In the Sweet By and By Float
Because of its location on St. Charles Avenue, which is the longest leg of the Uptown krewes’ parade route, Bultman Funeral Home must forego mortuary services from the weekend before Mardi Gras through Ash Wednesday. The ever-patient dead must wait until the last bit of life has been squeezed out of mid-winter’s final fling. But then, on the spinning Great Wheel of Life and Death, the grand Feast of Fools of Carnival in New Orleans is a memento mori in its own right.[i] So, to host a bal masqué on Mardi Gras night in a funeral home, especially in such an inclusive Temple of Death that even opens its atrium to year-round concerts, is well within the mindscape of New Orleanians suckled on the maternal tit of everlasting make-believe. And Danny Daniels’ fête, La Divina Commedia, promises the same carnivalesque ambience: a truly divine comedy and no-holds-barred fantasia wherein he bestows his love of art and literature and magic on his friends. And, when it’s over, when the clock strikes midnight, he wants to enter the true Paradiso, wrapped in the arms of his late lover, trickster artist extraordinaire, George Febres.[ii]
[i] A religion unto itself and with its own rites, Carnival (from Middle Latin, carnivale—“flesh, farewell”) has its roots in Catholicism, which has its roots in paganism, which has its roots in the Time Before Time, when communication among all living species, from the very first amoeba to Homo sapiens, from tadpole to frog, from egg to turtle, and so on up the evolutionary ladder (not forgetting, of course, rocks, rivers, vegetation, earth, wind, fire, water, etc.) was the natural order of things. Such sacred communication fell under the rubric of Religion, which was under Art and Theater, and yet, since there was no concept of Religion or Art as separate from Life As They Knew It (how wise, n’est ce pas?), It was All Was One and One was All Good. Or, quoting latter-day visionary Julian of Norwich, “All shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well,” as well as Uncle Lionel Batiste, “Yeah, you’ rite!”
On Mardi Gras, that original All is One and All is Good peeks out from the stardust atoms of time, therefore contemporary religion plays a prominent role in the day’s festivities, and one is likely to encounter many different sects and denominations. One also encounters satire and surrealism, given that the original All is One ain’t there no mo’, and, as such, overweening power must be upended.
Turtleism and Frogism are twin branches of the belief system of the Mushuau Innu tribe of Newfoundland and Labrador. Evangelists carried their rituals and practices to the area well before Bienville claimed it, but eventually the heat and dearth of fresh reindeer meat drove all but the most stalwart back to their homeland. More’s the pity, many would say; fortunately there are a few remaining descendants to conduct their rites.
[ii] All right, all right. I know, and you know I know that George’s real life lover was not Danny Daniels (who isn’t based on an actual person anyway). But he was a colorful character, a wildly talented Visionary Imagist, a personal friend, and this is my way to honor his memory. Besides, even though every word in this book is true, it is still fiction. Search Terms: Río Revuelto: George Febres por X Andrade.