Tuesday, January 15, 2008

I Am Mardi Gras (And So Can You!)

With apologies and credit to Stephen Colbert, I couldn’t help but steal/bastardize his awesome title. If you haven’t read this book, treat yourself to a copy – it’s a scream!

That being said, back to Mardi Gras:

This will be my 16th Carnival season as a resident of New Orleans. Several times each year, I get asked by people who don't know me if I "go to Mardi Gras."

I have a two stock responses for this question:

"Well...I don't have to go to Mardi Gras...Mardi Gras comes to me."

And that part is literally true. I live next door the business where one of the most fabulous walking parades on Fat Tuesday gathers and begins. I get to walk out on my porch with my coffee and the divine madness comes to me. Oh, and how divine!!

My other response usually comes out after a cocktail or two..."Darling, I don't go to Mardi Gras...I Am Mardi Gras!!"

And so can you.

Most of those years, I have costumed for Mardi Gras - from the absurd to the extravagant. There are many out-of-towners whom I only ever see in the days leading up to Mardi Gras, digging for hints of what I'll do this year to top the previous year's finery. I adore that kind of recognition.

Now, don’t get me wrong – I don’t run around the city in mask and sundry garments for weeks at a time. I understand how confusing this celebration is to anyone who’s never witnessed it. So, let’s start with a few clarifications to dovetail on Painted Maypole’s wonderful post last week.

Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday, Shrove Tuesday: This is the day before Ash Wednesday each year, the culmination of the Carnival Season, which begins on Epiphany, January 6th). As Ash Wednesday moves each year in accordance with the date of Easter (which in turn is dictated by the date of the full moon following the vernal equinox, explained very well here), Mardi Gras can fall anywhere from February 3 to March 9.

We good so far?

It’s a shame that so much of the fun and joy of Carnival has been tarnished by the antics and misbehavior of drunken tourists and college students – this celebration is so much more than flashing body parts on Bourbon Street. In fact, most New Orleans residents stay far away from that part of Bourbon Street around this time of year.

Parades: Once upon a time, before the floats outgrew the streets, parades rolled through the French Quarter – my home for most of those 16 years. These days, it’s only a handful of the Walking Krewes that actually parade the Quarter. Painted Maypole provided a great description of the parade atmosphere, which I have inserted here with her blessing:

The parades start immediately. As Mardi Gras grows closer the parades grow more frequent. With a short season, like this year (Mardi Gras is Feb 5th) the parade schedule is pretty packed from the get go. There are the huge parades in the city, pretty good sized ones in the suburbs, boat parades and truck parades, lawnmower parades and parades of kids pulling their wagons through the neighborhood. Everyone loves a parade, yes?

The floats are fairly interesting, but what sets parades here in New Orleans apart from anywhere else that I know of is the amount of STUFF that they throw… Going to the parades is an event. Often we gather with friends for a party before the parade, then walk to the parade route. We take coolers and food. We deck out in our Mardi Gras finery. Down in the city many families wear costumes.

Now, these parades are sponsored by the founding “krewe” – the organization that recruited members and put up the money to make the magic happen.

Not all krewes parade anymore – after an ugly, contentious time in the early 90’s, some of the older Mardi Gras krewes chose not to parade, but only have their Mardi Gras Balls. (The city passed an ordinance requiring all parading krewes to open their private memberships. This threw honest and unflattering light on the dismal state of race relations in Louisiana during the end days of the 20th Century. Look how well we're doing now...)

Also, there are only a few remaining Gay Mardi Gras Krewes (whose ranks were tragically decimated by AIDS) that have some of the most spectacular formal balls. Oh, the glitter! Oh, the sparkles! Oh, the girdles!

Have I lost you yet?

(For a wonderfully detailed history of Mardi Gras, please check out Arthur Hardy's Mardi Gras Guide.)

Throws: The scenes broadcast on the Travel Channel often feature beads showering the crowds - what you don't see are the dozens of other marvelous items that are hurles, tossed, lobbed, whatever. The list is seemingly endless - in addition to Beads (and the variety within beads is mind-blowing too - cheap plastic beads, grand ornate beads, oversized blinking beads, rubber ducky beads, body part beads, tiny glass beads, beads with krewe medallions, beads that play music or even speak, and on and on...), you may be so lucky as to catch (or have gingerly handed to you, depending on the object's heft):

Metallic medallions

Stuffed animals of every variety (Yes, PM, even Sharks!!)

Paper Crowns

Squishy skull heads

Bespangled shoes (pumps, to be more specific)

Ornate Coconuts

Panties (new, usually emblazoned with the krewe logo)



Moon Pies


Glow Sticks

Fuzzy Dice

Plastic Dolls, Cigars, Spears, Cups, Frisbees, Crawfish, Alligators, Cockroaches, Hats, Dinosaurs, Swords, Skeletons, etc.

Masking: While I can think of no one who's ever been arrested for violation of this, there is a city ordinance allowing revelers to wear Masks ONLY on Mardi Gras, dawn to dusk, and no other day of the year. There is a long history of international notables coming to New Orleans to Masque, mingling with native and tourist alike in total anonymity. (Brooke Shields, post-Andre Agassi, Isabella Rossellini, Nick Cage, et al.)

There's just way too much to cover in one day, so later this week, I will tackle the Great King Cake Debate. Laissez les bons temps rouler!"
Oh, and I will post actual photos of yours truly in costume!!

11 comment(s):

Jen of A2eatwrite

It's about time you posted again! I love your posts.

Okay, now that fan club stuff is over, I've loved both yours and Maypole's posts. I was only in New Orleans for a couple of days around Mardi Gras day 2005, but I was with my then 11-year-old son, which definitely didn't let me explore the city the way I want to. I think this is definitely in the offing for one of the first adult trips I can take with my DH.

And I'm looking forward to the costume pic!

And btw... any interest in joining our Writing Game? We swap plots. I'm taking ideas through Friday. Come check it out.

painted maypole

oh, I loved this. you included all sorts of stuff I just couldn't pack into my post, as well as all sorts of other great stuff, and a whole different perspective.

(I know a guy who was queen of one of the gay Krewe's last year. I would have LOVED to go to that ball!)

painted maypole

oh, and I'm putting a link to this in my post today. ;)


I can't wait to see the photos!

Someday I will go.

soccer mom in denial

Hey gorgeous. Just today asked the 1st grade teachers if we can have King Cakes and read Mimi's First Mardi Gras. It is a given the preschool will have their 7th Mardi Gras party!

My favorite throw are the doubloons. We have a couple with the Blue Dog when Rodrigue was the King of a Metairie parade.

Hug. Glad to see you being festive. I could use it right now.


Did I ever tell you I drove from ct to N.O. for mardi gras and skipped a week of school? My parents don't even know that. It was a blast!

soccer mom in denial

Psst - I've left something for you at my place. It's bright purple.

Aimee Greeblemonkey

We had a Mardi Gras party a few years ago and it was a blast. But I might need to steal Allison's idea and ask Declan's teachers to do a Margi Gras party!

Aimee Greeblemonkey

P.S. I posted Jeff Vader for you today.

Aimee Greeblemonkey

OK, so Declan's teacher is totally into it. Now what. Lead me, Obi Wan.

Jenn in Holland

Oh, the dubloons and the masks and the costumes and the beads. I love Mardi Gras and only know it second and third hand...
My husband was a resident of NOLA once upon a time ago. Someday, I am coming to join you for the festival. You will share some of the sparkle, won't you?
Can't wait to see the photos. Can't. Wait.

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