New Orleans The song goes, “have you ever been to Mardi Gras,” and I can honestly say, “been there, done that!” I’m somewhere between Carnival-skeptic and agnostic.
Historically, the city can’t live with it and can’t live without it. There’s almost nothing about its mainline history that isn’t abhorrent and reeking of noblesse oblige, Uptown airs, private clubs, racism, rich dads and debutante daughters. Throughout my youth, it was class and race division on display in the streets of the city. If you had any politics at all, you couldn’t miss the message from power to the rest of us people, even if it was a day off of school, fun to watch, and easy to get caught up in the bead count. At the same time, with a million or more tourists in our broke-ass city, it’s a big payday for service workers, small businesses, and others who need all the help we can get, so we “go along to get along,” as former Speaker Sam Rayburn counseled.
So, I make no special effort to stay in town and often have been on the road here and abroad, but this year saw me back home to witness the passing parade. There’s a push for a bit more diversity. The Indians are prominent in many neighborhoods within the African-American communities. There are now LGBT balls and events as the gay community embraces Mardi Gras irrepressibly.
It also feels like younger New Orleanians and newer residents, especially in my Bywater neighborhood are increasingly making Mardi Gras more local and more their own, and that’s a good thing to see. Costumes are back and they are serious, serious business.
The other morning, still jetlagged, and returning from walking Lucha, I heard drums coming up my street through the early Saturday morning fog. It was actually exciting, even if it was driving my Australian Shepherd crazy for a bit. Hundreds of people were out before dawn and engulfing the street and sidewalks as they moved along, almost all in costumes and swaying to the beat. It turned out to be the Eos Choir of the Krewe of Aris, and I may be spelling all of that wrong! Wonderful spirit and participation.
Mardi Gras morning before 9am there were already hordes of folks, largely younger, some with baby buggies and strollers, all decked out and masking the whole way as they moved en masse to join the St. Ann Parade. There was all manner of multi-colored costumes with feathers and sequences galore. Some were even political. I saw a tiny Trump on his wall. A woman was walking perilously through the crowd with wire fencing encircling her and a sign saying, “Donde es mi mama?” or “Where is my mother?” Beat that, if you can!
Maybe there’s a deeper political message underlying all of Mardi Gras now as well? This year there will be 31 Mardi Gras krewes rolling in New Orleans with 27,727 riders in all. In the metropolitan area there are estimates of 53 parades with 1061 floats, 581 marching bands and 135,000 participants. Whether it’s the truck parades of my youth or the giant new krewes enlisting anyone with a couple of thousand like Endymion and Bacchus, the Mardi Gras of Rex and Comus with its history seeped in wealth, class, and privilege, may be the exception now. The people may have finally taken over and claimed Mardi Gras as their own in their neighborhoods and communities, and that’s a good thing, and maybe should be a warning to any and all that when we’re marching, we’re unstoppable.
Please enjoy Pistol Annie’s Best Years of My Life. Thanks to KABF.