"Then one day Joe fell in love with a girl they called Maureen                      
                                                       She came down from Opelousas to be crowned the Crawfish Queen"
                                                                                                  -Johnnie Allan, from "South to Louisiana"

This is my first Mardi Gras season in Baton Rouge and it seems I've found my people. What I mean is that creativity thrives here. Or maybe it's me. Living here, I have an abundance of time away from a regular job and I live in close proximity to other artistic souls.

Yesterday, I practiced with a New Orleans-inspired band I've joined. I play trumpet (and sing a little). But I knew my bandmates were kindred spirits when one of them suggested we wear gold turbans with pink feathers while we play before the Mardi Gras parade, and everyone loved the idea. People in the band live nearby, and most of us walk to the house where we play.

This is just another day in my neighborhood. I live in Spanishtown, a strange, bohemian, down-and-out, up-and-coming, funky, hipster ghetto. Shotgun shacks stand propped next to looming Victorian mansions. Weeds share equal space with landscaped Louisiana natives and swamp-blooming exotics. Last year's Mardi Gras beads and Spanish moss dangle from the live oaks.

There is a strange feline obsession here. Feral neighborhood cats rule the streets.There was even a curious lost cat sign up, a few weeks ago, that offered an apologia. It said, basically, that anyone can keep the lost cat as long as it give it a good home.

After Hurricane Gustav, last fall, we gossiped on porches and side-stepped fallen trees. We shared defrosted lentil soup and played Trivial Pursuit by candlelight. While we made the best of it, the hurricane really destroyed our neighborhood, ripping up trees and sidewalks and causing floods and even a fire. So, I'll happily exchange fall for winter here.

In Spanishtown, winter is the coolest month. Epiphany marks the official kick-off to the Mardi Gras season and the King Cakes start piling up at the grocery store. I can't decide if I like the Calandro's chocolate coconut or the Whole Foods cream cheese raspberry better.

But while I love King Cake, it's feeding my creativity that I enjoy even more. That's why the Spanishtown Ball rocked. We shopped at thrift stores, searched the craft store and raided the beauty supply emporium, in search of all things pink and vampiric. We were victorious, decked out for the evening in rose-colored, goth splendor.

And while there is a Spanishtown Queen, we do not have a Crawfish Queen. I heard Johnnie Allan's Song "South to Louisiana" last week on the National Public Radio show American Routes. I loved it so much that I downloaded it. Not only is the sound great, but the heroine is named "Maureen." For whatever reason, my name is not a pop favorite, so Allan's song made my day. It's the only time I've ever heard my name crooned on the radio.

So, even though I'm not actually the Crawfish Queen, my radio persona lives on, wearing her red velvet gown and rhinestone crown, her hands raw from shucking shellfish and infused with the scent of crab boil and lemon. I've included the image of a real Crawfish Queen from the Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival below. I'm so jealous. The only solution? My next painting already has a title: "Self-Portrait with Crawfish."