Thursday, February 22, 2007

Time Out: Carnival in Lafayette

Occasionally, often around Mardi Gras (1, 2) or Festival (1, 2) I take a little time-out from fiber and tech-related issues to post a little something about the community and culture for which we are fighting. While Lafayette Pro Fiber is an unreservedly local outlet, our "battle of the bayous" has attracted a loyal and helpful readership with regular correspondents strung between California and Amsterdam. They put up with our no-doubt obscure references and tediously involved local stories to get to the information that is meaningful to them. Every so often it seem fair to let 'em in on some of the exciting and interesting local stuff. This entry is dedicated to them and, of course, those folks who make the Mardi Gras.

Yes, Mardi Gras. I've never tried depict Mardi Gras here. Not the real Mardi Gras. That thing you see on MTV and Fox News and that all America and the world knows all about because they've seen on TV it is faux. Whatever expression of a genuine cultural moment that Mardi Gras in the Quarter once had (as late-adolescent ritual moment of time-bounded "wildness" in a culture that is fundamentally more Creole than American) has been absorbed into an American fantasy of licentiousness. As a fantasy it is disturbingly revealing of a persistent puritan psyche and a mass media shaped by what products of that psyche finds fascinating. But it doesn't tell you much about Louisiana's native cultures or the role a real Mardi Gras plays in them.

I can't do that either.

I could natter on about traditions of mocking the powerful and satirizing power and sexual roles by inverting them. I could point to the idea that a cycle of excess and restoration once seemed as natural as spring being followed by summer. I could claim that the suppression of the idea that everything had a season and its replacement by the belief that self-control is an absolute virtue is one peculiarly Puritan idea that is both unattainable and arrogantly unattractive. But that wouldn't tell you much either.

Luckily the Advertiser has posted an amazingly rich body of material to their website that gives the patient reader-viewer a chance at generating a little insight.

What's more pouring through the archives is fun and a bit challenging -- and challenging our self-perception is what Mardi Gras really does best. I've linked to some suggestive material in my brief rambling on Mardi Gras below. I think most folks who aren't from Southern Louisiana will find them...alien... and a lot harder to understand than drunkenness and voyeurism.

Real Mardi Gras marks a transition from the revelry of Mardi Gras to the reflection of Ash Wednesday. The ending is inevitable and community leaders, even in cities like Lafayette are expected to ritually acknowledge it. The parades are a tradition--not just a spectacle. But they are far from the only tradition. The rural run, the courir, is storied and over-analyzed but the medieval resonances and the overtones of something more than mere mischievousness are real. Making private resources communal points to something the dominant modern economic ideologies find quite strange. Costuming is an essential part of the season. Being someone or something else, losing your "real" self is part of the moment. Costuming traditions are very local--sometimes as local as the family itself. In my neighborhood in North Lafayette a distinctive masking tradition in the black community is "the Mardi Gras"--"tribes" of people who dress in very distinctive and concealing suits made of cardboard boxes and crepe paper, usually in two colors. That tradition is often associated with the more famous New Orleans Mardi Gras Indians and the flash and feathers of that tradition has come to Lafayette in recent years.

There's more to explore, much more--have fun with the index. (Scroll down the page, look to the right, the material is there, just not very well organized.) Try to grok the balls. Take a look a the Krewe des Cheins. There's a world of weirdness down here. And we hope to keep it that way.

Thanks to all that have supported us in the fight.

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