Mardi Gras
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 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.)
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.

As you can see, the parade floats and costumes are most colorful
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 dragging
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. 
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 walked.

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.)

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.
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. 

BEADS
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.

A few more sights from Mardi Gras

There is a part of Mardi Gras that many consider trashy.
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".

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.
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. 

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