Photo: Mardi Gras mask by Kim Welsh

Mardi Gras Mixed Emotions

Get out the face paint, the masks, the lewd costumes, the ladders, the beer and alcoholic beverages with a side of red beans and rice and fried chicken: Mardi Gras is almost here.

If you’re a member of a krewe (or married to a member), get out your expensive long formal dresses, satin masks, tuxes and masses of Mardi Gras beads and throws ready. Be sure to wear some long johns, too: it’s gonna be cold this weekend.

Thursday officially starts Mardi Gras weekend in New Orleans. As I look out my window overlooking Frenchmen Street on a sunny Wednesday afternoon, you’d never know that the party is winding up and getting ready to descend on the city as it does every year. The out-of-town crazies and the ever-increasing “traveler” population hasn’t materialized yet.

So many people in New Orleans literally live for Mardi Gras season, but as I’ve grown older, I have to tell you: I’m bored. Been there, done that.

I certainly respect your right to celebrate, but me, I’m heading away from the craziness.to take a nice four-day weekend. Heretical that may be, but things are just so different now than they used to be. Mardi Gras has changed from being a special day to a two-week marathon of drinking, partying and pain-in-the-ass parking.

Ever been mired in traffic that doesn’t move for hours that’s blocked by a parade? Ever had some drunk barf on your front yard or front steps? Or on you?

Ever been groped when you’re stuck in a crowd in the Quarter that’s so thick you not only can’t move, but you’re carried along by the warm sweaty bodies of unknown revelers to parts unknown?

Ever been whacked in the face by a five-pound pack of cheap plastic beads that a float rider was graciously throwing to his friend who was standing next to you—but missed and hit you instead?

Ever had a fight with someone who snatched a pair of (cheap, plastic) beads right out of your hands when you thought you had caught them for your kid? Or hit by a Zulu coconut?

Ever tried to do business on Fat Tuesday? HAH.

Ever waded through the foot or so of post-parade beads and trash on the street, or smelled the luscious aroma of Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras Day?

How about inhaling diesel fumes for hours from the truck parades (the poor man’s carnival krewe)?

Well then—you’ve never lived!

On the other hand: Mardi Gras is, and can be more fun than I have ever had. But I’m jaded. It’s especially fun when you’ve never experienced it before. It’s truly an unmatched visual spectacle that’s quite literally the “greatest show on earth.” People-watching is absolutely the best. One thing I always loved about it is the opportunity to hang out with friends and family to socialize, eat, drink and simply pass a good time.

There are many types of Mardi Gras experiences: as a tourist, a visitor, who can’t quite believe what they see and hear, and if they have a good time, swear they’re moving to New Orleans (as if it’s like this all the time. Not).

Then there’s the family Mardi Gras, when your siblings, parents, kids, cousins, and aunts, uncles and grannies all dress up as a herd of horses, or some such other goofball costume, pack food and drink for the day (or even bring a BBQ pit), load in the ladders for the kids to sit on, and set up on St. Charles Avenue or Veterans Boulevard to catch the parades, all day.

There’s the drinking, smoking, drugging, partying crowd, who think they died and went to excess heaven, who think Mardi Gras is getting wasted and throwing beads off balconies (or who strip naked and do outrageous things to get the biggest shower of beads—wow, what boasting power that gives: I took off all my clothes to show my tits to the entire world for a pair of fake pearls! And my photo on the internet can provr it for all time!).

There are the Mardi Gras “hosts with the most” who open their houses to whoever pops in their door to use the bathroom and eat some finger sandwiches, king cake or red beans with a beer or a Bloody Mary (yes, king cake goes with beer).

And , of course, the royalty for a day krewe members who are the real reason that Mardi Gras has persisted all these years. Trust me, there’s not a more powerful feeling than being able to throw beads and assorted crap at the hoi polloi of the lowly crowds below who will do anything (and I mean anything) if you toss them a pair of beads.

Wait: I forgot about gay (male) Mardi Gras: it’s the time to glam up, wear the most outrageous feathery, sparkly, gawjus costume imaginable and to (literally) let it to all hang out. Just so you will be noticed.

Mardi Gras is an exhibitionist’s dream come true.

Personally, I truly love the marching bands. I like the brass bands. I like the flambeau carriers. I mean, who doesn’t like a parade? I also dig on the sarcastic parody parades (I was a charter member of the Krewe of C.R.U.D.E. in Krewe du Vieux).

The importance of Mardi Gras to New Orleans culture and to our state of mind as citizens cannot be underestimated. The Mardi Gras mentality (party and behave to excess now, because tomorrow is another day we don’t have to think about) pervades and persists.

Mardi Gras is just like anything else a native New Orleanian has to consider in its love-hate relationship with the city. It’s so stupid, so crazy, such a pain in the neck, but there’s just nothing else like it.

All I can say is have a good time, but really: respect others and respect yourself. There will yet be another Mardi Gras.

  • Thomas E. Perlic

    Well put Jan! As a relative newcomer to the madness or Mardi Gras (4th year here), we’ve always enjoyed the day and have done some pretty cool things that were on our bucket list. The 70! parades do get tiresome and it’s a relief when Ash Wednesday rolls around. Given the cool conditions this year, we’ll probably wander down to hear some music from friends in the afternoon and enjoy the day(s) off!

  • Chattan

    Mardi Gras doesn’t sound like my type of thing either. Visiting NOLA is on my bucket list but, if and when I do go, it won’t be during Mardi Gras.

  • pigeonnumber3

    Sticking to downriver parades after a sampling of the uptown look-alike Kern baby-faced floats a couple years ago, and being struck by a bag of beads from Endymion float on Canal.