Mardi Gras actually means Fat Tuesday in French. It is the culmination of Carnival. At midnight, the police clear Bourbon Street and the street cleaners come through to mark the beginning of Lent.
But first, we have an all-day giant party with parade after parade. It all starts at 8 am with the Krewe of Zulu, one of the oldest Krewes (1909). The Zulu Golden Coconut is one of the most prized throws of the season. According to kreweofzulu.com, “The earliest reference to the coconut appears to be about 1910 when the coconuts were given from the floats in their natural “hairy” state…
With the proliferation of lawsuits from people alleging injury from thrown coconuts, the organization was unable to get insurance coverage in 1987. So that year, the honored tradition was suspended. After much lobbying, the Louisiana Legislature passed SB188, aptly dubbed the “Coconut Bill,” which excluded the coconut from liability for alleged injuries arising from the coconuts handed from the floats. On July 8, 1988, then-governor Edwards signed the bill into law.”
I saw a police officer take a Golden Coconut to a genius who fixed a plate for someone on a float.
Many floats had potato chips this year, but Zulu also had mini-moon pies, a staple in Mobile, Alabama parades (Mobile is actually the first city in the U.S. to have a Mardi Gras Carnival). And yes, that was my lunch – chips and moon pie. Many people set up grills, coolers and tents for Fat Tuesday and make a day of it.
This year, the parade seemed to get off to a late start then got held up for almost an hour. An officer told us one of the floats caught fire, but not to worry. Okay… But, immediately after Zulu, Rex rolls.
The Krewe of Rex, founded in 1872, is all about tradition. Their monarchs serve asKing and Queen of Carnival and are typically local philanthropists/ business leaders and daughters/students respectively. Because of the Zulu delay, Rex had to roll down the wrong side of St. Charles. The people who’d staked out areas in the middle streetcar area had to turn their chairs and ladders around and their back row became the front row, but those on the south side of St. Charles were screwed and the north side of St. Charles just looked confused until beads started flying.
I met a 21 year old who was relocated to 2 years of boarding school in Massachusetts after Katrina. He’s been a student at Loyola for the last 2 years. I asked if he thought he would have gone to college if Katrina hadn’t— He stopped me there and said, “No, ma’am.” Every once in awhile, I see some little bit of good that came from that storm.
After, Rex, they went back to the right side of St. Charles and began the truck parades. The Elks Krewe is the oldest (1935) and largest (over 100 trucks) of the truck Krewes. The tone is more casual and aggressive for the truck parades but it’s a little less chaotic in a way with only one level of people throwing as opposed to the giant double-decker floats.
I went to parades from 8:30 am until 4:30 pm – like it was a job. I had to unload beads twice before the last 2 parades loaded me down again. In the third to last truck of the entire day was my friend, Lauren. I spotted her and ran to her float like a five year old wanting a stuffed animal. She finally saw me, dumped giant sunglasses and a bag of rings into my open hands then blew me a kiss as she rolled away. It was the perfect end to a LONG day – her first Mardi Gras and my first as a local, she in costume throwing from a parade truck, me getting my last throws of 12 days of parades.
Here’s a 8 1/2 minute video of the days events. As always, don’t forget to click the 4 arrow icon in the lower right corner if you want to view it full screen.