Last year ago, the unimaginable happened: February passed in New Orleans with no Carnival parades. With parades cancelled due to Covid, there were no massive floats rolling the street, no masses of revelers standing elbow-to-elbow and hollering to have some beads thrown their way.
So New Orleanians had to use their own imagination and come up with a safer way to celebrate. What they came up with was Yardi Gras: a new tradition where revelers decorated their own homes as elaborate floats.
This year, Mardi Gras is back — but Yardi Gras survives as well, along with the spirit of imagination and ingenuity it represents. While there are fewer homes participating in the Krewe of House Floats this year, there’s still plenty of creativity on display, as seen in the neighborhoods of Broadmoor and Fontainebleau.
On the 8000 block of Nelson Street, for example, cars stopped to marvel at and take pictures of a house float decked out like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory. Titled “Pure Imagination,” the house features a giant cut-out of the famous fictional chocolate-maker as portrayed by Gene Wilder in the 1971 film. A sign over one window features an appropriate quote from the movie: “We are the music makers and we are the dreamers of dreams.”
“I wanted one of my favorite childhood movies to throw up all over my house,” said homeowner Greg Kata. “And it did.”
The explosively colorful and candylicious Wonka house also features Oompa Loompas, all the children who took part in the tour of Wonka’s factory, and even Wonka’s famous lickable wallpaper. (Note: the CDC recommends against licking stranger’s houses during a pandemic or, really, ever.)
Kata, who teaches drama at a local elementary school, was able to take advantage of his social media savvy to raise the funds for the Wonka house. He exhorted his 2.2 million followers on TikTok to donate money, and raised a little more than $20,000. The money went first to supporting local artists – Stronghold Studios produced the house float – and second to filling up community fridges, which offer free food for the taking to anyone who needs it.
After partnering with Sam’s Club, Kata was able to fill all the community fridges in the city, and plans to refill them several more times.
This is not the only chance for giving back during Yardi Gras. The Krewe of House Floats also invites participants to donate online to the KoHF giving fund, which will go to three charities that support local culture bearers and artists: CultureAid NOLA, Funky Uncle Live and Studio Be’s Eternal Seeds.
Kata went all out for the last Yardi Gras as well, with a house themed as “Purple, Green, and Golden Girls.” He said he’s glad the real Mardi Gras is back, but he doesn’t think that people should act like everything is back to the way it was before the pandemic.
He hopes that instead of acting everything is “back to normal,” people reflect on what they learned in the past few years of the pandemic, how they acted, and how they can grow from the experience.
“Are we better people for it? Are we supporting people? Are we becoming more neighborly?” he asked. “Did you just exist for the last two years or did you live? Did you find a way to still live and find your life and joy, or are you just biding your time?
“I realized early on, I don’t want to bide my time during this pandemic,” he continued. “I want to make sure that I’m not wasting time waiting for a return to normalcy that may or may not happen again.”
Another feat of imagination can be found on the 4000 block of Vincennes Place, where Brian Gage has co
nstructed an ode to his beloved 7-year-old dachshund, Tchoupitoulas Rex. A giant wooden dachshund stands on his lawn next to a martini glass, lit up with the word “Indoxicated.”
The literal cocktail weenie is Gage’s way of celebrating both his pet and the spirit of New Orleans. Dachshunds are small but fierce, always the center of attention, and unwaveringly protective of their home. In other words, they’re the perfect dog to represent New Orleans.
“I think it shows a resilience to the city and who we are, that the party has to go on,” said Gage.
Gage also has a 15-year-old black-and-white terrier named Prophet, but as usual, the dachshund ended up being the star of the show. (“We’re going make it all about you next year, Prof,” Gage promised.)
His friend Rob Hefner helped make the dog cut-outs and put up the lighting, Flower Power did the flower cut-outs, and a mysterious stranger added a finishing touch.
“We’re not sure who did it, but a car stopped one afternoon and a guy ran out with a blue ball and left it in front of the dachshund,” said Gage.
There was no particular theme to the Krewe of House Floats subkrewe this year, so homes were free to “do watcha wanna.” Other notable homes include a Charlotte’s Web-themed house on the first block of Versailles Boulevard, an ode to soul singer Irma Thomas on the 4500 block of South Prieur Street, and a skewering of Carnival parade behaviors in “Karen Goes to Carnival” on the 5800 block of Galvez Street.
A cut-out of Dr. Fauci, flanked by two shot glasses, proclaims, “I got my shots!” in the 3400 block of Napoleon Avenue, and “Mario & Luigi” go for the Mardi Gras gold on the 4900 block of South Johnson.
To find house floats, check out the the KoHF map here.
Reporter Sharon Lurye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.