Asheville Mardi Gras: a lesson on loving who you are

I awake to the smell of sausage balls baking. Although I do not eat sausage, the smell triggers a nostalgia from my childhood. It's my aunt's classic recipe: grated cheddar cheese, bread crumbs, sausage, and a few other special ingredients baked to a golden perfection. I would recall that smell anywhere. I roll off the camper bed turned temporary bedroom mattress and sleepily make my way into the kitchen. A little fritata and chai tea to start me off on an adventure to find the holy grail at Asheville Mardi Gras 2015. 

Mardi Gras Asheville Style

Mardi Gras is a big deal to many cultures around the world, and it is especially a big deal in Asheville, NC. Each year two individuals are lucky enough to grab the right piece of cake at the Twelfth Night event in January and become the King and Queen of next Mardi Gras. Being Mardi Gras royalty isn't all jesters and feasts. An immense amount of work is required of the King and Queen. Making sure the royal parade float is constructed and beautified, attending all Mardi Gras events for the entire following year, and providing inputs on costume and event coordination. Mardi Gras really is a year long endeavor for Asheville and those who care to join in on the merriment. 

Gettin' Ready

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The sausage balls come out of the oven, the music is on, the mimosa ingredients are out and ready, the door bell buzzes. It's the king! He's come over to be dressed and readied for the parade. The rest of his Gypsy Krew starts to trickle into the small Montford apartment as the 11AM hour starts to move along. They're all excited, abuzz with last minute costume alteration ideas, flitting in and out of the bedroom, kitchen, and front room in a frenzy of excited preparation. Enjoying mimosas,  each other, their passions, and art. It is a true celebration of creativity, community, and fellowship. 

The clock ticks on into the 2PM hour and the costumed guests begin to file out and make their way to Wall St in Downtown Asheville to get ready for parade commencement. The whole event is centered around community, love, and art. It's focused on expressing a passion for the performance and the creative genius inside. Of course it's also about sharing these passions, beads, and candy with the crowd of onlookers.

Art for its own sake

We are all heavily bundled to protect against the 30 degree weather and steady wind. Sunshine is our saving grace. Despite the intense cold there is quite a large crowd gathered to experience the parade. My holy grail is the photograph. I'm here to capture the moment, the experience. There is so much color, activity, and awe-inspiring art. The line-up party alone is teeming with interesting creatures, mythical beasts, and magnificent floats waiting to make their way around the parade route. Individuals and teams have dedicated themselves to giving one hell of a show! It's obvious that countless hours of decorating, sewing, gluing, and painting were behind the magical scene. It's like being in a totally different world or even several worlds at once. 

The funky space robot octopus. The clowns, jugglers, and flute players. The dragon and dinosaur. The gypsies, jesters, and geishas. The Asheville Greenworks shopping bag monsters. A castle to host the King and Queen as they make their way around downtown and wave merrily to the onlookers. 

After the short parade route, and over nearly 200 photographs, we make our way to Pack's Tavern to get on with the Queen's Ball. It is a smash! The band, Empire Strikes Brass, is a wonderful accompaniment to several artists' performances. Their soulful tunes and upbeat rhythms really set the mood for a great evening shared with friends old and new.

Acceptance

Overall the day was an eye opener for what freedom of expression means and looks like. It is a great representation of how Small Acts over hours, days, weeks, and months culminate into a day of beauty, art, community, fellowship, and love shared among complete strangers and tight-knit groups. Such a beautiful experience fills me with hope that I can continue to grow. I can work to become a person who places less emphasis on judging myself and others. I can practice Small Acts that will help me learn to be content with who I am as I continue to change and grow, and practice acceptance by allowing others to be who they are, change, and grow at their own pace. 

We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.
— Aristotle