The epitome of any Mardi Gras is that moment where the light hits the cocktail and the magic begins. The dichotomy of floating and beading along definitely gets one into the mood. The angle of any Mardi Gras is fun with a sense of the unexpected. And dancing always plays a key role.
In Lake Charles, a community permeated by thoughts of family rallying together, Mardi Gras takes on an element of poise specifically heightened by the triumph of the Saints where the pride continues into all forms of life.
In comparison to a Mardi Gras like Houma which dictates a slightly different feeling but nevertheless pertinent, a further perception into this celebrative culture continued to focus within this Southwestern Louisiana town.
The Krewe Of Illusions Extraganza allowed for a view within the theme and design necessity required to place some of these productions togethers. Most outsiders have a perception of Mardi Gras purely as the big parades that are seen on TV, and that definitely is a big part of it. However it is the balls thrown privately most of the time, that show the true culture and influence of a long past system of society in America which is certain influenced by the French influence though oddly enough this area of Louisiana was not included in the original Purchase.
The theme that perpetrated itself throughout Illusions was of fantasy with somewhat historical perspective with the two elements of Rome and the American West albeit with almost a disco flavor. The King and Queen relegated in red, black and white beseiged by ornate feathers.
Inside the black tie ball as the band played, the Queen made her rounds. All the younger adult women in the audience fawned over this fairy tale structure made true and it definitely created that vision, more like a grown up reality of Prom than a Wedding. But one where the dancing and revelry can continue unabated, though the family friendly inclements of community allow for certain standards, and rightfully so.
Next on the Monday before Fat Tuesday, the Royal Gala displays all of the Krewes’ wares in front of the overall Court. The Southwestern LA/Lake Charles Visitors Bureau takes an intensive interaction with these events which gives a sense of true backing from the community.
A quick tour into the back area produced the possibilities with each Krewe possessing of their own rules and codes. The Krewe of Bon Couer rolled with the Moulin Rouge theme with can can girls, young and old, getting into the revelry. The Ball Captain, achieving his rank, was outspoken by his courtesans who relayed he only gets to kiss them which requires practice. The inhibition of Mardi Gras allows for this kind of roleplay but all from an innocent point of view. This is not New Orleans after all. But you can still get some of the feeling.
The dancing coming down the main stretch of the Gala is in the open arena style with tables filled with costumes and modern music, some good, some bad as the mixed drinks flow. A fallen angel, who rather likened herself to a “twisted Tinker Bell”, kept the vision working with a drop dead costume flittering throughout the arena even allowing for the gift of a garter.
Fat Tuesday brings a multi-tiered intention which preceded by the Children’s Parade Monday afternoon allows for a build up of both emotion and celebration.
Atop the Visitors Bureau Float within the Red Hat Parade, one gets the perspective truly of the psychology that empowers the bead thrower. While the aspects of beverages helps the call, a reveler understands that the people with the most enthusiasm enables the bestower to use better aim to find his or her target, which is much highlighted by dancing and the like…and even much more so in the dark. The music played also adds to the rhythm whether it be the traditional zydacote or the ever popular 70s party jams.
The pinnacle Krewe Of Krewes parade along Main Street is the party stop. Many residents as well as visitors set up in the early morning, eager to get the optimum vantage point. With the perpetration of local Serrano Punch combining the element of the Italian liquer with grapefruit juice, the movement of the Zydacote dancing entices the aspect of leading especially with the enthusiasm of local band Two Steps Sideways. As the floats proceed down the twilight of the boulevard, the sounds of everyone from Marvin Gawe to Michael Jackson to Quiet Riot encourage singalong as people jump with rhythm trying to catch the attentions of the bead bestowers.
Everything in tandem with Mardi Gras carries a history and everyplace is different. With Lake Charles, the Mardi Gras Museumhidden away in a public building shows the essence of craft undeniable in this kind of celebration. From the towering black and silver head of a cobra watching over its minions to the red and black luminescene of a masked courtesan, the designs are ornate and the designs shown, at times, as great as any classic Hollywood production.
