desirous of all Carnival throws – the Zulu Coconut.
In the early days, long before cheap chains of Chinese-made beads, the parades threw expensive glass necklaces. The folks of Zulu could not afford these and decided to purchase inexpensive coconuts and hand them out instead. Over the years these involved into hand-painted and prized souvenirs.
There is an inherent problem, however, with throwing something as hard and heavy as a coconut from an elevated parade float into the middle of a frenzied crowd. A lot of people were getting hurt. In 1987, Zulu was unable to get any insurance coverage and there was a halt to the throwing of coconuts. The legislature had to step in.
Anywhere else in the country, the government would ban the throwing of coconuts. Louisiana is not anywhere else, however. In 1988, Governor Edwin W. Edwards signed Louisiana State Bill #SB188, the “Coconut Bill”, into law removing liability from injuries resulting from a coconut – enabling the tradition to resume. Instead of banning the coconut, they banned the lawsuits.
They did stop throwing – the coconuts are now, more or less, handed out. Also, they started using imported carefully hollowed out ‘nuts that are a lot lighter (though more fragile). They still are all hand-painted by the Krewe members. There are still lawsuits, but the tradition continues. According to most counts, about one hundred thousand coconuts are handed out on Mardi Gras during the Zulu parade.
Still, they are hard to get. I know people that have been going to Carnival in New Orleans their entire life and never had one on their paws. Most folks I talked to said you had to know someone in Zulu and make an appointment to meet them along the route to get a coconut.
I wanted one… wanted it bad.
I was talking about this to my son Lee, who lives in New Orleans and goes to school at Tulane.
“Oh, yeah dad, I get Zulu coconuts every year, it’s no big deal.”
“You’re kidding me Lee. What do you do with them?”
“Oh, I mostly give them to girls. Do you want one?”
“Yes I want one. I really want one.”
“I’ll get you one next Mardi Gras.”
He went on to tell me his secret method of getting Zulu coconuts, which I will not share here. It is ingenious, simple, and foolproof … and something I don’t want to make public.
So, this year, on Tuesday afternoon, while I was staring at a computer screen at work, a text came in to my phone from Lee.
“Got 2 Coconuts 4 U”
He did drop one later (though I suspect he might have given it to a girl) – and he forgot to bring the other one to Lafayette when we drove there for his Rugby Game – but the other day he came home for a surprise weekend visit and brought me my coconut.
My Zulu coconut. There is a sort of a face on the top - but it is where the broken bit is.
It’s not a thing of beauty – simply a coconut spray painted a bilious gold, with some glitter paint pen decorations and two cheap googly eyes glued on. Lee dropped this one too – I glued a piece back on but it still has one busted hole under one eye.
Candy and I couldn’t afford to go visit Lee in New Orleans for Mardi Gras this year… but we had to go to a parade. Luckily, the Bishop Arts District in Oak Cliff had their Mardi Gras on. Saturday was a run and Sunday was a parade.
It was a blast. Though not up the the standards set in New Orleans by the big Krewes, it was still a fun time. Plus, it was a lot easier to get there, park, and find a place along the parade route (The logistics of going to Carnival in New Orleans is daunting). The parade had a nice neighborhood feel to it with a lot of schoolkids, bicycles, and dogs walking along. Still, it had a lot of floats too – most with a strong sense of humor.
There were beads thrown, crawfish gobbled, and a beer or two tossed down. There was fun for young kids and grown kids too.
We made our reservations for this fall in New Orleans for Tulane Parents weekend and for next year’s Carnival. We really liked out B&B on Saint Charles, the Mandevilla, and will be going back there. 2012 will be our third Mardi Gras in a row and I’m already looking forward to it.
Last Mardi Gras was pretty much off the hook. The only downside is we don’t get to see Lee as much as we’d like – he’s hanging too much with his friends to meet up with his parents.
The downside to Mardi Gras in the Big Easy is that it is a logistical nightmare. I’m already thinking of strategies and resources to be able to get around… places to go, people to see, and things to do.
I do need to get over my bad habit of grabbing too many beads. I had a bit of a panic attack and almost strangled myself trying to get them off of my neck and over my head in an Italian Restaurant at two in the morning. They were so thick and tangled I was trapped. Candy told me, “Just cut them off!” – which was good advice but I couldn’t do it. They may have been cheap plastic beads made in China – but they were Mardi Gras beads, caught from a parade. I can’t cut them off.
Instead of beads, my favorite throw are the doubloons. These are cheap metal coins thrown from the parade floats. There are nice ones – collectors items, given to friends of the Krewes, but that’s not what I’m talking about. They are sometimes pretty hard to get, harder to catch than a string of beads, and the Krewes are a bit more stingy with the doubloons. I did learn one trick is to run up to the marshal, usually in a convertible at the head of the parade, and he’ll hand you a doubloon.
This year, Orpheus and Endymion ran back to back and we had a nice spot near the start of the parades, down on Napoleon Street, almost to Tchoupitoulas – right behind Tipatina’s. Some of the folks that lived there gave me a couple handful of doubloons, including some from previous years and other Krewes.
I’ve never been a collector of things, and I’ll never collect doubloons, but I like my growing pile of aluminium coins, they remind me of Mardi Gras. Here are a few:
A few aluminum doubloons from Mardi Gras Parades. Krewes: Orpheus, Carrollton, Morpheus, Endymion, D’Etat, Iris, Elks,Tucks, Thoth
I saw on Ebay, on the web, that you can buy piles of doubloons, but that’s not the same. They have to come from a parade. There’s a real excitement… hard to explain – standing in that huge crowd, shoulder to shoulder with a million strangers, ears ringing from the roar of the bands and the crowd, everyone yelling at the massive gaudy floats, desiring these worthless trinkets that come flying through the air. The arc of the flight, the leap, the grab.