Oh my goodness, so much going on! It’s so good to see activity in the neighborhoods after the sluggish, miserable time of Covid-19 restrictions. Locals are getting ready for Mardi Gras in a new and innovative way with the creation of the citywide Krewe of House Floats, a drive-by Carnival experience.
Homes are being decorated to resemble floats, some very elaborate, some simpler done, but certainly a lot more this year on front porches than usual. The Carnival spirit has hit Gretna and the Westbank, for sure!
Besides “Yaaasss, Queen!” from the Old Gretna/McDonoghville area, other Westbank subkrewes are the “Westbank,” the “Algiers Point” and the Algiers/Aurora/English Turn.” House floats on display will offer a free, pandemic-safe way to enjoy Carnival.
Decoration of the house floats began on King’s Day, Jan. 6 and will be completed by Feb. 1, for all to enjoy thru Mardi Gras which is on Feb. 16.
According to Jessica Marasco Illes, co-captain of “Yaaasss, Kween,” “I absolutely love watching not just the decorations going up, but also the community involvement! Gretna is a pretty tight-knit community, but I think the Krewe of House Floats is presenting a fabulous opportunity to meet and befriend your neighbors while doing something fun. It’s become a great way for people to help other people and to get that human connection that we’ve all been craving while maintaining a safe distance. This is the kind of thing where Gretna really shines and I am so happy that my family and I are able to take part in it.”
Not only is this a special opportunity to enjoy Mardi Gras, but is a way for folks to see beautiful historic homes, many restored in Old Gretna and McDonoghville.
In one Old Gretna neighborhood, 6th Street, flanked by Huey P. Long Avenue and Weyer Street enjoys a true camaraderie. Neighbors from corner to corner, love to decorate for every holiday. There is always an early morning or nighttime secretive addition whereby owners make and add to their respective decorations. This happens over and over in a competitive fashion, leading up to the actual holiday date. Decorating started there on Kings Day.
Mahmoud Bahman and his sister, Maryam Bahman started on their double shotgun home decorations that weekend, naming their house float “Old Gretna Mask-Parade.” Mahmoud, always up for a challenge likes to fill every spot on the front of the house and front yard. This year he added wooden cut-outs in the yard that he bought at the Gretna Farmers Market.
What outsiders don’t know is that Mahmoud loves Mr. Bingle, the Christmas toy from the now, “ain’t there no more,” Maison Blanche. When he was a young worker at the iconic store, he sometimes costumed as Mr. Bingle for store promotions.
“So, following our theme, we decorated with many Mardi Gras masked items and, of course, Christmas Mr. Bingle. Mahmoud dressed Mr. Bingle in purple, green and gold Carnival attire and masked him up to fly on the house,” Maryam Bahman said.
“Mr. Joe and Anita Procido made their own Mardi Gras wreaths and swags. The best addition so far this year is the marching club set of wood-cut alligators that he also purchased at the Gretna Farmers Market.
“Mr. Al and Kathy Rogers live across from the Porcidos. Mr. Al felt compelled to start his decorating as well, but became tired and said he was getting “too old for this” and that’s when Mr. Joe and Mahmoud stepped up and “like a good neighbor” helped Mr. Al finish his Mardi Gras decorating. The Rogers home is festive and one of the best lit-up homes.
“Mike and Brenda Seymour, who were the first on the block to join the house float tour on 6th Street named their house float, “The Queen Bee,” which is also Brenda’s nickname that her children and family have given her. Mike made the panels and Brenda, with the help of her family painted the panels with bees and beehives. They also made homemade burlap flowers to add to the flowers they purchased by a local artist. Not finished with their decorating yet, the Seymours will be adding silhouettes of parade watchers shortly to the house as well.
“Across the street from the Seymours are David and Kendra Carver. They have just begun with their decorating on their house float which is named “The Queen of Hearts.” They have placed a few things out, but their float has only just begun. I cannot wait to see the final touches.
“The last house float on the street is the Hendricks family. Angie puts Don straight to work when the neighbors are in action mode to keep up. Don places his fancy LED chaser lights up with the traditional Mardi Gras fringe. They are the tiniest float on the block with pizzazz. All the people on this block are an unfinished never-ending project. Even if you see the houses, they can change daily. We hope that locals will give themselves a real treat and drive themselves down 6th Street starting on Feb. 1,” Maryam Bahman said.
Another krewe member is Gretna Historical Society (GHS) where two sites at the Museum Complex and another museum location will be trimmed off in Carnival fashion. The GHS Complex at 209 Lafayette St. and the GHS Train Depot at 4th Street and Huey P. Long Avenue is on the list to drive or walk by.
Gretna Historical Society is also preparing for the annual Valentine Day Weddings at the Blacksmith Shop museum site where couples can wed in a really romantic, but very inexpensive way.
If you lovebirds have been thinking about making a commitment to each other, hear, hear! Set your wedding date for Valentine’s Day and have a romantic wedding anniversary date to celebrate forever.
It’s also very popular for already married couples to renew their wedding vows on this day of romance.
The “Marrying Judge,” Vernon J. Wilty III, the Jefferson Parish Justice of the Peace officiates at all weddings at the Blacksmith Shop where weddings are scheduled between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.
According to GHS President Sylvia Schwarz, “Our Valentine wedding protocol will follow state and local guidelines as to Covid-19. Masks will be required for all staff and wedding participants and social distancing will be required. The number of people allowed in the White House at any given time will follow the guidelines. Although we usually serve refreshments to wedding guests, this year no refreshments will be served.
“With the extension of our lovely patio and our outdoor setup for the actual wedding service, we feel comfortable in offering this safe environment for this event,” Schwarz said.
Just call in advance to Judge Wilty’s office at 504.364.2760 on Mon.-Fri. between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. to set a time for your wedding. You will be told how to obtain a marriage license. Although couples who seek a vow renewal will not need to obtain a marriage license, they still must contact Judge Wilty to set a time.
“We don’t do mass weddings, each wedding is an individual ceremony. It’s a fun-filled day that I enjoy very much,” Judge Wilty said.
Special certificates and City of Gretna proclamations will be issued to each couple, as well as a free wedding picture, a celebratory Valentine balloon from Judge Wilty and each bride gets a long stemmed rose.
After the rite, Blacksmith Tommy Verret will seal the couple’s promise on the anvil in the centuries-old tradition of Gretna Green, Scotland, the city of Gretna’s namesake and he will offer a toast of the bubbly to the happy couple.
Mardi Gras is just two days after the Valentine weddings! Not too late to join in the decorating fun. For the Old Gretna Krewe, email: email@example.com or get more citywide info at www.KreweOfHouseFloats.org.
Thanks to photographer Romi Voorhies for her lovely nighttime shots used with this article.
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