|2/26/2015 9:50:00 AM|
On The Road with Tom Sadowski - Part 4: Mardi Gras, the Final Frontier
by Tom SadowskiDay 14, Friday, February 13, 2015
Arriving in New Orleans, I got a quick lesson in Mardi Gras parade basics. I learned they are put together and sponsored by organizations called krewes. Each parade has a theme and typically runs one to two hours. The beads and trinkets tossed to the crowds by the krewes on the floats are called "throws." All of this is paid for by the individual krewes. Bring your own food or expect to wait because there will be a huge line to any restaurant within walking distance of any parade. Beer, bourbon or whatever you may be drinking may not be consumed in public on the street from the bottle or a glass. You have to use a non-breakable plastic cup.
Walked to Charles Street and put in five hours witnessing the spectacle of three parades brought to us by the Krewes of Hermes, d'Etat and Morpheus. Most of this time was spent with my jaw dropped as I came upon surprise after surprise. If you are waiting for a parade to start, anyone with a parade tracker application on their smartphone will tell you exactly where the parade is and when it will arrive. This is hard core. The parade routes are more than a couple of miles long and crowded with spectators all the way.
Feeling light-headed. Spent the first half hour dodging the throws from the parade until I figured out they were throwing things to me not at me.
Something is amiss; the bright lights hurt my eyes, any sighting of food or drink makes me queasy ... I'm getting sick and I have not yet begun to party! Stumbled home squeezing past the revelers. Spent a fitful night in a delirious haze with my body all out of whack. The hands are too cold and the head too hot. Every noise is amplified while thoughts flit among unrelated subjects. Great. I am here in America's #1 city for eating and I'm having trouble just thinking about a plate of jambalaya.
Day 15, Saturday, February 14, 2015
The awkward thing about getting sick on your second day in New Orleans is that everyone just writes it off to drinking too much on your first day. This is okay if you are paying for a great time, but in my case I am just paying - probably for past sins.
Plans for early morning were canceled. I lay in bed for the entire Krewe of Iris parade and watched the ceiling instead. Couldn't get away from the festivities, however, because the entire neighborhood is alive with parties. The next-door neighbors filled my bedroom with the smell of Cajun-seasoned shrimp boiling and the sound of party music. I suspect it was an older crowd because the speakers were thumping out "My Sharona." Nothing like "My Sharona" when coming down with malaria or whatever the punishment I'm suffering - probably for escaping a very bad Maine winter.
My wife, who went out just to watch and not collect any more trinkets came back 20 pounds heavier, laden with beads and bracelets, blinky things, Hula-hoops, footballs, cups, roses, swords and some unidentifiable prizes, all emblazoned with the Krewe of Iris logo. It's hard to just watch, especially since the parade theme was "Iris Loves to Party."
Managed to stumble outside and into the crowd to watch the Krewe of Tucks parade and conduct a few interviews. Compared to the parades last night, these parades were as different as night and day. It could be because the sun was out.
Because my body is fighting this onset of dengue fever or whatever sub-tropical malady I've acquired, I missed the Endymion parade but caught it on local TV. This is a big parade (well, they're all big parades, but this one has 120-foot-long floats, each manned by 300 people throwing a warehouse full of goodies at the crowd). The parade ends up inside the Superdome, where 20,000 people await its arrival and then party well into the night entertained by big-name talent. They take the parade, which seems like the biggest party you can imagine, and use that as a prelude to a REAL party. These people are amazing. It makes you look around at this huge city and wonder when anybody has the time here to build skyscrapers, pave roads, or eat lunch, for that matter.
Wild guess: New Orleans takes all the time, money and effort a northern city would normally have to take with heating problems and snow removal and channels that into Mardi Gras celebrations.
Made it back home to bed. I'm all in favor of being put into a medically induced coma until whatever this is blows over. I'm not going to ask anybody, but I'm pretty sure that going to bed at 9:35 p.m. is illegal in New Orleans.
Day 16, Sunday, February 15, 2015
Feeling so much better today that I was able to eat some fruit and part of a salad. There were five parades scheduled for around the city, and I managed to catch two of them, which I thought was quite heroic. Every parade is different. The Krewe of Okeanos featured a parade of kings theme, and a nighttime Krewe of Bacchus parade saluted children's stories that live forever - although a lot of people thought that Bacchus, being the god of wine and spirits, was all about wine and spirits stories that live forever. Sometimes the crowd is not exactly clear as to what is being celebrated, but they're always willing to toast whatever it is.
It's hard to imagine but I think there are still ways you can get arrested during Mardi Gras. You don't want to start a fight, as two dozen policemen will suddenly materialize out of nowhere and bring things under control. Also, you don't want to violate what must be unwritten rules. I have no idea what they may be, but have noted that you do not cross police barricades and although you may cross the street during a parade, you never, ever cross through a marching band.
