Tuesday, March 15, 2011

A Parade for Six

After seeing the participants in Church Point’s (LA) Courir de Mardi Gras (in yesterday’s entry) still remaining in the staging area nearly 30 minutes past the starting time for the courir or “run,” we wondered if we had missed something in the schedule.

We passed some of the parade entries as we looked for some indication of the morning's schedule.

“No, you’re OK,” was the response of a parade official. “If you head down to that house (about two blocks away), you’ll see the first event of the run.”

Soon after we reached the first stop, a float arrived, carrying a number of Mardi Gras queens, one of whom, I think, was the Queen of the Courir. They took their position in the front of the crowd awaiting the arrival of the Captain and the runners.

Explaining the “Mardi Gras run” is the difficult part. Explaining how it plays out is easy. Early Mardi Gras morning the riders gather in a central meeting area in town. The Mardi Gras varies in each town the way it is carried out, some people are on horse back, some on trailers and some on foot. So began Chris D. Raymond’s answer (almostcajun.com) to the question “What is Courir de Mardi Gras?

The Captain, usually riding horse back and wearing a cape, rallies together the runners. He and his co-captains must ride unmasked.

The motive of the Captain and those on the run is: a quest or a mission to go throughout the countryside acquiring ingredients for a communal gumbo to be shared by all. Just like in Medieval times, when times were hard and winter supplies were low, this was a welcome celebration. Although the run they do now is mostly symbolic, it reflects back to a time when things were not so easy. In the song that they sing, they ask for a little chicken or a potato, or a potato and some Cracklin`s, anything to help their cause. Donations of all kinds are taken, such as sausage, rice and money in the form of coins. The gift of all gifts to be obtained, the Holy Grail of Southwest Louisiana, is the chicken, a symbol of life, prosperity and perhaps a sense of achievement.

After this brief drama played out, the Captain, his co-Captains, and two wagons carrying the masked, costumed runners (see yesterday’s blog) moved on to the next farm house to repeat the next step of the mission.

We walked back to our parked truck to plan how we would spend the next three hours until the parade would begin.

We had read that some wagons followed the Captain around the countryside collecting the food items for a community meal, so we assumed that these wagons were part of the following numbers.

We thought it interesting that some of the floats were preparing for lunch--a lunch that could last throughout the upcoming parade. In some cases the work that went into preparing a place for a grill, food storage, and table service was greater than that for the construction of the float itself.

From con-versations with other parade-goers, we learned that there were nearly 100 entries in this year's parade. As we waited in the parking lot, we noticed the crowd getting smaller and smaller.

Interestingly enough, while the crowd was shrinking, the number of people on the floats was increasing. The floats were moving into parade formation as if awaiting a starter's pistol.

And then the "parade" began. Or maybe the unofficial parade. However we would define the movement, one by one the floats began moving past us.

Within 100 yards in either direction of where we stood, there were only four people--a couple and their two small children standing right next to us.

As the first float passed us, we waved; next to us the young children waved--and called out for beads. The kids were standing in the bed of a pickup, so the presence of these two cute kids at almost eye level of the bead throwers led to a number of beads being tossed their way.

With beads flying toward the children, we became a bit more animated in our arm waving.

I think that people on the floats were very happy to toss beads to the kids, but then felt sorry for "those other two folks" who seemed all alone. So they tossed beads our way, also.

We assumed that this procession continued through the countryside for the next hour or so.

The basic floats ("Some of these floats are put together in 12 hours, so that a guy and his buddies can ride and have a few beers" was one comment on parade floats that we were told) have a strong appeal.

This was community at its best--young and old just getting together for the sheer enjoyment of an activity. No competi-tion, no expensive decorations or costumes, no set of rules that define a "krewe" or specify requirements to have a formal ball in order to be called a krewe.

To say that Courir de Mardi Gras is a big deal in Church Point is an understate-ment. While writing this blog tonight, I checked the Church Point web page and found one of those countdown clocks. It announced: "340 days, 10 hours, 54 minutes, 56 seconds to Mardi Gras 2012."

We often wonder what one does with all the beads collected.

This was an example of one solution.

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