New Orleans, Louisiana
February 27, 2001
||Here's the corner of Canal and Bourbon Streets; the heart
of Mardi Gras. Carnival starts a couple of weeks before Mardi Gras, (Fat
Tuesday). As the days approach, the streets fill with people and
the parades start. The history of Mardi Gras and it's parades is
very interesting. It's roots go back to the French and even the Romans.
The week before Mardi Gras there are several parades every
day, (sometimes one will run right into the end of the one in front of
it.) We went to many of the parades that ended downtown on Canal
Street. Years ago it was traditional to have the parades travel though
town on unplanned routes. Today the routes are published and have
some crowd control such as the fences seen in the picture below.
The guy across the street heard them, so he yelled down a
street vendor and bought himself a horn -- only he didn't have a clue how
to blow it, (there is a special "knack" to really getting a big bull-moose
type sound out of it.) Check out the guy in the red shirt laughing.
Soon, the whole crowd was laughing as he tried and tried to get the horn
to make any kind of a decent sound, while at the same time Mitch and Max
were blowing theirs at him very loudly. Max even jumped the fence
and ran across the parade route to show him how to blow it properly --
but it didn't help.
|The first day we went downtown at the published parade
time. We learned that the parade takes a long time, (up to 3-1/2
hours) to get from the starting point (which is a few miles away) to the
downtown area. In the mean time, Mitch and Max had fun with the crowd
across the street. Mitch and Max have parade horns from Seattle's
Seafair celebration. They blow the horns a lot during parades.
(Lots of adults hate being next to them.)
As you can see, the parade floats and costumes are most
||Each parade is organized by a "Krewe" and the masked
guys riding on the floats are members of the Krewe. Originally, many
of the Krewes were secret organization and membership was not open. Each
Krewe and parade, has a name such as Rex, Baccus, Zulu, Proteus and many
more. During the parade, the Krewe members are constantly throwing
strings of beads, plastic cups and doubloons with the Krewe's logo and
a few stuffed animals. In the photo on the left you can see the crowds
reaching out to catch beads.
|Larry King was this years "King of Rex" and John Goodman
was riding on the lead float of Krewe Zulu. Here, he is working on
getting more beads out to throw. The floats are filled with thousands
of beads, some in boxes and bags or on racks. Sometimes they
just throw out a large group of tangled beads or entire bags full of them.
The crowds go crazy to catch the throws, but most individuals are polite
and don't get into fights over the necklaces.
||Between most floats there is a band or marching group.
By the end of the parade these bands looked really tired and many were
||Check out the ladders in this picture. Away from Bourbon
Street, out in the residential areas, we saw hundreds of ladders like these
with a box bolted to the top. They are used as a place for the little
kids to sit. There is a bar across the front to hold the kid in and
the parent stands on the ladder behind them. This way they can get
above the crowd and have a better chance to catch beads.
As most of you know we are from Seattle. New Orleans
must have had 200,000 people on the streets and many of them were drinking.
One of the policemen was saying that they all had a good laugh at Seattle
because of their Mardi Gras problems. (After the bars closed at 2:00 a.m.
in Seattle, the crowds (2,000 people) moved into the street and riot tactics
were used to control the crowd.)
Checks Cashed, ATM, Cold Beer - 2 for 99 cents.
If you're from a state or community with restrictive drinking
laws this would seem like disaster in the making. Beer, drinks like
Hurricanes and Daiquiris are sold everywhere along the streets. Cheryl
likes wine but we didn't see any signs advertising it. So we went
into a liquor store, they poured her a glass out of a bottle and out we
We were out until midnight on several nights and saw very
few serious drunks. The New Orleans Police Department seem
to have very good control over violent behavior but don't place restrictions
on the general public who are responsible enough to have a good time.
By the end of Mardi Gras, (Fat Tuesday,) beads are everywhere,
Everybody is wearing them, they hang from the trees, balconies, fill the
streets and gutters. After every parade Max would report that his
neck was sore. Altogether, we caught over six hundred strings of
beads. We sent most of them to our parents and grandkids.
||We did see one incident. This wooden structure
is one of those protective sidewalk construction tunnels. It was
full of people waiting for the Rex parade. A fight or something broke
out in the middle of the structure and the police decided the best way
to end things was move everyone out. The mounted police simply
rode down the tunnel and within seconds it was over -- people were flying
out of every opening. We were glad to see that no one was trampled
in the rush, but the whole thing was over very quickly.
A few more sights from Mardi Gras
There is a part of Mardi Gras that many consider trashy.
On Fat Tuesday, as we were walking down the street, Max said,
"I don't get it -- what was all that stuff people were saying? I
know there's lots of garbage, but they clean it up afterwards and its not
dangerous here." While it's remotely possible that we could
have found ourselves in the middle of a fight, we felt safer there than
we did this morning as a severe storm cell passed over us with lightning,
flash floods and 60 mph winds. Pick pockets? Sure, I
guess there might be some, but pick pockets are in New York, Paris and
Barcelona too. We always keep an eye out and don't carry items loosely.
We've seen more frontal nudity in Europe and on the beaches of the Caribbean
-- and there it is normal, rather than a special display that draws attentions.
|First, there is a lot of trash. Cups, food wrappers
and bead boxes and bags fill the streets by the end of Carnival.
(The day before Mardi Gras it rained, so everything was wet.) There
is drinking in the streets and some partial nudity.
For weeks we had heard from locals in Alabama and Mississippi
how terrible Carnival was. No specifics were ever provided, just
that it was terrible. Some people said "stay away from the French
Quarter, especially Bourbon Street", "don't were nice clothes or carry
a good camera", and "definitely, don't take the kids".
||In any case, "flashing" does draw the crowd's attention
and lots of people rent space on balconies where they can watch the crowds
go by and throw beads to them. Kids, and not only ours, get lots
of the beads by just looking up, smiling and waving.
There are those that dangle large, fancy strings of beads
to attract the daring gals. These girls range from young to old,
skinny to fat, attractive to well . . . . .
||Here's a couple of gals that, let's say, just asked for
some beads and are now looking up for the beads to be thrown down from
the balcony above.
This method of transportation was carried by eight guys.
The yellow taxi sign on the top read "TITTY TAXI", (on the other side it
called itself a "HOOTER SCOOTER".) I guess for a price you can be
paraded around for a while.
Here's a gal, like many others, that simply painted on
a shirt. There was an airbrush shop doing body painting and business
was booming! Some of the paint jobs where quite fancy with feathery,
floral patterns. Most simply looked like brightly colored tight fabric.
This guy had a colorful roof vent attached to a helmet
These porta-potties were free, but some businesses on
the parade routes and busier streets set them up and charged one or two
dollars to use them. You should have seen this gal's reaction when
she opened the door.
||Here's a policeman that's serious. Although you
can run almost nude and half drunk through the streets we learned that
there is one thing you can't do -- Ride a skate board! He's
telling a guy to "WALK", "WALK" ... "YOU WALK!" We were glad
to see they were keeping the streets safe.
||Some of the street performers reminded us of being in
Europe. This puppeteer had a great music show.
||"Repent or Perish". There were plenty of groups
doing their part to help out.
Carnival was an interesting, fun experience. We
were very impressed with New Orleans -- it's almost like it's own little
country -- completely unlike anywhere else we've been in the United States.
It's a city that has always been a party town and they have perfected it
like no other.
Copyright Nodland 1999