I had to nap for a few minutes and when I awoke my wife was putting away 25 more pounds of throws, thanks to the Krewe of Thoth parade that has an "Express Yourself" theme with floats that are rumored to be manned by medical and law school students and professionals. Have to check that bag later for items we may not want. I mean, you never know what they are going to throw. I don't want to find a catheter or subpoena in there.
Walked around after all the day's parades and witnessed the massive nightly cleanup effort. There were crews with rakes, front-end loaders, dump trucks and street sweepers. Looks like they know just what they were doing. Seems like New Orleans already has equipment in place for snow removal even if they don't know it. Snow removal, however, is easier: you don't have to run it over to compact it like you do parade trash, and it doesn't get caught up in your street-sweeper brushes like tons of beads on strings tend to.
Day 17, Monday, February 16, 2015
Today is Lundi Gras or Fat Monday. There are festivities scheduled along the Mississippi River bank at three different venues. Here, there are lots of craft and food vendors. You can spend most of the day listening to free live music until the King of Carnival arrives in the evening to ... I don't know what they do and exactly what happens and no one will tell me, but it's a good measure of pomp and party, ending in fireworks over the Mississippi River.
Bands are playing, people are dancing, boats are going by and food is cooking. The waterfront is crazy with activity. Grandmothers are dancing and babies are tooting trumpets. We decide to walk a few blocks inland to Bourbon Street to witness whatever you call it that was going on down there. It was everything that was going on riverside plus a big dose of business, religion, politics, frenzy and possibly Voodoo - hard to say. Got talked to by an army of Jesus people about salvation but had to leave when it started raining and blowing.
Battling the wind and rain, we hurried toward our hotel. Of course, we ran into another parade. It was the Krewe of Orpheus, and in New Orleans there is no such concept as having something rain on your parade. Everything goes on as before except that the parade people are suddenly all wearing raincoats. The marching bands, the float people, the dancers seem to get energized, determined to power through the weather. As a matter of fact, I think the snare drummers of the marching bands were drumming harder, as this allowed them to splash the crowd that pushed too close as they passed. The crowd did thin, but wet people still lined the route and still vied for catching beads and other goods from the krewes on the floats. It was an amazing experience; as the parade went on we could see fireworks over the Mississippi in the distance, proving that you can't take in everything in one visit. To save on weight, we had to drain and dry out the beads when we got back to the hotel.
Day 18, Fat Tuesday - Mardi Gras, February 17, 2015
Lundi Gras was crazy but just a warm up to Mardi Gras. If parties were fire, this whole town would be burning,
We were up early, but the Zulu parade got under way sooner than I expected. This is a great parade and not just because of the coconuts. There is just too much to explain here. Zulu came down one street, then turned onto St. Charles Street. Soon the Krewe of Rex followed, but it came from another direction. Again things were popping, people filled the streets, music came from every corner and families were toting coolers, tents and ladders.
We went in search of breakfast. All the restaurants within walking distance were too full and locals knew it because everyone who set up camp along the parade route had their grill going and something cooking. It was as if the entire city turned out for a huge yard party and picnic. This was about the time the truck parades started.
The Krewe of Elks Orleans organizes a parade of tractor-trailer trucks, with each trailer decorated and converted to a platform for costumed riders who again throw to the crowds. The trailer floats are numbered, as I first noticed when truck #14 went by. By the time the parade ended, I believe I noted truck #115. This was astounding. Over 100 trucks, all decorated, many sporting music systems and each with at least 30 riders.
After these passed, another truck with the number 1 on it came by, signaling the start of the Krewe of Crescent City parade. I understand that there are so many trucks at this last parade, the actual number is a classified military secret. We finally went to lunch, and when we returned, the parade was still rolling by.
When the last truck came by, the crowds thinned. Soon cleanup crews swept over the area and worked their magic. Any residual party action headed for the French Quarter, as if someone pulled a stopper and all the leftover merriment drained in that direction. By early evening, most of New Orleans was back to being a normal city. Of course, the French Quarter is never really normal.
After some discreet questioning, I found out that there is only one adult-themed parade; it is the only parade through the heart of the French Quarter and we missed it, as it happened two weeks before we arrived. Turns out 99 percent of Mardi Gras in New Orleans is family oriented. Isn't that great? A lot of people think that's great. My wife thinks it's great. Yes, she does.
By my count, there have been 54 major parades in New Orleans during Mardi Gras and the run-up to it. There have been numerous public concerts, special museum and art exhibits, fireworks, battle reenactments, specialty and alternative parades like the Krewe of Elvis, and special events like Greasing of the Poles. And, of course, there are the Indian gangs. Can these people party, or what?
We are scheduled to drive back to Maine in a day, so this is my last installment of road-trip notes, as I will be consumed full-time with driving and meditating on what took place here. Besides, I have a major headache. We are out of money, but in keeping with the spirit of the Acadians who came long before us, I plan to trade the natives we encounter shiny beads and necklaces for food, gas and lodging. God knows, we have enough of them. I'll let you know how that works out.
Article Comment Submission Form