Everyone in New Orleans has their own Mardi Gras rituals: costuming with friends and family; visiting the Backstreet Cultural Museum for breakfast with the Northside Skull and Bone Gang, and an all-day street party with the Skeletons, Indians, and Baby Dolls. Then there are the regular and spur-of-the-moment parties and open houses; going to the Quarter to the drag show competition; neighborhood parades, like St. Ann; Mardi Gras Indians uptown and in my neighborhood, Second and Dryades; people-watching ad infinitum; special drinks; hitting Bourbon early on Tuesday to check out the costumes; the smell of barbecuing on the neutral ground; the ritual of setting up the kids’ ladders on St. Charles Avenue; catching Zulu early on Mardi Gras day; red beans and rice, gumbo and fried chicken (usually from Popeyes); the last crums of king cake; the ongoing sounds of “Mardi Gras Mambo” and other seasonal tunes; marching bands; flambeaux; beads adorning trees along the parade routes and decorating fences; crunching beads underfoot after the floats past; hanging out with people you don’t know but you get to know in the communal spirit of Mardi Gras.
And then there are the throws.
I think my favorite throw of all time was the long-ago generic doubloons that the Krewe of Clones threw many years ago that were round disks of wood with “Doubloon” stamped on each side. The Clones morphed into the Krewe du Vieux, so even back then it was very satiric. I have a lovely bunch of Zulu coconuts; one year I got about five of them. I remember the year I was zapped full-on in the face by a wad of beads fast-balled into my face by a zealous krewe member of Tucks. That was a buzz-kill, I can tell you. This year, Tucks’ “prize throws” are toilet brushes hand-decorated by krewe members—oooh, can’t wait to collect that series!
Everybody loves the long pearl strands thrown by just about all the krewes now. The Muses’ shoe-themed throws and beads are a big hit. I remember that beads that were thrown were from Japan (not China) when I was a kid. They were either glass (the cheap kind) or they were Czech-made crystals (the kind that are now prized buys on eBay—guess I should have saved those babies).
In New Orleans, everyone has at least one full bag of beads in their attic, caught from Mardi Gras’s past. My mom used to have an attic full.
All I can say is that there is a mystique about New Orleans Mardi Gras that is so special that it can’t be captured anywhere else, despite the attempts made in Washington, DC, and around the country. It’s not just (another) excuse to party and get wasted; it’s a lot more than that. Everywhere else, it’s just Tuesday. But in New Orleans, Mardi Gras is our own tradition: It’s family and friends, creativity, community spirit and friendship. It’s uniquely New Orleans. It’s ours.
Happy Mardi Gras, everybody. See ya out there.