My first year living in NOLA, I was fairly new to Carnival. I hadn’t expected all the tents and barbecue grills and grandparents and the fun adult dance troupes like the Pussyfooters and the 610 Stompers. Now I know people in both groups and get hugs and waves when they pass. I went to nearly 30 parades that first year, mostly alone. But, in a city this friendly, I was never alone for long. Families brought me into their fold, groups of friends and couples too. I learned early to “protect the head,” to try to make eye contact with a thrower to get beads and that kids and industrious adults will find whatever you miss. I also learned to admire someone’s Zulu coconut and started hanging Krewe medallions on my Mardi Gras tree.
By the second and third years, I began recognizing some of the high school bands and developing favorites. I had friends I’d look for at their “spot.” I knew to hope for a shoe at Muses and I began collecting pieces of my Mardi Gras wardrobe.
This year, I finally began to feel the ritual and familiarity of Mardi Gras that people who grow up here must feel. Now, I have a sense of which parades are what days without looking at a schedule. I have routines and a short mental list of things to bring. I have favorite parades and floats and bands. I know which parades have which kinds of throws and which krewes throw the most or the hardest. I can even reminisce with others about the time Drew Brees was King of Bacchus on Valentine’s Day just after winning the Super Bowl or the year the rain rerouted Endymion onto St. Charles.
Mardi Gras is more than just a very long party with lots of parades and balls. It’s a place to meet your neighbors, find your friends and make new ones. I can’t imagine how important the Mardi Gras after Katrina was – all those people were able to find each other and celebrate something. Carnival is a forced break. Not even the post office opens Mardi Gras Day. And the whole season surrounds you with King Cake, festivities and free plastic jewelry. Revelry, costumes and decorations are everywhere. It’s almost impossible to be in a bad mood. Maybe every city needs that but it is part of the rhythm of this place, as much a part of the city’s culture as seafood or jazz.
In a city known for whimsy and creativity, Mardi Gras Day is as explosion of ideas and craftsmanship. In past years, I’ve made loops around the Quarter for hours taking in all the sights, but this year was a bit different. Now that I’ve come to know more people, I was invited to several balcony parties overlooking the festivities. At one such party, a roaming band wandered into the living room for some private entertainment. It was definitely one of those “only in New Orleans” moments.
Between the balconies and running into neighbors and friends like DancingMan504 and songstress Margie Perez, it took over 4 hours to complete one loop from the Quarter down to Frenchman Street and back. Maybe we didn’t cover as much ground but I felt part of the festivities in a new way. Perhaps the best moment of the day was when longtime French Quarter resident and photographer Louis Sahuc of Photoworks, commented on my recent stint as a celebrity Pole Greaser saying, “you’re official now.” I’ll happily take that.