I don't know how many of you watch the HBO show Treme set in New Orleans post-Katrina, but on last night's episode, the show featured several minutes of the Krewe of Muses (the parade I ride in) 2011 ride. It was soooo amazing to see it on television! They got the whole atmosphere of the parade just right from the lights to the marching bands and the crowd shouting "a shoe, please a shoe." I was so proud to be a part of this amazing group of women.
Today on Nola.com, Dave Walker posted a great interview he had with one of our fabulous muses, Virginia Saussy. In the article, Virginia explains more about the krewe. I thought you might find it interesting. I especially loved when she described how special it was to take place in the 2006 ride, the first one following the storm. It was my first and most favorite ride. Just as she describes, I remember turning the corner at St. Charles and Napoleon and seeing the crowds smiling and knowing that for so many it was the first time since August 28th that they knew they were home. The number of people who had signs thanking us for riding was overwhelming. I have never been so proud to be a part of Muses as I was that night. Now for more from Virginia...
Muses explained: The colorful krewe featured in 'Treme's' season-two Mardi Gras episode
Published: Sunday, June 05, 2011, 10:00 PM
Virginia Saussy is a Muses founding officer and chairman of theme and floats for the krewe.
Muses "was started by our Captain Staci Rosenberg in 2000 (and we had our first parade in 2001) because she felt there were few affordable options for women to participate in a nighttime Mardi Gras parade," Saussy said, in an e mail Q&A.
Is there a name for the troupe that carries the lighted, hand-held big shoes and butterflies on sticks in the parade?
The lighted butterfly puppets began parading with the Muses in 2006 and the Krewe commissioned the talented puppeteer to design the lighted dancing shoe puppets to join in 2007.
What's up with the big lighted shoe? Who rode in it in 2007? Who rode in it in 2011?
Muses LOVE shoes. One Muse said they represent a great strength and a great weakness. The giant shoe float is 17 feet tall and is covered with fiber optic lighting that changes colors as it rolls down the Avenue.
Each year the shoe carries a special guest or honorary Muse. (The Krewe of Muses does not have a queen or king, like other parades. We consider every rider a queen.) In 2007 our honorary Muse was Erato, the Muse of Poetry - Brenda Marie Osbey, the Poet Laureate of Louisiana, who taught numerous literature subjects around the country and was twice appointed visiting writer-in residence at Tulane University and scholar-in-residence at Southern University.
Our 2011 Honorary Muse was Liz McCartney, Director of Development and Co-Founder of the St. Bernard Project, a non-profit organization that rebuilds storm-damaged homes and lives in St. Bernard and Orleans parishes. Liz was also named the CNN Hero of the Year in 2008 for her work with the St. Bernard Project. She was born and raised in Washington, D.C., but is now a proud New Orleans resident. Liz and the SBP team have rebuilt over 350 homes in the New Orleans area and also provide free mental health services to uninsured residents. Liz rode with Pamela Johnson, whose house is being rebuilt by St. Bernard Project with funds raised by Muses as well as some volunteer Muse workers. The house is due to be completed and ready for Pam to move home later this month.
A Muses shoe has become one of the treasured parade keepsakes of Mardi Gras. When and how did that ritual start?
After years of research, with several women claiming to be the first shoe glitterer, we have tracked a shoe back to 2001 and the first parade! The first year we made a bead with a medallion shaped like a high heeled pump, so one of the Muses went to a local thrift store, bought two pairs of pumps and glittered each shoe in the style of a Zulu coconut. The unique Zulu coconuts were our inspiration. Over the past 11 years, the shoes have become increasingly more detailed and elaborate (glitter, marabou, fur, feathers, bells, rhinestones, etc.) and one shoe takes a rider from several hours to several days to complete. Each is its own work of art. They are only done as single shoes, never in pairs. Each Muse is limited on how many shoes she is allowed to bring on the float so they are very special. Each shoe is marked with the year as well.
I've heard that there are shoe decorating parties. Do you have any tips for cleaning up a room after the glitter bomb goes off during one of those?
Who cleans up? Most of us have given up on trying to clean up as the glitter NEVER goes away. Our saying is "Give into the glitter." Glitter has become a year-round part of our lives.
Do men flash at the floats? Successfully?
Since the first year men have occasionally attempted flashing for Muses throws (because all of our throws are amazing and special - not just our glittered shoes)! However, Muses, and locals, as a rule, are opposed to flashing. It is for the trash and the tourists and we do not like it or encourage it in any way! What is undeniably more powerful then flashing is that men along the route tell each and every Muse that she is the most beautiful women he has ever seen continually...we are suckers for that. And yes, we know he says it to all of us! It still works.
What's the most successful way for parade-goers to negotiate for a shoe?
