Two recent Carnival balls had aqueous connections. At the Winter Palace on St. Charles Avenue, The Arthurians celebrated King Arthur, whose legendary sword, Excalibur (or Caliburn), was associated with the Lady of the Lake. For the Bards of the Bilges, festive focus turned to a man, King Neptune LIV, who alighted from the Royal Yacht on Lake Pontchartrain to lead his subjects into the ball at the Southern Yacht Club. He was costumed in his traditional attire, which included his crown and a trident for a scepter, and accompanied by the Chris Burke Jazz Trio.
Knights of Yore
“Come Dance with the Arthurians” bannered the outside of the invitation that was done in water colors and showed a pair of pachyderms moving to the beat, as well as a standing duo representing King Arthur and Guinevere. Stated within was the Winter Palace location and the specific attire: “costume de rigueur.” (It was translated for the context of a formal Carnival ball as “white tie.”) Ladies wore long gowns.
The arrival of Arthur XXXV, his royal entourage and the krewe members at the palace occurred around 8:30 p.m. The mode of transport was the streetcar. Bagpipes welcomed the monarch and his company, the royal entourage, which included Merlin, the Royal Jester and two Knights Chamberlain.
Shortly after their arrival, they retired to the second floor. Descending a short while later, and amid eager anticipation, Merlin went about the assembly to select a court. First, he tapped the ladies in waiting, Catherine (Mrs. William Parker) Sanders and Kimberly (Mrs. Joshua S.) Reyher. The excitement and anticipation reached its apex in the search for, and the designation of, the queen. That honor befell Jeanne Andry (Mrs. Arthur) Landry, who would reign over the ball as Guinevere. “Yes, I was truly surprised,” she said about being chosen. “I really had no idea.”
With the selection of the court completed, they and select Arthurian dignitaries assembled on the landing in front of the Tiffany windows before descending for the Grand Procession to the thrones at the head of the ballroom. Sanela (Mrs. Elmer “Tripp” III) Frasch, who held the scepter as Guinevere in 2014, was then escorted to the throne and presented with a bouquet of red roses.
More touches of color backdropped the thrones. Whereas the stage was covered in white, the arras behind the royal “sieges” featured the boldness of vivid blue, red and orange. Flowers added another distinctive aspect.
Green garland infused with thousands of tiny white lights and hung from the ceiling embellished the ballroom. In the nearby billiards room, a transformation took place to make it into a dining room with a brace of laden buffet tables featuring large antique silver punch bowls filled with natural arrangements of spring flowers by floral designer Meade Wenzel. Smaller urns atop the mantels in the reception rooms held additional blossoms. Martin Wine Cellar purveyed a delightful assortment of passed hors d’oeuvres, as well as a scrumptious supper buffet. In anticipation of Valentine’s Day, there were fresh strawberries dipped in chocolate sauce on the dessert sideboard.
Among the many Arthurian attendees were Melissa and Clay Andrews, George and Kelley Ellis, Lawrence Kurzius, Terry and John Olivier, Battle Bell IV, Mary Lou and Tim Pickles, spouses Ann Woodruff and John Stewart, Chris Elliott, Lydia and Howard Schmalz, Mary and Seth Nehrbass, Erin and J.P. Hymel, Joan and Alan Sheen, Susan (Mrs. Battle III) Bell, Devorah and A.J. Friedman, spouses Liz Williams and Rick Normand, Keene Kelley, Peggy and Errol Laborde, Melissa and Bruce Gordon, and Laurie and Robert Andrews, who hosted a large contingent of guests from Maryland.
Prior to the ball, past Guineveres gathered for luncheon at the New Orleans Country Club. Included were the above-mentioned Susan Bell, Kelley Ellis, Sanela Frasch, Melissa Gordon, Lydia Schmalz, and Joan Sheen. They broke bread along with co-Guineveres Georgia de La Barre and Mmes. Russ W. Copping, Susan; Edward O. Gros, Arthemise; John Paul Hymel, Erin; Keene Kelley, Christel; and Kenneth Urquhart, Virginia. Part of their conversation was the stroll down Memory Lane and their selection to reign with Arthur.
Meanwhile, and at the ball, the Camelot contingent delighted in the general camaraderie, more appearances by the bagpipers and the music of the New Leviathan Oriental Fox-Trot Orchestra. One of the top tunes that appeared to lure almost everyone to the floor for a fox trot was titled “Make Believe.” And in the context of pre-Mardi Gras fun, for Guinevere Jeanne and her anonymous king, Arthurian dreams were gloriously romantic and regal.
With the theme, “What Shapes the World We Live In,” the Bards of the Bilges had a design heyday. “Triangulate your position; from your circle, call your square friends,” as scripted on the invitation, invited folks to explore the factors that shape who and what they are. Or will be. Evening gowns were requested for the ladies and for the “gentlemen,” thematic costumes.
The Bards of the Bilges was first held in 1955 in conjunction with the Mardi Gras Regatta hosted by the Southern Yacht Club with “emphasis…placed on fun and hilarity, while maintaining enough dignity to satisfy the maids.” Themes came in the late years.
One aspect of the current fun that has never stopped was the determination of the queen by lots. This year, the “Queen” bracelet was drawn right before the ball by Holly Gordon, wife of Dr. John M. Gordon, who portrayed Princess Leia. The others drew same-design bracelets marked “Maid” and turned heads as Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Marilyn Monroe, Cleopatra, Scarlett O’Hara, Rosie the Riveter, and Audrey Hepburn. In real (not reel) life, they were Catherine (Mrs. Barrett B.) Blaum, Stephanie (Mrs. Hamilton L.) Martin, Margaret (Mrs. John R.) MacGregor, Nicole (Mrs. Michael P.) Ciaccio, Grace (Mrs. Wilson A.) LaGraize, and Sharon (Mrs. John K.) Lagarde. Each court member received a beautiful gift from Neptune.
In keeping with the motif for merriment, various-shaped items were placed all over the clubhouse of the yacht club, as were traditional Mardi Gras decorations of purple, green and gold. The royal stage was created to look like a majestic undersea adventure.
As the evening continued, members and guests savored the traditional Queen’s Supper fare; eyed such costumes as Elvis, “Duck Dynasty” family, political figures and Merlin the Magician; and danced with gusto to Louisiana Spice. Noted at a prominent table were Mmes. James C. Wade III, Laurie Clement, Fabian K. Fromherz, Merlin Wilson, Chalin O. Perez Jr., Guy Brierre, King Logan, and Thomas Long.
A major highlight of the annual evening is the special performance by the SYC Thespians, the Bards Opera, Ballet, Perloo and Messing Around Society. According to the laughter, hoots and hollering, the 2015 audience found the tableau and its satire in ship shape.