I have lived in New Orleans for nearly 8 years now, and I still haven’t gone to see the Celebration in the Oaks thing up in City Park. Tonight, I’m going to give it a shot, even though the forecast calls for anywhere from a 90-100% chance of rain. Sure does sound like photographing-pretty-lights weather to me. Hey, I’m on a schedule, dammit.
For those not from New Orleans, or unfamiliar, the Celebration in the Oaks is a seasonal event that takes place between Thanksgiving and the end of the year, and features gigantic, elaborate light displays, carnival rides, activities for kids, etc. This is how the CITO website introduces their extravaganza on the homepage:
Celebration in the Oaks in City Park is one of the most spectacular holiday lights festivals in the country, with more than 165,000 visitors pouring into the park to see the magical winter spectacle. City Park’s famous oaks are swathed in hundreds of thousands of twinkling lights and breathtaking light displays are scattered throughout 25 acres of the Park…
You can learn more about the origins and history of this New Orleans city tradition by checking this same website, but in a nutshell, it began in the 1980’s as a fundraiser to help finance the burgeoning New Orleans Botanical Garden in City Park. It began really small for the first few years, and then gradually blew up, as these things do, with media and corporate sponsorship through the years. Up until 2004, the last holiday season before Hurricane Katrina hit, you could drive through in your own vehicle, like a sparkle-tree safari park, teeming with Christmas-themed gewgaws bigger than any Canadian moose. I wish I could have done that. Especially with this rain coming.
Now they have a train, evidently, though you can walk it as well, which is what I’m planning to do. I’m wondering if they even open on days like this. If they do, at least the lines will be short. It’s blowing a strong wind out there, in addition to the ominous sky. Still, blustery and wet though it may be, I’m intending to give it a shot. Pun intended.
Well, I did. Give it a shot, that is. It had started drizzling before I even arrived at the park. By the time I pulled into the parking lot, it was a full-blown downpour. I went into the little cafe they have up there, and the guy told me that they had decided to close the whole thing about 3 hours before. Because of the forecast.
I knew about the forecast. I’m not sure what the hell I was expecting. As if, even had they turned on all the lights and let people walk through there, anyone would want to. Traipse around in a tropical downpour looking at all the pretty lights. That’s what I was going to do, I guess. I had brought along a rain shell to cover me and a plastic bag to put over my camera, in the event the rain got really bad.
It was really bad the whole time. It’s those kinds of rain showers we get down here where it feels like the weather is angry. I sat in my car in the parking lot for a few minutes eating the beignet I had purchased in the cafe. I didn’t really want beignet, but didn’t want the waiter in the cafe to think that the only reason I had come to the park was to see the Celebration in the Oaks on a night when there was a 100% chance of rain. So I pretended to be there for the beignet, with a passing interest in the other thing. And I ate them in my car, trying to figure out my next move.
I drove a loop around the park and then parked again, this time right in front of the entrance to Celebration in the Oaks. I turned off my ignition, and sat there again for a second. I had already written the first half of this post, and had no idea what I might do as a back-up plan, especially since the weather wasn’t going to let up anytime soon. I looked down and noticed my steering wheel and my knees were covered in powdered sugar. Forensic evidence. My mission was a failure.
The rain let up for a second, and I grabbed my camera and stepped out into the mist. The big nursery rhyme statues at the front gate were mocking me, like the moose in the Vacation movie. I shot them in their tracks. In my tracks.
I took a few more shots near the front gate. The entire thing was dark and quiet, save for a few inexplicably illuminated strings of lights here and there. I wondered why those particular lights had been left on. Beacons for the loneliest among us.
The rain awoke from it’s little siesta and started to come down heavy again, so I had to get back into my car, and cruise around the park, shooting an occasional rainy scene with the ISO blown up on my DSLR. It was dark, and wet, and impossible, and the vision through my lens was an unpeopled darkness with a light mist coming in and sheets of rain glistened by the reflection of the street lamps.
How could I possibly find beauty in these oaks without the aid of a hundred-thousand colored lights?