Wednesday, February 28, 2007

life and Mardi Gras

As locals know, but visitors usually do not, we celebrate Carnival from January 6th (Feast of the Epiphany) on to the day before Ash Wednesday (Fat Tuesday, also known as Mardi Gras, although the season itself has come to be known as Mardi Gras sometimes).

It culminates in 10 days or so of revelry with parades with St. Charles Avenue as the main avenue to see parades, but many suburbs do also have their parade schedule. The small mostly walking parade Krewe de Vieux is held in the Marigny and Quarter near the beginning of the Carnival season, and there is talk of Endymion returning to its home route in MidCity soon, but mostly you go Uptown to catch beads thrown by masked riders.
If you are downtown, you come to Frenchman and the French Quarter on Mardi Gras day. You costume, you wait for the Society of Saint Anne to pass and then you eat and drink on the street, talking with friends, meeting new people and laughing or admiring costumes.
You might head to the Bourbon Street Awards where the party has become immense to see the glorious and hilarious costumes competing for first place. The drag queens emcee, and hold the crowd in the palm of their hand all day. I remember seeing a golden butterfly going to the awards a few years ago; the costume was 6 feet across at least. Every person on their way parted to let him through and stood for a minute in awe.
Or, you might head to Orleans and Claiborne and catch Zulu and eat the best street food in the city, in a part of town that is home to one of the 2007 battles of New Orleans- the shuttering of the perfectly liveable Lafitte Public Housing complex. I start in Treme about 6:30 a.m. and often catch the skull and bones dancers or Indians getting ready and able to talk for a few minutes. Treme is at its most beautiful early Mardi Gras Day, where the historic St. Augustine church shadows the street and the celebration could be from any of a hundred years.

Being on bicycle is the best way to see the day, I think. I can head to a parade if I run into a group that gives me its location on the route, then head back across town to get to a balcony party. Most people walk miles on Mardi Gras Day. Friends Budd and George walked from their home in Uptown to Frenchman in costume with no concern about getting home later.

Interestingly, it is also the day I start gardening for the year. We have an amazing microclimate that allows growing to happen year round, but time off is an important part of the gardening schedule, so I ignore the waving weeds for December and January and let the leaves pile up. I get back home to quiet Mid City about 3 p.m., shed my costume and put on the gardening clothes for a few hours. I weed, plant and enjoy the sunshine, while knowing my city is relaxing for a day a few miles away.

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