Thursday, March 10, 2011

"C'mon take me to the Mardi Gras" - Paul Simon

Mardi Gras, the heart and soul of New Orleans culture has officially come and gone. As a Mardi Gras virgin, I anxiously anticipated the season, and to my delight, not a second of it was a disappointment. The parades, the block parties, the masses of people, the food, the costumes, the drinks, the company, and the beads, oh my! For those unfamiliar, Mardi Gras is not just a day, or even a weekend - it is a season. Technically, it begins on the Christian celebration of Epiphany and lasts through the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, meaning that this year, the season was eight and a half weeks long, with celebration reaching its climax about five days before Fat Tuesday. Come along as we hit some of the highlights of New Orleans' pride and joy:

Before embarking on a four day marathon of parades and parties, you have to fuel up. We decided to start with a New Orleans classic: the Po'Boy. This shrimp Po'Boy (foreground) from Domilise's was to die for with a perfect balance of fried shrimp and endless dressing. The Roast Beef Po'Boy (background) was also a hit with a flavorful and spicy Creole Mustard. 

St. Charles Avenue, typically the picturesque thoroughfare with Plantation-style homes and famous green Streetcar, turned into a full-on block party. Though the street was technically not closed to traffic, locals and visitors came out with tents, grills, coolers, and costumes to stake out a prime bead-catching spot along the Avenue. Also, note the colorful ladders with wooden boxes on top, which are traditional seats for children looking for throws from the floats.

BEADS. BEADS. BEADS. Over the weekend we joked that we all had "Bead Fever," calling and waving for Krewe members to throw beads off their floats and into our hands. As the Krewes and floats evolved throughout the weekend, so did the throws, ranging from traditional purple, yellow, and green plastic beads, to toys, shoes, giant necklaces, and even erotic paraphernalia attached to said beads! And, just as one might expect, earning these beads becoming a more daunting task as the crowds increase, so it pays (in beads) to get creative. Also, I learned that you should never pick up beads off the ground, as a) it's dirty, but more importantly b) it is considered bad luck! 

Part of celebrating Mardi Gras is dressing in costume. Each Krewe has a Masquerade Ball following their parade where they dress in extravagant garb and get their party on. Some people go all out even on the streets, with body paint, wigs, and whatever else you can imagine. Though I didn't make it to a Ball, I did partake in the tradition, wearing a traditional Mardi Gras mask, managing to hold on to it for the whole weekend.

The Floats were incredible. Think Disney, but not Disney, because it definitely was not rated G. Each Krewe's parade has a theme and has anywhere from 10 - 20+ floats with members dressed in costume throwing beads to the crowds. I have to admit I had such a bad case of Bead Fever that my photos are lacking, but I think you get the idea from the floats above! 

Yup, those are people standing in trash. And not for fun, but truly because that is what the streets looked like after each day of parades. Street cleaners come through to try to clear the streets, but let me say, they better get paid a ton for that futile effort! Lesson learned: beads pose as challenging obstacles, as they slip and slide under your feet when trying to walk. Walk with caution. 

Total distance walked in one day: 6.32 miles. Multiply that times two, maybe three. Driving is impossible, and lets be honest, we had to walk off those Po'Boys and beers. 

Mardi Gras is definitely a marathon, not a sprint, and true exhaustion takes over moments after celebrating the last parade. But all in all, it was an amazing experience shared with incredible people. I've got a few more items on my Mardi Gras bucket list, but for my first year, it was a successful adventure I'll never forget. 

1 comment:

  1. Wow! I want that po-boy...right now!

    I only went to Mardi Gras once. I think I was around five, and I remember that I made a little bed out of all the beads I managed to catch.

    So happy I found your blog :)