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On rain, riding, and basic costumes this Carnival season

Carnival notes, 2012.

Toth rider Dustin provides a stellar Carnival moment.

Last week, it rained on many parades. Last year, it rained on mine.

In 2011, as I was flinging beads from my usual spot on the last float in the Iris parade, the skies opened and the rain came, drenching our ride. For some peculiar reason, our float driver stopped abruptly under the overpass at Lee Circle and refused to drive on.

The rest of the parade rushed ahead through the downpour, hurtling toward parade end at the Hilton Hotel. We watched the floats roll out of sight, and then were told by the police to dismount our own float. RIGHT NOW.

So my youngest daughter Katherine and I, sans leftover throws, parasols or rain gear, were left to hike home in the thunderstorm.

This being New Orleans, that was not the end of the story. Within a block, we had been hailed from the wide front porch of a St. Charles raised shotgun double, where we were given a hot plate of jambalaya, a cold can of Abita Amber, and a lively conversation about rain, Carnival, good throws, and who we knew in common.

Our party hadn’t been cancelled, just rerouted.

And across St. Charles Avenue, we watched as a soggy marching band filed one by one into a bar, where, I later heard, they played an impromptu concert for the patrons to rousing applause.

A New Orleans moment. We live for them.

Flash forward to 2012 and my current favorite Mardi Gras moment.

The crowd was heavy but happy and throws plentiful along Henry Clay Avenue as the Thoth Parade rolled by.

As Float 22 drew near, the parade stopped. And stopped. And stopped. It was one of those seemingly interminable moments when nothing is moving and you don’t know why, but you hope it’s a king’s toast downtown or a flat tire up ahead and not anything to do with gunfire.

The skies were brightening, a horde of paradegoers started tossing rubber footballs back and forth with the upper tier of riders, and kids ran circles in the streets.

Then, quietly, without fanfare, rider No. 4 in the sidewalk-side well of Float 22 dropped his armful of beads, reached down, and picked up a trumpet. The clear, bouyant notes of “The Saints Go Marching In” floated across the crowd.

The guy was good. Paradegoers were entranced. He continued to play, off and on, a series of trumpet solos, just an anonymous man in a mask who had brought along his horn and, on a whim, stopped to play.

A Mardi Gras moment. We live for them.

Paradegoer Lindsey Varney captured this short video of a musical Thoth rider at Mardi Gras 2012:

Every costume collection needs to include wigs. Lots of them. Blinky ones, too. Jacob and Scott Newman model these at the Hermes Parade.

Last year I wrote about costumes, and the fact that any self-respecting New Orleanian has a costume trunk or a costume closet, filled with the odds and ends of our eternal pursuit of make-believe.

This year, I got to thinking about that when my oldest daughter Megan stopped by to rummage through the family costume horde. Not much here, she said. And indeed, much of our fake finery went to the curb post-Katrina.

So it may just be time to restock the family costume collection. To that end, here are eight basic elements that any decent costume trunk in New Orleans should contain:

  1. Tutus. They have become the quintessential foundation garment of Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween and every fete day between. Make you own by knotting lengths of tulle around an elastic waistband.
  2. Wigs. Assorted styles, colors, lengths, cuts. Outrageous (metallic, neon orange) or chic (blonde, curls, upswept, braided).
  3. Headbands. Blinking, bobbing, feathered, horns, halos, antennas. Just stock them.
  4. Hats. For Carnival, jester fare is fine. For other holidays, consider a good top hat, cowboy hat, beret, feathers, anything with Austrian rhinestones.
  5. Boas. A go-to accessory for females; cheap (at Mardi Gras supply stores and the French Market flea market, but not in tourist shops) and available in any hue of the rainbow.
  6. Tights. Unisex accessory, really. Flesh-colored for warmth, but the true Big Easy reveler has ‘em in multiple patterns, colors, and sizes. Metallic gold is the new black.
  7. Beads. Make that good beads. A few extra-special strands to start off the evening, or add to a celebratory outfit. Something in black and gold, something blinky. Save the very best and donate the rest of your Carnival stash to the Arc or St. Michael’s; plastic does not have a half-life.
  8. Face paint. Garish colors are good, glitter paint even better.

Renee Peck, a former feature editor and writer at The Times-Picayune, is editor of NolaVie.


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