In contrast, the Romantic Times conferences are a great big rollicking party. <G> There are actually a lot of very good workshops at RT (I was on three panels), but it's first and foremost a conference for readers. The authors are there as bait, to see our friends, and to promo our books.
A major reason I opted for this recent conference is because I love New Orleans. It's a great city and we were right on the edge of the French quarter. Go out the front of the hotel, and there was Canal Street. Go out through the garage and there you are on a very narrow little street with great little restaurants and shops.
I think this was my fifth visit to New Orleans, and each was in connection with a conference. On my flight down, two other women were in my row, and all three of us were going to different conferences.
My last trip to the city was six months after Katrina, when the city was a ghost town. The occasion was a Novelists, Inc. conference, since Ninc members are writers who are curious and empathic and not about to cancel a conference as so many other wimpy organizations did. The local people were really, really glad to see us, but it was haunting to look out the hotel window and see all the damaged roofs that were covered with bright blue tarps.
That old New Orleans, with deeply rooted communities, was irrevocably changed by Katrina, but the legendary city, built around the high ground of the French Quarter and Garden Districts, is alive and kicking. The streets are crowded, musicians of all sorts are busking on corners, and the wait is long at iconic places like the Café du Monde, where one goes for beignets.
Beignets are squares of a doughnut-like dough, deep fried and lavishly covered with powdered sugar. Piping hot and consumed with coffee, they're delicious. Cold, they are like grease-saturated pieces of rubber tire. (We learned this when the Mayhem Consultant thoughtfully bought some at the Nola airport and brought them home as a treat. He gets full credit for good intentions. <G>)
I could ramble indefinitely about New Orleans and I'm well on my to doing so, but it's time to talk about the fun time Pat Rice and I had at Mardi Gras World. MGW is a working studio and warehouse that builds not only masses of floats for some of the best known Mardi Gras krewes, but also does specialty work for Disney, Universal Studios, Las Vegas companies, and others. They work year around sculpting figures and illustrating themes--and they have tours so folks like us can come and see the magic being made.
I went crazy with photographs because everywhere you look in the 250,000 square foot warehouse, there is something wonderful to see. A few of my favorites shots:
Mardi Gras World is right on the river, and their mermaid happily greets those sailing by.
Blaine Kern was the founder in 1947, and the Kern family still operates the business.
Here be dragons!
Here's a cheery beast!
This particula krewe (sorry, I can't remember which), is known for always having flowers all over. Krewe members pay dues to their organization, plus they have to buy costumes, the throws that are tossed into the crowds, etc, etc. Not a cheap pastime! MGW builds safety belts into the floats to keep possibly drunken riders from pitching into the pavement. Of course, they can't guarantee that riders will use them!
I was charmed by this Ferdinand the bull.
Each krewe has their own parade made of multiple floats, and they have all kinds of themes. Children's movies are popular:
I'm not sure how this poor elephant got so unlucky.
Speaking of food, there seem to be no bad meals in New Orleans. Here strawberries are flambeed in the lovely cool of the Court of Two Sisters. (Picture taken by my friend Vicki Lewis Thompson, who was faster with her camera than I was.
If you want to be enchanted, I strongly recommend a visit to Mardi Gras World. But even if crazy critters don't appeal to you, it's worth coming to New Orleans for the food and the music!
Down in New Orleans...