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Memories of Mardi Gras
It's Mardi Gras! And no one does Mardi Gras like New Orleans! Here are some photos and a few choice blog entries from Mardi Gras 2005 in The Big Easy:
In New Orleans, "It's Mardi Gras!" is the standard answer to every single question from
"Why isn't the toilet working?"
"It's Mardi Gras!!!"
to "What song are they doing next?"
"It's Mardi Gras, Baby!!!"
I would interpret it as basically, "Chill out. All hell is breaking loose and you should just ride with it.” It also means "No."
We woke up around 2 pm Saturday morning. We looked out the window and the parades were going right past us, plus we were kitty-corner from Mother’s Po Boys. We went over and got in line at Mother’s. They had a cop working the line to make sure everyone followed protocol. We ordered a Ferdi (roast beef, ham, and pan drippings known as “debris”), grits, red beans and bread pudding. We could only manage to eat the sandwich and some bread pudding. We were stuffed. A parade started going by and I ran out for a quick sec to watch. I was almost immediately beaned right between the eyes with a full dozen bag of beads. OUCH!!! There is an art to parade watching.
Saturday night we walked a few blocks down Bourbon street and within 10 minutes, I was splashed with beer, Pimm's cup (mine) and vomit (not mine). When we were ready to go home, there were no taxis. NO TAXIS. So we walked over to Hotel Le Richeleau where I knew they have a taxi stand. But there were NO TAXIS. We went into Le Richeleau and the lady called for one. She wouldn’t let us wait outside because she said the driver would get mad if she called them and then we were gone when they arrived. She insisted that we wait in the lobby. We passed through the bar on the way to use the ladies room and there were only two people in the bar, one at a table, and one on a stool, both sound asleep. We went back into the lobby and each took a seat on their two Queen Anne sofas. We slowly slid down in the couches, and Kristina immediately fell asleep. I gave up after trying to wake her up twice. The next thing I knew, I was waking up myself and asked the lady how much time had passed. She said, "Only twenty minutes...I called twice...they'll come." So I let myself drift off again. Soon I awoke in a panic. We were in the poppy fields of The Wizard of Oz! As we left, Kristina said, "I don't think that lady really called a taxi".
Sunday evening we walked down to the Bacchus parade. We had been led to believe it was a somewhat risque parade, but there were kids on the floats and it was your standard parade. A float rider tossed some beads to me. This guy leapt in front of me to intercept the beads as if he were taking a bullet for the president. Then he screamed at me when my beer spilled. As I yelled back at him, an incredibly smooth local woman took my by the elbow and led me away, saying, "Look! Look at that! You have to get a picture of that!" (Look at the birdie, look at the birdie...) I took the obligatory picture, accepting her intervention. Then I got hit right in the eye with a huge bag of beads.
We ran into the Maitre 'D from Peristyle, and he recommended Le Cote Brasserie. We took seats at the bar and ordered appetizers. When I returned from a restroom break, I found a Phish-type guy cozying up to Kristina. He was in the middle of a hard-luck tale about how he had no place to stay. I told him to go to Le Richeleau and ask them to call him a cab.
Monday we walked over to the Orpheus parade, which was just gorgeous. Their parades were covered with gigantic flowers and the bands were rocking. Very "Drum Line". As I was taking a picture of a lovely float, a bag of beads hit the camera lens, smashing the camera into my face and possibly scratching the lens.
By now I had learned how to catch beads. You have to block the face with the hands, like you would catch a baseball. But then a huge bunch of beads came flying towards me that were not in a bag so I could catch them. They were tied together with a band at one end, and were like a spinning whip. They flew between my hands and got me right in the face. Hard. REALLY HARD. It felt like what I imagine it would be like to get shot with 100 BB guns at once. Tears immediately streamed down my face as I staggered away. A parade worker tried to lead me to a waiting ambulance. I refused, saying, "I'm OK, I just need to cry for exactly 5 minutes." As he continued trying to coax me into the ambulance, a bright shiny float passed by, and I ran off to take a picture. Oooooh, pretty.... I thought I would have purple dots on my face the next day, but it seems my face can take alot more than I had ever given it credit for.
After a strangely long and creepy cab ride, the comforting glow of the Camellia Grill came into view. A juicy burger, a chocolate-cherry shake and a waiter dripping with charm were exactly what we needed. Kristina told him of our long expedition, and he told us in great detail how the taxi driver ripped us off by going out of the way. Locals here are full of head-shaking hindsights and dire warnings. Sometimes it seems like half the city is desperately trying to prevent the other half from taking advantage of you.
Mardi Gras morning I woke at exactly 8 am and decided that it meant we were supposed to go to the Zulu parade. You may wonder why I was willing to get up so early for a parade. Or why I would want to go to another parade at all. Especially after taking to many beads in the face. Because the Zulu parade is the greatest parade of Mardi Gras. They have the best costumes and bands. Also, Professor Longhair insisted "When you see the Zulu king, you're gonna know what carnival's for."
But the big draw was the coveted golden coconut, the holy grail of all parade throws. They are not allowed to throw them; they are gently bestowed upon the chosen few. Which was lucky for me, because they are big, fucking heavy, real painted coconuts. I'm sure if they were throwing them I would not be here writing this today. It soon became clear to me that due to an abundance of adorable children and sexy college girls, I would not be getting a coconut. So I aquired one in what was perhaps the most New-Orleanian way of all - I bought one off of a shifty-eyed street person on Bourbon Street later that afternoon
We had paid for an all-day package at Mike Andersons for Mardi Gras. Open bar, buffet, balcony: 200 bucks. Clean bathroom: priceless. We had felt a little ripped off by the price, but when we escaped the screaming, sweating, undulating throng and entered the cool, dark sanctuary of Mike Anderson's, it was so worth it. Elbow room!!! Freedom!!! Personal space!!!
Mike Anderson's has the best beads in town, and the guests are all very competitive about it. We joined the others on the balcony and soon saw the reason for the elaborate beads. Tits. We saw tits. We saw tit after tit after tit. We saw more tits than a person who does mammograms (a Mammographer? A Mammogrammer???).
Everyone is a little sad the day after Christmas. Everyone is just a little let down. The same cannot be said of Mardi Gras. On Ash Wednesday, the entire city heaved an almost audible sigh of relief. On Ash Wednesday, the city of New Orleans put on its pajamas and turned off the porch light.
We ate dinner at the fabulous Bon Ton Cafe. The most appealing dish was the sirloin tips in a red wine sauce. But I noticed that every single waitress there had an ashen cross on her forehead. Ash Wednesday is a day for fasting an abstinence in the Catholic church. No red meat. So now we had a dilemma, sure it looked good, but would it be worth going to hell for?
Later that evening the warm glow of the lights at the Café Du Monde and the gentle murmers of the crowd were calming and comforting. Everyone was relaxed in the quiet aftermath of Carnival.
Stay tuned for LAist's recommendations on where to celebrate Mardi Gras in Los Angeles!
Laissez les bon temps roulez!!!
All photos by Elise Thompson
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