Sunday, February 11, 2007
I visited a friend in Houston over the last couple days, and was trying to figure out why there was so much traffic on I-10 East when I got within about 25 miles of New Orleans yesterday. Stupid me. The Mardi Gras parades have started. I walked over to Napoleon Street, and saw the Sparta and Pegasus parades. Double stupid me. I forgot to take my good camera, so I snapped a bunch of pictures with my cell phone. Hence, the pictures are not very good. These are of the floats as they wait on Napoleon Street for the parade to begin. The parade turns right on St. Charles Street and goes all the way downtown and, I am told, concludes at the site of the Mardi Gras ball of the krewe (the parade club) sponsoring the parade. The floats are kept in warehouses around town called "dens" and repainted every year in that year's parade theme.
To the left we have the King of Sparta before he takes his place on his horse (no, this is not the dean before a faculty meeting). In addition to the King, there is a Queen, and maids. To the right we have a local high school band assembling. Below, the maids are preparing "throws" - beads and other tchotchkes that the participants riding on the floats throw to passersby.
I got to the parade site about an hour below it was to start, and it was well-populated but not overwhelming. Holly (right), a born and bred New Orleanian, filled me in on a lot of the details, and said that it will be substantially more crowded next weekend. Accordingly, there will be more of the "ladder seat" devices you see below left.
As it got dark, my beleaguered cell phone was doing the best it could, so the pictures of the parade itself leave something to be desired. We have the King of Sparta on his steed, and the Queen following on her float. Being moderately tall, it was pretty easy to snare the throws as the float riders tossed them, although there is a hierarchy to the "value" of the throws: the longer the chains, and the heavier the beads the better, and some of the beads have the medallions of the krewes. I got two of the Sparta medallions, and Holly told me that was a good catch. Even giving away a good portion of what I caught, I was soon wearing what felt like about twenty pounds around my neck. The really good throws are things like plush footballs and animals, but I didn't get any. One difference between the more family-oriented uptown parades and the French Quarter parades is that Uptown you do not find the phenomenon of flashing some part of one's bare anatomy to provoke a good throw in one's direction. But you do need to stay alert. The throws often come out of nowhere, and sometimes there's a whole chunk of them stuck together, and you could get hurt.
There were bands and other music interspersed between the floats, some good, and some not so good. Each parade took about twenty minutes to pass in front of me, with there being about twenty minutes between the two evening parades that were following the same Uptown route.
The walk back up Magazine Street to my house was about a mile and a half, and I was burdened but unbowed by the neckwear. I got a couple waves from waiters in the restaurants, and nobody seemed to make anything of it at the Whole Foods. Amber, another spectator (22, LSU MBA student, Southern Miss grad, native of Gretna) told me you can collect the throw to "rethrow" the next year. Here's the stash in the living room after I sorted it out.
If you aren't Catholic, have never participated in Lent except as a spectator, and aren't quite sure why you need to party hearty in anticipation of it, the whole thing is a little weird, and about as far removed as you can be in the same country from the propriety of Boston in mid-January we had experienced only a couple weeks ago. And I'm told that although the hotels are doing much better, there are still rooms available!