Friday, February 29

Mardi Gras!

A few weeks ago Josie and I went to New Orleans to celebrate Mardi Gras with some friends of ours, and had all our preconceptions blown right out of the water. I don't know what I was expecting but it involved some degree of lechery and debauchery, and instead we experienced the most wonderful, family friendly city wide celebration of a carnival season, it was brilliant! Just to get it out there now, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is NOT a gay pride event! Keep on reading...

I'm not going to go on and on with too much description because the pictures mostly show it all. However, I don't have as many pics as I'd like because our little digicam died (most of the following pics were taken by me but I've borrowed some from our friends). Some good friends of ours here in San Antonio are Louisiana natives and they convinced us that Mardi Gras was a 'must do' thing before we leave here. We were planning to drive in convoy, but came up with a much better plan where we drove with one of them from San Antonio to New Orleans, while the others flew, and reversed it for the return. It was about an 8-9 hour drive, very smooth and almost no traffic (in a subaru which helped too!) Driving across Texas and then into Louisiana was wonderful, watching the landscape change and the variety of trees increase exponentially! We drove through the flat interior of our part of Texas, through coastal estuaries and over swamps! Josie drove us across the state line, with much enthusiasm (maybe just to be out of Texas?) We stopped at Fezzo's, a cajun seafood house on the way (poor Jo) where I had an inspired crab meat augratin AND we went to "The Best Stop" which makes fresh pork cracklins (fried pork skins covered in a spicy powder and no where near as fatty as you expect!) They sell about 2500 pounds of cracklin a day!!

Anyway, the point of this was not to spend too long going on and on! We survived the drive and the cholesterol. We were staying with family of our friends in the Garden District of New Orleans, one of the more expensive areas and one of the least damaged by Kartrina. Actually, the entire city was looking so much better than my last visit!

The garden district is gorgeous, lots of big old trees, big old houses, dress shops, coffee houses, and of course the main parade route.

You can see the beads that passers by from the parades have left on the fence of this place, that use to be a 'home for ruined girls'. It was a gorgeous house and the magnolia trees! So pretty!

Anyway, back to Mardi Gras! Wikipedia has a great explanation of what it is, worth reading. Basically Mardi Gras is literally 'Fat Tuesday" in French and describes the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of lent. In New Orleans there is a 2 week long city wide carnival that finished on Fat Tuesday, but Mardi Gras is kind of used to describe the whole thing. During carnival there are a bunch of parades, each one put together by different Krewes. The Krewes are the group who make and man the floats. There are a few different parade routes through different parts of the city, including the French Quarter, but the main one is up in the garden district where we were, lucky for us! The floats are really elaborate, themed, and usually quite old (many of the Krewes have been doing this for decades, even longer!) They're pulled by tractors and the float riders toss "throws" to the shouting, waving masses who line the parade route (that was us!).

The 'throws' are mostly coloured plastic beads but the better throws include stuffed toys, beads that have the name or symbol of the particular krewe on them and dubloons (metal coins with the krewe logo, the year etc on them). Each krewe usually have a few 'special throws' that are pretty sought after, like light up necklaces, tshirts and hand painted glass beads. I was lucky enough to score two out of three, catching both a t-shirt (huge mind you) AND a gorgeous set of glass beads. For the good throws like that someone on the float usually gets your attention and lines you up. It was a lot of fun cheering the different krewes on, yelling "throw me something mister" which is one of the catch cries, along with "DUBLOONS DUBLOONS" I spent most of my energy collecting the dubloons, whereas Jo seemed to catch he attention of the throwers and caught a ridiculous number of beads!

The parades that we manages to catch in the few days that we were there (including Fat Tuesday itself) were the Krewes of Thoth (Egyptian themed floats), Mid City (all their floats were done in coloured foil), Bacchus (one of the rowdier night parades), Babylon, and of course Rex, the king of Mardi Gras who parades on Fat Tuesday. I felt sorry for the Krewe of Rex though because they kept breaking down and got stuck waiting around for over an hour! The day parades were very family friendly, and where we were the night parades weren't too bad either. A little more rowdy and in one all the floats were themed on cocktails, but still not what I was expecting!

Rex, the king of Mardi Gras!
The riders have their own special dubloons that they might give you if you're brave enough to approach them!

There were lots of marching bands from all the schools, colleges and universities in between the floats. Poor kids walked a long way, some of them holding huge instruments, in what was about 30 degree heat for most of the parades! The parent helpers had them sucking icecubes which was a neat idea, not so good for the brassbands tho...

Some of the night parade floats were my favorites because of the way they were lit, some with all sorts of fiber optics and LEDs withing the float structures. However, they were also really hard to photograph!

The other cool thing was that most of the people on the streets watching the parades dressed up as well! Some of them even form small "walking krewes" and walk the parade route all dressed up.
Anyhow, epic New Orleans post is finally live!


Big A said...

Hurrah! Patience rewarded! Like little Fuzzypeg, I said it first (ask Jo).

And also ask Jo (or Google) about the Bridgwater Carnival, which back in deepest Somerset, does something rather similar, but in early winter around Guy Fawkes time, when its dark and cold. Same idea, with carnival "clubs" often based on local pubs who work all year on a float and produce a parade that takes 2-3 hours to pass a point. No necklaces or dubloons, though.

See you in Wynyard!

Anonymous said...

Wow, pleased to see some blog news!!!

What a fantastic experience for you both and to share the experience with friends in the know, was extra special. You had to get in a description of a meal, cannot help yourself.

Counting the days till we see you both.

Hugs. Mum

CupKate said...

Sounds and looks fantastic! Glad you got to go. Wonder what happens to all the beads everyone ends up with?? Can't wait to see you here soon - have fun in Oregon first. xx