From the ROYAL STREET Files: Happy Mardi Gras

Throw me something, mister!

I hate to say it, but most people have a kind of wrong-headed idea of what Mardi Gras in New Orleans is like–mostly because the images that play best on TV are drunken crowds in the French Quarter, baring it all for beads. Here’s my boy Tanker, baring it all for beads. And you can tell how happy he is about it. You probably can’t appreciate it from the photo, but he weighs 90 pounds and is prancing on the sofa. 

Actually, for residents of the city and those in the know, the Mardi Gras we know is a great family party that just happens to go on for two weeks, culminating in Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent…and today is Mardi Gras Day! I’m having to miss Mardi Gras this year because I’ll be on the road so much in April on the Royal Street Dog-and-Pony Parade that I couldn’t take more time off from the EDJ (that’s evil day job, for short).
Instead, I’ll share what I’d normally be doing today. Well, actually, this is what I’d have started doing on Saturday. I would not be wearing a shrimp costume like these folks. 
My house was located a block off the St. Charles Avenue parade route, so it was a quick walk over to watch a parade, but usually, instead, I’d go a couple of blocks down to my friend Lora’s house. Lora lives in a condo directly on St. Charles. On Saturday, we’d be out by 6 a.m., setting up chairs right on the edge of the neutral ground around the streetcar tracks. (The neutral ground is what New Orleanians call a median, and goes back to the days when the city was divided between the Spanish and French and Americans.) Even at 6 a.m., it would be filling up with people claiming their spaces (note the first parade of the day wouldn’t start for five or six hours). We might have a cooler with drinks and snacks–we’re no match for the folks who set up grills and tents. 
And there we’d sit for hours, watching kids play in the streets throwing balls and frisbees, and watching people wander around watching us. It’s a big, friendly party. Eventually, the parades begin, and we lounge around until a float comes by, at which some sort of sickness takes over and suddenly we become madwomen, screaming for beads and even street-diving for stuff that’s fallen on the ground. It isn’t pretty, folks. I once got in a tug of war with some prim Junior League matron over a size 0 pair of bright green panties with “Mardi Gras” stamped on them that neither of us would be caught dead in during a sane time. I still have them. I can be fierce. Here is my friend Lauri with her haul from the Mardi Gras after Katrina. It was a very productive year. 
Then we’ll chilll again till the next parade arrives. After roughly two weeks of this, by the time the Boeuf Gras rolls by during the Krewe of Rex parade on Mardi Gras day, I’m pretty much exhausted and ready to rest up till next year. Boeuf Gras is one of my favorite floats…and to me, he signals the end of another parade season.
So, Happy Mardi Gras!
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About Suzanne Johnson

Author of urban fantasy, paranormal romance, and suspense. As Suzanne Johnson, she is the author of the Sentinels of New Orleans urban fantasy series (Royal Street; River Road: Elysian Fields, Pirate’s Alley, Belle Chasse, Frenchmen Street (March 2018). Writing as Susannah Sandlin, she is the author of the Penton Legacy series (Redemption; Absolution; Omega; Storm Force; Allegiance; ILLUMINATION); The Collectors series (Lovely, Dark, and Deep; Deadly, Calm, and Cold); and the Wilds of the Bayou series (Wild Man’s Curse; Black Diamond).

13 thoughts on “From the ROYAL STREET Files: Happy Mardi Gras

  1. I’m wearing my (2) strings of beads at work today. Sometimes our HR dept buys a King Cake for us; too early to tell for this year. My floor did bring food today, any excuse for food!

  2. I’m wearing some beads too–of course everyone at work thinks they’re just odd jewelry :-). When I worked in New Orleans (at Tulane), we’d bring a King Cake to work every Friday between Twelfth Night and Lundi Gras. Whoever got the baby would have to buy the next one–and they all had to come from different bakeries, of course. Sort of a contest. Haydel’s usually won 🙂

  3. In my country madri Gras is the Carnaval de Binche ( not far from my city ( 30min by car) with les ” gilles” that throw oranges ^^, very popular

    In my city it will be at the laetare ( often it’s at the same as my birthday like this year so when i was very small as soon as heard the music i thought it was my birthday but there repetitions ^^;;)

  4. ( in fact we have a carnaval nearly in each city ( sometimes two at the same time) each Wk until easter… i could be interesting to do a tour of them^^

  5. In Cincinnati, which has more Catholic churches than gas stations (well, close to it), Mardi Gras is kind of the calm before FISH FRY SEASON which starts tomorrow…woo hoo!

    We go to a different school or church every friday (and fortunately, none of us have to show body parts to get fish). woo hoo!

  6. I’ve never been to Mardi Gras, but I’d like to see it just once before I die. Thanks for sharing your traditions. I’m cracking up over the thought of you fighting with a Junior Leaguer over the undies. Priceless. 🙂

  7. @Miki–I love hearing about carnival season in other countries! I was fortunate enough to be in Venice, Italy, two different times during Carnival. It’s a very different atmosphere than in New Orleans, but what a wonderful experience!

    @Teri Anne…Yes, fried fish on friday season starts tomorrow. I grew up in the decidedly non-Catholic Bible Belt so New Orleans was the first predominantly Catholic city I’d ever lived in. First Ash Wednesday, I whispered to one of my co-workers that she had something smudged on her forehead. Duh. Who knew? It took me years to live that down.

    @Kendall–I hope you get to go to Mardi Gras one of these days. Stay out of the French Quarter unless you want the really wild experience. Funny thing about those green panties–neither me nor the Junior Leaguer could have gotten them on our arms, they were so tiny :-). There’s just something about free crap being thrown from floats…

  8. What a great story, and a great tradition. We have a carnival in Holland too, but it is small, and only celebrated in the southern parts. Were people build floats, and go dressed up, and get totally drunk. Not my kind of thing. My sister made me watch one last saterday in her village, it was cold and it rained hard, but the floats were nice.

  9. @Aurian…Yes, I rarely drink, so I always stayed away from the wild French Quarter celebrations. And I’ve been to the parades some years where it was soooo cold!

  10. Actually, today was the last day of Mardi Gras, so the final parades were today. In all, just in the New Orleans metro area, I think there are about 50 parades–and some of them are huge!

  11. wow…Lauri got a lot of stuff! You fought for green panties…lol…I would have also. St. Charles Ave. is so pretty. I loved it all when I went to visit. Thanks so much for sharing.