2008 Mardi Gras Pictures
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Grand Marais Mardi Gras, February 3, 2008

In 2008, David Simpson, the guy who shoots these photos, became part of the elaborate play that makes the Grand Marais run both fascinating and mysterious to outsiders.   Having followed the run for several stops during the past few years, I had a general idea what to expect. After the Mardi Gras are allowed on someone's property, they form a circle, sing their song, and then a few are selected to receive a whipping. The ritual lashing goes back to ancient times, undertaken on the Grand Marais run in exchange for contributions from homeowners. In representing themselves as humble beggars, the co-captains dress in burlap sacks and dab black on their faces. Apparently too poor to wear masks, the Mardi Gras have dabs of paint on their faces. 

When I arrived at the first stop in 2008, folklorist Barry Ancelet, who has been a member of the Grand Marais run for years, greeted me and, in the process, brushed his face against mine, a gesture that seemed accidental but left me wondering.  At the next stop, as I was snapping photos, Capitaine Thomas Deshotel suddenly pointed his finger at me and in an angry voice accused me attempting to pretend to be a Grand Marais Mardi Gras.  The evidence: my cheek was smeared with a dab of paint that  Barry Ancelet had managed to transfer to my skin when he brushed against me.  So I was guilty of being an imposter.  It wasn't fair, but neither are the charges of failure to wear hats or other trumped up infractions that serve as the grounds for the punishments inflicted on the Grand Marais Mardi Gras.  I was innocent, but I would have to suffer the penalty nonetheless. 

I lay flat on the ground and prepared to endure my fate.  Barry Ancelet, the real culprit who had set me up, then joined me, and, in a gesture of brotherhood that is part of the drama enacted at each stop, crawled on top of me to shield me from the whip.  Actually, I was whipped a few times, but, to be honest, the co-capitaines held back and did not deliver their lashing with anything like the force used on the Mardi Gras. After I had accepted my punishment and acknowledged the authority of the capitaine, my face was smeared with black paint, and I then had the honor of being a part of the Grand Marais Mardi Gras, following along for several stops to take some more photos.  I still don't understand the intricacies of the Grand Marais Mardi Gras, but I feel honored to have been included.

The Grand Marais Mardi Gras on the road, led by Capitaine Thomas Deshotel, who, in the
last photo in the row, is shown pointing his finger at the photographer, accusing
him of impersonating a Mardi Gras.

David Simpson, the photographer, suffers the consequences. Barry Ancelet, the Mardi Gras
who brushed against Simpson's face to deposit the evidence (a bit of paint) used to find
Simpson guilty of being an imposter, joined him on the ground. In one photo, Ancelet is
shielding Simpson from the whip, an act of solidarity that the Mardi Gras perform frequently
during the run.  The photos were taken by one of the co-capitaines.


The remaining photos, including one chicken-chasing photo. were taken at a
couple of other stops. In the last photo, a Mardi Gras wears a coat hand lettered
with "Soldat de Grand Marais."


Posted 1-8-09