Reflections on “The Day”

Mardi Gras was great; the weather cooperated; all relatives and family arrived safely and partied without incident throughout the weekend.

When we were kids, my daddy used to leave very early on Mardi Gras morning (before the sun came up) and schlep down to St. Charles Avenue to save the family a spot where we could set up the kids’ ladders and enjoy our picnic lunch. Sometimes he shared the duty with my uncle or other friends. My mother got up to get us in our costumes, make food for the rest of the day, and cart us into the city (we lived in Harahan), where we would park (it seemed like) miles away, and do our Mardi Gras thang.

Yuck. What a waste of plastic.

One year—the last year you could get me into a Mardi Gras costume with the family—my mother and our next-door neighbor got the great idea that we would dress up all the kids and adults as a herd of horses (11 kids and four adults), so they worked for weeks putting together costumes for everyone. They wrapped balloons in papier-maché to make the horses’ long noses, popped the balloons and fashioned a sort of mask with a mane made of yarn, horse ears so that it made a hats that fit on our heads. Our tails were made of long yarn that hung from the back of our pants. Pretty damned elaborate; you don’t see many families—especially great big ones—all dressed alike any more. (It took weeks to make those silly costumes, so when I see the Mardi Gras Indian tribes whose gorgeous costumes take a full year to create, I’m in awe).

Family and friends used to settle in on St. Charles between Jackson Avenue and Louisiana somewhere, quite near the corner of Second Street, which is the closest corner to our house now.

But, boy, have things changed!

You sure don’t see as many costumes; a real shame (would love to see some photos of great costumes, send ‘em my way and we’ll post them if you have them). One big change is that the neutral ground is jam-packed, not just with kids’ ladders and people, but with full-blown tents, tarps, propane-fueled barbecue pits. I even saw a couple of generators that were providing electricity for the big-ass speakers that were set up in several of the tents. I wonder if the city will ever crack down on that.

I always tried to give the kids the opportunity to catch the lions’ share of the beads (they’re nothing but crappy plastic, after all, and they either get thrown away or saved in bag in the attic to throw in some other parade next year). That’s not so anymore. There were so many tents and tarps set up that you couldn’t even see the other side of the street. A lot of them were set up fairly close to the street, essentially blocking ladders from being put in front of them.

The cheekiest (cheesiest) set-up I noticed was a golf cart that was pulled right up to the street, with the occupants—all adults—standing on the sides and front to catch beads. Screw the kids behind ‘em!

Another thing I noticed was the tons and tons of trash everywhere: broken beads and other throws, massive amounts of plastic cups, beer and soda cans, lots of “used” crawfish; there seemed to be more than usual, and the fact that this city manages to clean up the massive garbage left behind continues to stupefy. Frenchmen Street was clean as a whistle this morning. God bless New Orleans. It can’t clean up a messy city government, but these people really know how to clean up their garbage.

I heard music from brass bands, marching bands, Mardi Gras Indian chants, the usual Mardi Gras music, music from houses and apartments, from the tents lining St. Charles Avenue, from bars; music was everywhere.

My favorite place to be on Mardi Gras day is on Second and Dryades. It’s also great that our house is only a block away from alt-Mardi Gras Central, and the Mardi Gras spirit and camaraderie there is much more palpable than on St. Charles Avenue, just a few blocks away.  I always see different tribes of Mardi Gras Indians at that corner; Bo Dollis and his Queen Rita; John Sinclair; locals (and savvy visitors) who want to experience a different kind of Mardi Gras; little kids in Indian costumes; way too many cameras soaking in the Indian images as costumes. It’s sad that so many people don’t understand the traditions of the Indians. They’re seen as a “show” to be filmed as an oddity, not as a deep part of New Orleans black culture.

  • Jay

    Right on Jan about the tents on St. Charles. It’s analogous to what has happened at Jazz Fest. Less people taking up more space.

  • Janramsey

    Yeah, but what will the city do about the tents? It’s much worse on the Enymion parade route. Obnoxious.