It's 5 a.m., too early in the morning to think about revelry, and yet here are dozens of people gathering at a ranch just outside of Elton, Louisiana. There's a flotilla of pickup trucks, SUVs, horse trailers, flatbed trailers, and other support vehicles (including a "chuck wagon" and a pickup with a portable sound system), plus at least several dozen horses.
The crowd of mostly men is in costume – brightly colored, loose-fitting pajama-like garb, covered with fringes and topped with pointy dunce caps. Everyone is masked, and the mask of choice is made of wire screen – "shell-shaker screen" if possible, a legacy of the oil-drilling rigs that used to be prevalent in these parts. The masks are hand-painted and sometimes garnished with outlandish trinkets, and the costumes are mostly handmade. The mysterious effect of the screen mask is that you can see there's a person in there, but you really can't make out their features. Your eye focuses on the painted face, with the unsettling phantom figure behind it.(more…)View »
"Welcome to Paradise!" A pair of binoculars dangling from his neck, ornithologist Reggie Donatelli stands on the lawn of the Fazenda Rio Negro and invites me to survey the surroundings. Fifty feet away, nestled in a palm tree, is pair of Hyacinth Macaws, their plumage a gorgeous shade of purplish blue. A threatened species, this bird is found primarily in the region known as the Pantanal. Nearby, looking very much like its cousins the ostrich and the emu, a Greater Rhea pecks at the lawn, searching for grubs. Also within sight are a Jabiru stork, a Campos flicker, Buff-necked Ibises, Herons, Egrets and flocks of parrots - just a few of the over 300 species of birds which have been observed here. For bird-lovers, this place might well be paradise.