But as much as New Orleans is known for its food and music, it's Mardi Gras that defines it — at least once a year. And what defines Mardi Gras are its masks. If Hollywood is one of the city's master shuckers, then Dalili can be called a master mask maker, and he counts only three of them in the city worthy of that title. Most of the other masks, he claims, are either mass-produced or Chinese knock-offs.
Stepping into his shop/studio, Mask Gallery, is like entering a masquerade marketplace. The vast variety of masks range from fanciful to substantive, a whole court full of jester masks to a veterinary shop of cats, cows and owls. Some are full of feathers or glitter, others represent nature, abstract designs or multiple two-faced versions of the comedy/tragedy theme. There are as many different kinds of masks as there are types of jazz.
That's equally true of the materials from which they're made. Different artists have different specialties: Some work with leather as a base, others a variety of fabrics, and still others use papier mache.
Dalili relies on skins from alligators, pythons, stingrays and lizards for his decorations. His contemporaries use feathers, Swarovski crystals, bells, wires and macrame. Once again, a familiar refrain repeats itself: Anything goes. That's the beauty of New Orleans.
Queried as to his own favorite masks, Dalili replied, "The ones that are sold, or those that I haven't made yet. Some people bring in their own designs for me to construct, and I tell them that it will look nothing like they imagine — but they are usually happy with the finished product nonetheless. If not, no problem. I make what I like and I know I can sell it, even if not to them."
Masks are very personal, according to Dalili.
"They take on their own spirit once they're put on, and the wearer takes on the identity of the mask," he said. "Masks bring out the true personalities of the person donning them because people think they're invisible."
Dalili's masks range from $75 to $500, depending upon size, intricacy of design and materials, and can take from five hours to 25 or more to create As many people buy masks as decoration for their homes as they do to hide behind. When Halloween comes around they may take them down from the wall to double as wearable art and then put them back to visually entertain others the rest of the year.
Although wearing Halloween masks, eating oysters at a raw bar and going to a hometown music club are always fun, doing any or all of them in New Orleans takes on a whole new dimension of experience that just can't be duplicated elsewhere. New Orleans, no surprise, is a unique city where anything goes.
WHEN YOU GO
For more information about visiting New Orleans, visit www.neworleanscvb.com.
Sophie Lee: www.sophieleemusic.com
Michael Broadway: 504-338-4743
Fyllis Hockman is a freelance writer. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.
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