Monday, March 1, 2010

Mardi Gras 2010 - Lundi

I promised myself that I'd use our recent trip to New Orleans as a topic for a blog post but unfortunately it has taken me some time to get around to writing. Anyway, here is Day 1.

Annette wanted to celebrate her recent "milestone" birthday with a party. What bigger party could there possibly be than Mardi Gras? And not just any Mardi Gras but a Mardi Gras after the Saints' Superbowl win.

As we approached the Louis Armstrong airport I couldn't help but marvel at the flatness of the land and the nearness to the water. We've all heard about the flooding after Katrina in 2005 but it isn't until you see the landscape that you understand just how close to disaster the people of New Orleans are constantly. The first glimpses you get during landing are of a treeless landscape painted a thin brown on a blue-grey canvas.

Later that evening we decided to take in our first Mardi Gras parade. For those not familiar with Carnival traditions, the days leading up to Mardi Gras (or Fat Tuesday) are peppered with parties, parades, and other celebrations. The idea is to get out all your bad habits and large living before Ash Wednesday, or the start of Lent and six weeks of fasting and abstinence. Many places around the world (including Quebec, Brazil, Venice) have similar Mardi Gras or Carnival traditions.

In New Orleans, one of the hallmarks are the parades. Parades are put on by Krewes and can range from modest homemade floats to extravagant professionally built floats. It all depends on the means of the various Krewes. Monday evening was the Krewe of Orpheus. Very impressive, elaborate floats. Unfortunately it was miserably cold (around freezing), we hadn't eaten yet, and we had chosen the absolute worst spot to watch the parade -- near the end but not at the end. This meant the parade members were tired and cold but not yet ready to give up the last of their throws. Throws are essential elements of enjoying Mardi Gras parades. Throws can take the form of stuffed toys, plastic doubloons, cups, or beaded necklaces. Beads are the showcase throw that everyone thinks of and parades are definitely one way to acquire them.

Cold, disappointed and near despair, we grabbed a bite to eat (I don't even remember where). Once we had some food and beverages in us the night no longer felt so cold. We went down a block from our hotel and there we found the absolute end of the Orpheus parade route. As my sister Michelle had once told us, the end of a parade route can be a magical place for acquiring throws. It's at the end of the route that the parade members toss their remaining throws off the side of their floats by the handful just to get rid of them. Whole bags of beads went flying past my head. It seems like an odd thing but you get a wonderful sense of inclusion and community getting your first beads (even if they were cheapo, plain plastic beads and not the higher quality types).

After the parade ended we took a walk down Bourbon Street through the heart
of the French Quarter. It was on this evening that Annette discovered the Handgrenade - a strong drink consisting of rum, gin, vodka, grain
alcohol, and melon liquor served over crushed ice and garnished with mint delivered in a long tube shaped plastic glass with a base shaped like a smiling Allied hand-grenade. They're sold at four locations on Bourbon Street and nowhere else in the world.

Bourbon Street's tenants span a wide spectrum. From upscale hotels and fine restaurants to strip clubs and adult toy stores; and often all in row. Even in the cold that night, Bourbon St. was packed. Music, clubs, people everywhere. The police were also on hand strolling on horseback through the crowds. If people were not in clubs they were in the streets.

And it was on this first night that we learned of the other ways to attract throws (e.g. beads). Whether you were walking the street or waving to the crowd from a balcony, everyone seemed to be in the mood to share their beads. In hindsight it seems quite odd the lengths that some people go to get a bunch of plastic beads. But like many things, I think it's in the acquiring and not necessarily the owning, that attracts.

By about 2am we were pretty tired so we lugged our load of beads back to the hotel. It was amazing to think that we'd only arrived earlier that evening. It was a fantastic feeling to end the day on a high note especially after our rocky start.

Next post... Day 2 (Mardi Gras)


Kimota94 aka Matt aka AgileMan said...

That Annette really knows how to party!!!

Michelle said...

Sooo... what happened to Day 2??