The streets have been cleaned up but bright shiny beads are hanging from the trees catching the sun as a reminder of the visual excess of Carnival season in New Orleans. This year we had guests that had never been to Mardi Gras. Helping to orient them to the rhythm of the parades, finding the various walking krewes and ‘sip and stumbles” which occur all over town either through an organized plan or cosmic synergy was fun and exhausting. But now that they have left (all solid converts to the experience) we are struck by how the spirit of New Orleans’ Mardi Gras which makes it so much fun and unusual pulses through the heart beat of the city all year long. So for those of you who only know of Mardi Gras day from the television broadcast of drunks on Bourbon Street- let’s break it down.
Mardi Gras is family– For most of the parades you find three generations and at least two branches of a family setting up their chars and ladders and tables for snacks along the parade route. They have probably staked out the same spot for years and their neighbors and distant relatives know where to find them. For the eight days of parades in Uptown New Orleans it really is one big family get together. Old folks watch the little kids, teenagers dart back and forth, meeting up with their friends but always circling back to their family spot. It is a large reunion with flexible definitions of who is in your family.
Mardi Gras is community. People from all income levels, races, educational levels and nationalities stand shoulder to shoulder, yelling for beads, shaking their hips to the music, picking up each other’s dropped sun glasses and generally living peacefully together. For two weeks all the divides in the city disappear and we are united by the visual specter, the drumbeat of the bands and the ridiculous lust for signature throws being hurled from floats as they come by. We know more than a few couples who have met standing next to each other during parades. Our guests routinely share information about our neighbors they pick up watching he parades with them.
Mardi Gras is creativity. Locals spend numerous hours preparing our costumes. If we are marching with a group there are multiple hours spent designing and building floats, crafting our throws and working through minute details of our costumes. It is a modern day quilting bee where you get together weekly to craft, perhaps have some wine and work together to create something more fanciful than you can create on your own.
Mardi Gras is joy– It is hard to describe how the entire city puts its woes and concerns on hold for the week of Mardi Gras. You know there are hard decisions to make, work pressure to respond to and issues requiring resolution, but not during Mardi Gras. Energy is put towards celebration and enjoying each other’s company and spirit.
One day I want to go to Trinidad and Rio and see the Carnivals there but until; then, I am grateful to live in a town which for two weeks brings out the best of us locals and entices visitors with another way to be on a Tuesday in February.