Adding an element of locality, Harold Guillory , the lead washboard and singer of Two Steps Sideways, gathers people on occasion to teach the interest of zydeco dancing which was unfurled at the apex of the Mardi Gras parade. The steps are separated into the four building points of gumbo create a blueprint from which rhythm allows itself to be seen. Adding the element of fun worked the crowd as Harold’s son, talented in his own right, kept the dance contest going.
Trailing through the streets of Lake Charles in a horse drawn carriage gives one a sense of community as well. The building essence of the city is kept to rigorous historical standards although there is the incumbent person to be drawn in line. AC Harradine, local historian and raconteur, gives an undeniable sense of the history that flows from the original settlers who integrated into the town very differently than New Orleans as the logging industry came and blossomed with the intention of the tide.
When staying in Lake Charles, the essence of food is always of specific interest. There is always a balance between hearty and artisan. With dinner, the ribeye topped with soft shell crab and hollandaise sauce at Pujo Street Cafe captured just the right amount of tang and spice as chives peppered swirling of potatoes while the stuffed mushrooms filled with crab and spice coupled with an undeniable iceberg wedge draped in an ocean of blue cheese at The Harlequin simply dazzled.
Lunch always creates the pleasure of continuing the day. Steamboat Bills is the penultimate spot to visit in Lake Charles for that great afternoon haunt. Located right off of Interstate 10 and steps away from the visitors center, their crawfish know no bounds and require work of necessity. However, their spicy boiled shrimp, simmered in the same broth, fills with vigor while their shrimp etoufee either in a signature roll or on a loaded baked potato, sooths the soul. Despite any interrogative by convention, D’Angelo’s is anything but normal by comparison. Their Lecca pizza baked in a thin crust with garlic, lemon chicken and feta cheese is utterly satisying especially in a surrounding of crawfish diavlo pasta and a spicy shrimp and corn bisque that hits the spot.
Getting moving in the morning always requires an energy of will. At The Landing, Bloody Caesars (Maries with some dirty olive juice) give the ving for the activities of the day. For a more soothing introduction, Chez Caffe on the road to the Lake Charles Airport offers filling croissant sandwiches, killer milkshakes and the undeniable Southern feast of grits.
Looking out from the central HQ of Lake Charles in the form of the L’Auberge Casino & Resort over the waters of this hidden Louisiana town, the possibilities continue to ring true. Lake Charles has got game.
Revelry and the spirit of Mardi Gras has always been the essence of Louisiana and, to a strong cutural point, New Orleans. However it is the surrounding parishes leading out to edge of the Gulf that give a more community structured, down home feel where the neighbors are your friends and the crawfish melt in your mouth like butter.
Houma swirls its web of culinary richness and bead-ensuing frivolity with an essence of hard work that imbues the town. Inherently a fishing community which has taken the brunt of nature’s wrath from hurricanes over the years, Houma is remarkably resolute and filled with the kind of indomnitable spirit that entwines itself into every corner of life.
Mardi Gras is inherently a party to be sure but the key in any of its various forms across the Lousiana swath, the key is fun without losing the marbles totally. The base of the endeavor comparatively is one of community structure and pride.
Entering into the warehouse of the Houma Mardi Gras Parade, the sense of how seriously the experience personifies itself is seen in the details on the floats whether it revels in the chicanery of pirates or the outer space fantasy of “Star Wars”.
The staggering amount of beads, marked by those special high-end hand-made medallions that cause attendees to try whatever they can to attain them including regularly losing their minds, is a natural state of play.
The night rage begins in earnest as the lights start the train ablaze near the outlay of the Barrow Street Bridge. As the anticipation builds to crescendo, the cross generational appeal of the proceedings reaches its pinnacle.
The dance party takes shape outside the Starhouse Tavern where the DJ pumps the music loud as the rum swirls the light. The rhythm of the night permeates in the vibe highlighted by a general sense of fun where all come to enjoy, although some get more crazy than others.