Signs! We love some signs....especially signs with glitter. My favorite sign of all time was a young man's which said "I always put the seat down." I know of one ten year old girl who made a sign "Future Muse needs a shoe" and she got eight in one night. Others have included "Shoe Fetish" and "Closeted Glitter Addict" - the more creative the signs, the better you do! It is also essential that you be close to the float as the shoes are handed down gently and cannot be thrown into the crowd. (Examples of these signs can be seen on the Krewe of Muses Facebook page.)
From the perspective of a Muse, what's that exchange like when it happens?
We say a shoe isn't finished until you hand it off the float! I love handing it to someone who totally does not expect it. You just know you made that person's night!
One of the characters in the episode catches some beads with a Muses shoe on it. Are there Muses-specific throws, and how do you come up with those? What's your all-time favorite?
Each year Muses has a different shoe bead -- a pump, a platform, a mule, a boot. It changes each year. In 2007 it was a boot made to look like the one worn by Wonder Woman. Our theme was "The Adventures of Super Muse," a superhero character, who came back post-Katrina to clean up New Orleans. If there was ever a time we needed a superhero in New Orleans it was 2007. So she wore superhero boots of course!
The Krewe of Muses is known for unique logoed throws - around 30 different items each year. Over the past 11 years we have thrown pedicure kits, satin sleep masks, the first plush spears, mini-radios, light up rings, flashing bracelets, shoe beads, glitter powder puffs, fiber optic beads, recyclable grocery bags, backpacks, lunch boxes..a variety of amazing throws.
How is each year's theme picked? Who composes the satirical float cartoons? (I know that's not the right word. What is?) Do subjects of the satire ever act like soreheads? What's your all-time favorite float theme or joke or whatever you call it?
Each year The Captain and I try to come up with a theme that has not been done before. It sounds easy, but a good satirical parade theme is like one joke with 23 punch lines, .one for each float. Then a theme committee is formed to take the theme and turn it into 23 different floats, each funny on its own! Then the artist from Kern studios works with me to develop each float, the prop on the front, artwork for the sides, sometimes an extra joke on the back. We often do not complete a float until the day before the parade.
I have a few all time favorites and 2007 was one of them with the Adventures of Super Muse. We produced 35,000 comic books to go along with the theme and threw them from the floats! Each float was a nemesis or hero. Our mayor at the time was "Mighty Mouth" and our governor was "Wondering Woman." Former Congressman Bill Jefferson was "Mr. Freeze" because of the cash the feds found in his freezer.
Satirical parades in New Orleans are a great way for all of us to vent! We have the attitude "If we don't laugh we cry." Most of the subjects of our satire can laugh it off. Some find it to be a huge honor to be spoofed by a krewe and a few have even tried to purchase their props as a keepsake! And then there are those who have never gotten over it and still hold a grudge.
What's up with the costumes you ladies wear on the floats?
The riders in the Krewe of Muses parade wear two different toga-style costumes that change each year. In 2007 we actually wore royal blue and red -- superhero colors. In 2011 we wore black and white. Each float competes in a contest for the most creative headdress to go along with their float theme each year and the winners rides the title float the following year.
I know that step one is not being a dude, but how does one join Muses or roll with your parade?
For the first 10 years of the Krewe of Muses existence we were an open membership, inclusive organization. We felt it was important to create a carnival organization that all women (over the age of 18) could join. The result is the most racially and socioeconomically diverse krewe in Mardi Gras. We are very proud of this.
We currently have 875 riding members, as there are a limited number of spots on the floats, and over 1,000 women on the waiting list who are considered non-riding members. At the moment, our list is closed, since it had grown so large. Each year we auction off one ride in the parade on eBay to benefit a chosen charity.
Do you have a favorite moment or two from your own rides? Something that distills the Muses experience?
Each year as we turn on to the official route and the parade starts, it is my favorite moment. I get as excited as a five-year-old on Christmas morning! And then for hours you feel like a rock star and it is the most amazingly fun thing you could possibly do. It is a high that holds me over for 365 days!
The parade of 2006 was incredible and meaningful! Because it was the first Mardi Gras after Katrina, there was a surge of New Orleanians who came home for the first time since the storm to be a part of Mardi Gras again. People had signs saying "Thank you for riding" and we loved every second of it. And for many of us that year, it was the first time we felt like life had gone back to normal since the storm, at least for the duration of the parade.
Our parade that year ended with a special float. Mnemosyne, in Greek mythology, the mother of the Muses and the goddess of memory, was the last float. It was dominated by a huge head prop of a beautiful woman with large tears rolling down her face and said "We celebrate life, We mourn the past, We will never forget." We rolled it empty, no riders, in memory of all of that New Orleans had lost in and since Katrina. After laughter came the tears and there was not a dry eye on the Avenue. I think everyone felt the same way.
And the last float in 2007 was a great and appropriate message as well! It was our Siren, who usually ends each parade with her own joke or statement and she said "You Have the Power to Save New Orleans." The last page of the comic book had a list of ways people could volunteer. I love that message!
What's the theme for next year's parade?
The parade theme is ALWAYS secret. You find out when we roll the Thursday night before Mardi Gras!