Festigals Parade, Mardi Gras World and Food!

I love sharing my city my way but one of the best things about having out-of-town guests is that it can push you to be a tourist in your own city. My mother has been coming to New Orleans throughout her life so we have things we ALWAYS like doing – like getting beignets at Cafe du Monde or snoballs (from my fav – SnoWizard). But we also like exploring new things, even taking a tour. Last week had plenty of both.

The first thing my mom and stepdad wanted to do was stop by the Garden District Book Shop to see my books on display. The Secret of the Other Mother: A Charlotte Reade Mystery had just sold out again and has been a bestseller there. Ted and Rayna seem to know every book in the store as if they were in their home libraries and helped us find a bagful.

That night, we ate at Susan Spicer’s Bayona. The James Beard Award winner wowed our table with her amazing garlic soup and the signature lamb. We’d returned to the restaurant this time at my stepfather’s request over that unforgettable Peppered Lamb Loin with Goat Cheese and Zinfandel Sauce. Our servers, Jane and Penn were perfect – attentive and professional while personable, interesting and sometimes hilarious.

The next thing on my parents NOLA “bucket list” was actually a trip to Mobile, Alabama to see my name on the clock tower at the University of South Alabama as a Distinguished Alumni Award winner. As they were unable to attend the gala introducing the winners and the later ceremony unveiling the names on the monumental Moulton Tower, I was happy to finally share my totally-unexpected achievement.

We had lunch at OK Bicycle Shop, a super-cool Mexican bar/restaurant our whole cast and crew fell in love with while we were filming Convergence in the area. The guacamole is one of the best I’ve ever had – and I lived in California for 18 years and traveled to Mexico fairly frequently. The staff is laid-back and super-friendly and the patio offers everything from games on the giant TV’s to karaoke and live music.

That night, we watched Ozark Sharks, a family vacation gone wrong movie and the follow-up to the SyFy movie Zombie Shark where I played a scientist who’d accidentally invented the zombie sharks. I live-tweeted until I was temporarily shut down for tweeting and retweeting over the limit within a half hour (???). I’m still getting the hang of the whole tweeting thing but it was actually a lot of fun seeing everyone’s comments, reactions and memes.

Next on Mom’s list was a trip to Blaine Kern’s Mardi Gras World to take a tour. Starting with giving us beads instead of tickets, the tour attempted to immerse us in the world of Mardi Gras. They took us to a large theatre with racks of krewe uniforms and hats, then left us alone for awhile to put some on and take photos with some of the props scattered throughout the room. We watched a fun and informative 15 minute film about the history and culture of Mardi Gras. I got a kick out of seeing friends of mine and locals I recognized in the footage.

The tour began with a peek behind the curtain of how all of the magical floats are designed and constructed. We watched as artists placed paper mâché over styrofoam molds. Later, we watched painters bringing the massive “props” to life. The future of float design and construction was evident in a Willy-Wonka-like room plenty-big enough to pull a float into. Through the long windows, we could see the designs on the computers and the robotic arm-drill resting between precision-carving massive blocks of styrofoam.

My favorite part was actually at the end of the tour when we were allowed to wander on our own throughout the giant warehouse. Orpheus floats were parked in rows and the massive flowers that adorn them were stacked in piles ready to be applied  when the floats are redressed in their new annual theme. I was able to show my mom where the riders hang their beads, etc. and relive stories of the year I rode in the Monarch float of Orpheus with Quentin Tarantino.

For lunch, we tried Martin Wine Cellar. We both chose the cobb salad and realized we could have split just one. Again, the staff couldn’t have been friendlier or more professional. And for supper, we ate at Dick & Jenny’s – my choice for favorite cornbread in the city. Once again – wonderful service. The restaurant is running a summer special – an appetizer, an entree and either a dessert or glass of wine for $35. Mom especially loved her vegetarian squash dish.

The next day, my mother finally got to see me parade as a Pussyfooter in the Festigals Stiletto Stroll. A fun, feminine parade, this year’s theme was “Illuminating Domestic Violence,” and the benefited the New Orleans Family Justice Center. The 2013 Stiletto Stroll was the first New Orleans parade I’d ever been in and my first official Pussyfooters event. Though I’m fairly used to performing in front of people, I was as nervous as a kitten. We call the first year Pussyfooters “Kittens” and this event was the first time I ever had my own new member to introduce to the world of dancing and parading with this amazing non-profit sisterhood of women over-30.

Monica, my Kitten, and I first met on the set of Django Unchained. She later provided a beautifully decorated black/gold/white (Saints, of course) cake for our wedding. Every year that I’ve been a Pussyfooter, I’ve put more of myself into the organization and its work in our community. It’s been a thrill to relive my first steps through Monica, to watch her realize what a commitment and amazing experience this will all be – that she’ll get out of it what she puts into it. I’ve gone from being a “Newbie” (what we used to call the Kittens) to a Pussyfooter to a Mama Cat, from learning the dances to teaching them and from reading our Tweets to writing them.

Best of all, it’s been an amazing Pink Power  journey from being scared of large groups of women to loving almost everything about them. The Stiletto Stroll features many of our festive and fabulous women’s dance krewes including the Black Storyville Baby Dolls, Oui Dats, Muff-A-Lottas, Camel Toe Lady Steppers, NOLA Showgirls, Amelia Earhawts and the Krewe des Fleurs. My family loved it and met me at the end wearing beads they’d caught.

My love of movies has a lot to do with my mother so we decided to see Gleason, the story of former Saint, Steve Gleason. Many in the crowd sported Who Dat gear, Gleason jerseys and No White Flags t-shirts. Gleason is best known locally as the man who blocked the Falcons’ punt during the first post-Katrina game in the rebuilt Superdome. That moment has been immortalized in a statue in front of the Dome as the beginning of our city’s “Rebirth.” Nationally, Gleason is known as a champion for awareness and fund-raising for those suffering ALS. It was a great movie but I cried through a LOT of napkins.

Tonight, we’ll finish Mom and my stepdad’s visit with a meal at Commander’s Palace. I can already tell you the service will be wonderful and the food will be amazing. I love my city and all the ways I get to share it.

2 Comments

Filed under Charity, Culture, decorations and costumes, festival, free events and lagniappe, parade

2 responses to “Festigals Parade, Mardi Gras World and Food!

  1. Stafford

    Hope that the Festigals parade was a good warm up for next year’s parades. Really enjoyed this blog entry. Appreciate all that y’all do to be great ambassadors for the city.

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