The lights go dark as the beads start flying. The glowing visions of reds and blue balanced by florid costumes wrapped in winding streaks of light sticks keep the volley in tune. Screams of delight reverberate into the night as the streets swell with people.
The second parade of midday offers the possibility of the community to experience the frivolity in a different light but also allow those who might not have been able to make it because of family comittments or work to enjoy the revel.
The streets are packed six deep as coolers keep the fresh cold as the dancing on the floats reaches fever pitch.
The inherent vision of the local elders in full funk mode shows where the cool comes from, the masks swirling in knowledge.
Above on the terrace, the shots continue in whiskey as the swaying continues in earnest while below the delight of many intensifies in the funk of the moment as dragons fly by in motley lurid colors.
The wonder of Mardi Gras lies in its ability to turn any day into a massive street party where the worries disappear and the wonder reverberates in tandem.
Eating with gusto also starts the party right and the mobility and inception that motivates the want lies in the stomach of the beholder.
Boudreau & Thibodeau gets to the point for dinner. As the Abita Beer flows smoothly, an avalanche of crawfish waterfalls on the table. The little critters take work but once the aseembly line begins moving and the dipping commences, the vat of sides take precedence. The boiling pot brims with corn-on-the-cob and thick sausages that are imbibed with a dexterious flavor making it hard ro resist. The cheese steak surrounding by fried cheese simply serves to accelerate the proceedings.
Cafe Dominique, by comparison, functions with the personality of an ultra lounge in terms of ambiance but with a Lousiana flair reflecting its preciseness with an admirable balance that reflects in a smooth and cool experience. The grilled shrimp sparked with a tangy quality that was both filling and exceptional while an after dinner drink infusing cherry liquor and chocolate balanced with a cream custard dessert bathed in a thought of abstract art allowing for a tinge of irony.
Lunch requires a home spun vision that is brought in spades at A-Bear where the Shrimp Platter swirls in taste and hearty countenance topped with their signature crab sauce that hits the taste buds through the roof while the shrimp gumbo gave the hotness a run for its money.
The life that defines the bayou and the parish is the culture that permeates it bordered by the fury of nature, the vision of man and the beauty of time.
Beyond the energy of the party lies the basis of these truths which can be balanced between the necessary expression of art and the mystery of the bayou mixed with music.
Located in the midst of the Bayou Perit Caillou leading out to the Gulf lies the Chauvin Sculpture Garden swirling in mythology and creativity. Artist Kenny Hill, who has since passed, saw a world populated by angels eternally mixing the balance between heaven and hell. Despite its very basic metaphorical core, some of the images he conjures defy expectations.
Take, for example, the lighthouse vision of a man being carried to heaven sullied as the charred remains of former humans march to some unheard drum, forever stuck in time. The meaning is different for all but allows for reflection especially in the perception of this oft-hit geography where the superstition of ages still permeates.
Hidden off beyond the normal confines of regular art galleries, this labor of love reflects a man’s vision, not for money or riches, but simply for an ideal, whatever its focus might be.
On the reflective end of this perpective, journeying back into the swamp away from the confines of urban sprawl in the city allows for local culture to spring forth.
Embarking with Ron Guidry on his Cajun Man Swamp Cruise, the history and music of area are balanced with a dominating sense of the now as the machinery of decades past pump the oil from underneath this vast swath of land beneath Louisiana backcountry. It is a visceral treasure trove simply hard to get to and even more environmentally challenging to pull off.
The alligators watch warily, sunning themselves in perpetuity as the barges drift path in slow ballet, the mighty cypresses towering over the proceedings as the voice of Ron in his low drawl posterizes over the lives of time past.
Houma is place of diversive colors. The annual permeation of Mardi Gras is one of cheer and celebration as the community celebrates its individuality while perpetrating the artistic and philanthropic nature of its citizens.
Surrounding this with the essence of Down Home Louisiana cooking prepared in fusion or simply feastlike in style makes the journey that much more satisfying while unique visions like the otherworldy sculpture garden and the epic sprawl of the swamp mecca give a perspective that we are only passengers in this world.
Revel be praised for thou art eternal.