By Isabelle Smith
A city where one can dance alongside a 5”9 Chewbacca.
A city brave enough to challenge society, satire meeting politics.
The passion of the city has returned, Carnival filling the hearts of every New Orleans soul desperate for a sense of normality after the horrors of the pandemic. Mardi Gras is the time to celebrate and enjoy the fruits of life. Bursts of purple, green, and gold swarm businesses, as king cakes fill the shelves of every grocery store. Gigantic floats blockade the pot-holed roads, as hands beg for the pounds and pounds of imported plastic beads being thrown by the bunch.
This is what America would describe, if asked to illustrate Mardi Gras in a nutshell. The commercialized, glamorized spectacle that people all over the country fly down to experience at least once in their lives. But Carnival is more than its captivating Krewes of Rex and Bacchus. Aside from the heavily popularized parades, smaller Krewes prowl in the midst of the city.
The floats are smaller, the throws aren’t as expensive, but the affection is just as strong. It’s a time where the community can come together and build something with meaning, physical labor combined with vison. Krewe du Vieux, and the Intergalactic Krewe of Chewbacchus, are just two of the smaller Mardi Gras parades that transform Carnival. These are some of the first parades to happen since COVID-19, and they brought back the spirit that New Orleans desperately needed.
February 5, 2022, every sci-fi lover’s dream came true. Aryanna Gamble, Tulane Professor by day and Chewbacchus coordinator by night, shared the joys of finally being able to roll this year. “It’s a community building aspect of what Mardi Gras can do,” she said with wide eyes. One of the key principles of this parade is inclusivity, with low dues of $42 to roll. You don’t need to know somebody or be rich to roll- all you need is a costume and spirit. Floats can easily be a bicycle, flag, and a group of happy marchers. Gamble describes her reason for putting together Chewbacchus is due to “that feeling. There’s nothing like it. She spoke on the struggles of not having Chewbacchus last year, and how it felt like a great sense of loss. To finally have it again meant the world to her. Lovingly, she recounted how she woke up the next day, still dancing in her dream. “It simply is a time to be alive”. The intense joy created isn’t from catching a prestigious signature throw- it’s from the krewes who bring favorite childhood characters to life, and the people thrilled to witness it.
One week later, the New Orleans streets transformed from Star Wars and sci-fi, to a satirical show of dark humor. Krewe du Vieux could be described as a parade where thoughts can be provoked whilst one is dancing and cheering. It is composed of independent sub-krewes, all responsible for the construction of their floats and bringing their own wonderous illusions to life. What makes Krewe du Vieux simply aweing though, is the lack of boundaries. They aren’t afraid to be controversial, make fun of public figures, or simply make one laugh due to their vulgar contraptions.
Greg Swanson, Captain of sub-krewe “Drips and Discharges” shared his experience of his 2022 Krewe du Vieux roll with profound excitement. Like Gamble, he shares the same artistic vision. This year was the comeback, and Swanson, amongst dozens of others, worked day and night to put together a truly imaginative show. One of the best parts, he said, was the process. The New Orleans community shared their own blood and sweat, despite having day jobs that took most of their time. “It’s as much the buildup as it is actual parade day.” To Swanson, simply getting together with friends and getting to put an idea to life is rewarding. He eagerly described his krewe as “a magical magical group of idiots,” all trying to do something different than what all the other krewes had done. His krewe specifically poked fun at the larger Mardi Gras parades, which, he says, celebrate being rich. And it’s safe to say that Krewe du Vieux succeeded in drawing out the crowds. The French Quarter was illuminated, and cheers echoed throughout the city, roaring with admiration and laughter.
Getting to witness Chewbacchus and Krewe du Vieux is enchanting in itself, but the true beauty from them comes from the passion and drive of the people who are able to put it all together. Gamble and Swanson don’t do these parades for money or higher status in the community. They do it for the feeling. The feeling of creating art, and to be able to dance with a stranger on the street. This is the part of Carnival that many people fail to see. Regardless of their size, or the length of the parade route, these smaller parades are truly the heart of New Orleans Carnival. And what a joy it was for Mardi Gras to bounce back.