words and photo by: Telegraphy
Every once in a while an event comes around here in Detroit so weird and enchanting that I manage to miss it consistently for years. Yes, procrastination is a constant in all of our lives - that's why we can never.....Ahhh, I'll tell you later. For several years now yours truly here at Ionosonde has been etching to attend this parade of weirdly dressed and questionable residents of Detroit. Well, on the first Sunday after the Vernal Equinox (March 23) I got more then I could bargain for. The Marche Du Nain Rouge isn't your child's idea of a happy go lucky parade with all of the expected characters in attendants, entertaining all of their innocent desires. No this is more like your college aged kids idea of a parade filled with whimsical personalities dressed in elaborate red or black colored costumes, all high lighted with the ever present aroma of pot smoke mixed with a cacophony stench of alcohol - and lots of weirdly dressed people. Did I mention the weird costumes? Like a cartoon themed Carnival of Venice, this parade for and by Detroiters is one of the most strangest events you never heard of.
It was a sunny yet but a chilly (20 F) Sunday morning in spring when I decided to venture out to the wilds of Detroit to partake in this city's lest know celebrations. A parade in one sense of the word isn't enough to describe this scene of eccentrically dressed individuals dawned in red costumes in Detroit's "Cass Corridor" which is located in and around the shadows of Wayne State University. The Marche Du Nain Rouge is a yearly parade down Cass Ave which runs parallel to Americas oldest road (Woodward Ave). This spring time march through the streets adorned by abandon skyscrapers and run down Victorian houses, has one single and important purpose - To chase the "Red Dwarf" out of town.
To understand the reasoning of this parade of flamboyantly fashioned fur coats and flocks, it's imperative to understand the history of the Marche Du Main Rouge.
Legend has it that the Nain Rouge (which is french for "Red Dwarf") is a mystical creature originating from Normandy France has far back as mid-evil times. Described as being a child like red colored dwarf wearing black fur boots with blazing red eyes that complement it's rotten smile. This harbinger of doom is said to only be seen or attack people just before certain calamities. In more modern times (1700) the first mention of the Nain Rouge was by the first white explorers to Detroit. Antoine La Mothe Cadillac was attacked by this blood red creature and soon after lost all of his fortune. Speaking of blood - On on July 30, 1763 during what now is known as the battle of bloody run, the crimson creature made a guest appearance not long before 58 British soldiers were slain by chief Pontiac's tribesman. Oh, Bloody Run is the aptly named small tributary of the Detroit river of were the battle happened. Why is it named "Bloody Run" you should ask? Well the small crick ran red from the blood of all the fallen man for days after the battle - hence the name. Hey, you asked!
Unlike all legends, the Nain Rouge doesn't stop there. Twentieth century sightings came just before the horrific 1967 Detroit riot's . The latest account came as late as 1996 when two drunken club goers walking, over heard "cawing sounds, similar to a crow," coming from a "small hunched-over man" who ran away from a nearby car jacking (car burglary). The creature was described as wearing "what looked like a really nasty torn fur coat."
So here I am driving around the Cass Corridor looking for a parking spot. Hey look there's one! That was easy. Usually driving anywhere near downtown, your fighting for free parking. Walking towards the staging area, I noticed besides the numerous crack heads wondering aimlessly in the streets - small walking groups of black or red, doting this run down post industrial landscape. Now I know for sure I'm inappropriately dressed for the occasion. My beige corduroy pants and jacket yells out "Help! I'm lost and I can't find my mommy! ". Getting used to those looks from people dressed as demonic clowns or victorian superheros, I walk my way around the last corner to the staging area, where in a driveway a rusted out parade float in the shape of a dragon. This 40 foot fire breathing, hydraulically actuated art work made from scrape metal and old semi-truck tires, rides on a luxurious air-cushioned bus chassis. Seeing this behemoth parked in someones driveway alone, just around the block from the staging area; I knew something was up and that something will singe some hairs in the parade
Entering the staging area, I felt that youthful panicked lost feeling again one only experiences as a child in a department store, searching for ones mommy. Only this time, my sense of fashion is lost. Within the sea of outlandishly dressed twenty somethings, this "fringe bloger" reporting on a obscure Detroit parade; all of the sudden senses that myself being subjected to curiosities from the crowd. I'm the weird one. The stranger who infiltrated their yearly quest to vanquish the Red Dwarf. The rejection is all to common for me. Hell I even feel rejected walking into my own bathroom. Standing on the outskirts of the crowd, gazing and studying, a pirate like soul wearing a "Hannibal The Cannibal face mask", snuck in front of me. Handing me a flyer for a up-coming burlesque show, he or it commands me, " Flyer my dear sir". Wow, polite people pirates can be. Though one might expect this level of sophistication from the "Steam-punk" community that regularly attained such events in great numbers with their exquisite costumes - These victorian virtuouses know how attract attention. Fighting my way inwards, the crowd thickens towards the main stage in the middle of a parking lot. As I dodge shoulders with pale skinned, top hat wearing, homosexuals yelling polite gesture through a megaphone or being blockaded by a team of demonic clown jugglers; I make it to the main stage where the PA system is busily broadcasting propagandist negative comments from the Nain Rouge himself about Detroit and it's hard working people. Drinks and smokes are now flowing like.......well like it usually flows in the hands of over slept, and over studied college students.
Exploring the scene farther, the partying suddenly halted by the appearance of the Nain Rouge riding on top of the giant mechanized dragon I saw earlier. Slowly moving it's way down the sidestreet, it makes an abrupt stop where it expelled it's fiery breath, a signal that the parade to chase the Red Dwarf out of Detroit has began. In fear of having their delicate red or black custom set a-blaze, a 50 foot no man's territory in front of the dragons devouring hearth was cautiously adhered to as the crowd followed astutely behind. The city block long parade made it's way down Cass Ave., contrastingly passing old run-down victorian houses and modern glass office buildings. The old and new urban environment of the Cass Corridor combines brilliantly to compliment the retro futuristic Steam-Punk image of the Marche Du Nain Rouge. No other place in the world can host a strange event such as this. Detroit and this parade, cosmical fit's together perfectly, like records fitting into a milk crate. Somethings in this world are meant to be. This Detroitier parade is one of them.
Marching down Cass Ave. the DJ perched in the bowls of the dragon, blast through the PA system his own mix of classic rock and techno - all of the while a old school, all black Cajun Jazz band boast just as and if not louder then the DJ. Behind the dragon, this small band composes sounds reminiscent of Mardi Gras . The fun atmosphere they create is by no means conducive to cavorting convivial characters. Dancing while under the influence of brandishing their own fashionable attire, parade goers lovely march together down Cass Ave. to chase away their own personal Red Dwarf.
As a collective, these Detroit paraders, optimistic of a brighter future for this city, march side by side with a single purpose in mind of pushing away it's fears and problems. Screaming meme's and real life villains they hope to scare away by standing up and display to the rest of the world, that Detroit doesn't take shit from no one - including the Nain Rouge.
Sounds from Marche Du Nain Rouge