Carnival season is in full swing in southeast Louisiana, and alongside the height of festival season is the river, swollen with the runoff of rain and snow from the upper Midwest, squeezing through levees and past large cities, making its way to the gulf.
Becoming attuned to the different seasons down here – carnival, hurricane, high river – is one of the many distinct aspects of living and working in south Louisiana. Over the weekend I attended my first carnival ball only to wake up the next day, my hair still miraculously in place thanks to 100 bobby pins and several applications of hairspray, to bundle up against the chilly winds to watch the opening of the Bonnet Carre Spillway, a flood control structure built in the early 1930s designed to relieve pressure on levees in New Orleans and points south.
Rituals abound at these celebrations. Both were well attended and excitement was in the air. Iphones, cameras, beverages, and outfits – whether camouflage or sequin gowns – adorned the participants. Schedules were meticulously maintained, ballroom doors closing at 9pm, flood gates opening at 10am. The ‘wow’ factor of the glamour of carnival balls and engineering miracles seemed oddly homologous for me. At the ball, elaborate gowns, countless photographs, complementary drinks, elaborate entrances and tableau. All with order, purpose, and the tensions between the weight of old and new tradition being played out on the dance floor. The opening is flood control structures too have their rituals, requisite timing and appropriate protocol: Speeches, safety measures, media coverage. The earliest opening in the flood season, this is the 11th time the Bonnet Carre has opened, allowing the river to pass by New Orleans at a manageable height to make sure carnival season isn’t washed away.