Happy Mardi Gras!
Those of us enjoying NOLA today aren’t home reading this blog, and sadly, I’m missing it this year too, so I thought I’d give you a taste of the real Mardi Gras experienced by most in my adopted hometown, and top it off with a Priority Mail box stuffed with books from my TBR pile.
First, well, as the song says, there really ain’t no place to pee on Mardi Gras Day unless you, like me, lived close enough to the parade route to run home, miss a marching band, and be back and ready to beg for beads before the next float came along.
This is a song by a local group, Benny Grunch and the Bunch, who do a lot of funny NOLA-centric songs.
Now, if you watch TV, you’d think Mardi Gras was nothing but drunken debauchery and half-naked people engaging in public orgies. Guess what? Those are the TOURISTS. No, unless they’re masochists or being forced by visiting guests, self-respecting New Orleanians won’t go anywhere near the French Quarter between Friday night before and midnight of Fat Tuesday–which is today. It’s really a family event–kind of a two-week-long tailgate party. Between parades, kids throw footballs in the streets and people grill out and have picnics.
Now, I lived a block off the St. Charles Avenue parade route, the primary route for New Orleanians. My buddy Lora lived in a condo overlooking St.Charles, so if the weather really sucked, theoretically, we could sit in her guest bedroom and watch the parades out her window. But that’s no fun. So for two weeks before the final four-day countdown to Fat Tuesday, we’d go out early with our lawn chairs and beverages and stake out a seat on the neutral ground as close to the street as we could get. (In the rest of the United States, neutral grounds are known as medians. Long story.)
Come Friday night, though, we’ll have chairs, sometimes coolers, and will stake out our spot along the street while hundreds of people piled up behind us. And there those chairs–and usually one of us, or a designated watcher–would stay there through the following Tuesday. My favorite krewe, or Mardi Gras parading group, is Bacchus, which has huge floats like the Bacchasaurus. We hang out while the marching bands go by, then stand up and jump up and down and scream with our hands in the air when the floats go by. I have gotten in tugging matches with total strangers over a 10-cent set of cheap beads. I can’t explain it. It’s like some kind of madness sets in. Here’s what Bacchus, which is a night parade, looks like, crowds, noise, and all:
And on we go. By today, Fat Tuesday, the final official parade rolls, the King of Mardi Gras and the Krewe of Rex. Most folks dress up in costumes this day. My favorite float is Rex’s Boeuf Gras (float #4). Rex is a morning parade–this is a really good video, by the way. Great production values and a look at the way the krewe members mask.
Next comes hour after hour of the “truck floats”–civic clubs and private groups who aren’t part of official krewes, but have hundreds of trucks full of people throwing out beads and cups and stuffed animals.
By then, frankly, Lora and I would be Mardi Gras’d out and would go inside to relax. Before Hurricane Katrina blew it away, we’d walk back to Mama’s Tasty Foods, a ramshackle hole in the wall with great fried chicken halfway between my house and her condo, and take it back to my place or hers. Down in the Quarter, things blow wild the rest of the day, with Mardi Gras officially ending at midnight, when this would happen: the final parade, of every kind of New Orleans law enforcement officer imaginable parading down Bourbon Street, signaling the end of another Mardi Gras season. (the first 1:30 is junk–skip it without guilt).
And how do you tell a successful Mardi Gras? By the weight of the trash, of course. Every year, it’s collected and weighed, good weather or foul:
And there ya have it! Laissez les bon temps rouler, y’all!
Leave a comment for a chance at the box of TBR books. All are sci/fi or fantasy–I’ll try to put in a good mix. Now…..would you want to “go to da Mardi Gras?”