Mardi Gras for non Mardi Gras People

I will never go to Mardi Gras. It is my personal version of Hell.

I respect Mardi Gras. I love the tradition of it. I love the spectacle. I love the weirdness and the mixture of Pagan ritual and Christian celebration into a new and unique thing. I also love New Orleans. So much.

But alas, I don’t drink, I hate large crowds and feeling claustrophobic, I have little patience for overindulgence, and I don’t eat dairy or eggs, so king cake and beignets and basically all Cajun food is a no-go for me and so every time the opportunity to go to Mardi Gras has come up I have wholeheartedly and absolutely refused.

Luckily, there is a place for people like me. That place is Mardi Gras World.

Gonna go ahead and call this as the World’s Largest Jester head.

If you’ve ever been on a cruise that leaves from New Orleans you have seen Mardi Gras World. It’s literally in the port. You probably stared at it while you were waiting in port traffic to get to your ship. Aside from the few characters outside it’s a totally unremarkable building, very large and low and white. It looks like a warehouse because it’s a warehouse.

I tried to figure out a pun using the word “cruise” and “krewes” but I couldn’t do it

This is the production and storage facility of Kern studios, one the largest manufacturers of Mardi Gras floats. The story goes that local artist Roy Kern caught the attention of the captain of a local Mardi Gras Krewe during the depression and he and his son began building floats for them. Kern Studios was founded in 1947 after Blaine, Roy’s son, had become the city’s leading parade and float designer. It was open to the public for tours in 1984.

Do not recommend taking psychedelics before coming

A ticket gets you a tour. We were there on the off season (November) and were actually the only ones on our tour which was great because we got to skip the “try on costumes” bit for kids, and were basically left alone and unsupervised to wander a warehouse full of wonders after we were done.

Making floats for Mardi Gras is a year round job so there are multiple artists on site at all times actually in the process of making props for floats.

You ever realize that you really messed up in choosing a career path?

The process is still remarkably old school. Most of the large elements are made from many layers of styrofoam glued together and then carved by hand into the appropriate shape. They are then covered in paper maché and eventually painted. Kern studios possesses only one automated machine, a laser cutter which was cutting out fluer du lies, I think for the Endymion Super Krewe’s floats, but don’t quote me. Everything else is done by hand by a real human person. This makes the storage of all these elements even more important because they are often reworked and reused. Even paper flowers and leaves are salvaged from the floats and repainted to new varieties.

This lady head may have been many characters over the years, getting different hair and paint jobs

Because there is no official “boss” of Mardi Gras, and Krewes are non profit and self governing, there is no official theme of Mardi Gras, and even it’s ‘official’ colors were simply chosen by the Rex Krewe at one point and stuck. Even so, Krewes do generally choose one, often kept secret until the parade. Sometimes they seem to be related to the times (patriotic themes post 9-11) sometimes not (many of the floats in the warehouse while we were there were Greek mythology themed)

stoned fish and friends contemplating paper flowers

Actually one of the funnest things about Mardi Gras World was trying to imagine the float and theme each piece came from

Obviously the place was full of recognizable characters. I asked the tour guide how they handled copyright issues, and she said they usually just make the character recognizable but not not exact so technically it’s hard to sue them over it. I’m sure they avoid Disney characters like the plague.

Knowing Gene Simmons, he probably still sued them for this

After our tour was finished, the ridiculously trustworthy staff just left us to wander around as long as we wished. Random staff members saw us wandering among the floats and props and simply headnodded. We pretty much only left because the sun went down and the warehouse has limited light and heat. I was satisfied. I got to see the riot of colors and art of Mardi Gras without the actual parade.

probably my best use of my phones panorama feature to date

At any rate, I’ve managed to secure myself a king cake without eggs or dairy in it which I’ve been munching on while writing this and it needs to stop. So I’m going to stop writing also.

I guess I talked so much about Mardi Gras World that I didn’t talk much about Mardi Gras itself. The basics of Mardi Gras are that it’s a very large, very long party leading up to the Lenten fasting and culminating on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, or Fat Tuesday. If you want to learn more about the history of Mardi Gras, this is a good place to start.

http://www.mardigrasneworleans.com/history.html

This is the website for Mardi Gras World www.mardigrasworld.com

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