January 10, 2008
Two Myths About Mardi Gras in New Orleans
Posted by Alan Childress
I wrote this email to a colleague this morning. She is a new prof at school here at Tulane and has a five-year-old child:
We were talking about Mardi Gras this morning when you rushed off to teach a class—I question your priorities—and I wanted to say to you that there are two myths about Carnival worth exploding.
Myth One is that Mardi Gras is wild and raunchy and only fit for spring break wannabees. OK it is, in parts of the city where it simply is and always has been. I still remember the look on my mother’s face the first time she saw a big biker guy in a thong, and we are not talking his footwear. That was in the French Quarter on Tuesday itself. But on most of the parade route (and all near where you live) it is actually a family event with no discernible flashing or wildness, other than a plague of children vying for the same beads and doubloons (tell your kid: 'use your foot, not your hands, to capture the doubloon, unless you like flat knuckles'). It is picnic blankets on the median (“the neutral ground”) and tossing nerfballs between parades. It is throwing beads back at the huge gorilla float. It is children atop ladders with a better angle. It is scoring loot off a float from the pre-school teacher who is masked but calls your kid’s name out of the blue.
Most of the parade routes are spent most of the time in residential areas where the only immoral imperative is to find a friend who lives nearby with indoor plumbing. Or get the all-you-can-go bracelet (only 10 bucks I think) from the Raine church on St. Charles Avenue which makes this their biggest fundraiser for the year. In any event, your family—and you—will have a blast because the parade season you are about to experience is not like anything you have ever done or seen, and is really not like anything you even see on TV about Mardi Gras where the “wild on” aspect is highlighted from near the Quarter.
Myth Two is that Mardi Gras is on Mardi Gras, on Tuesday itself. That day is a great culmination, with Zulu, Rex, and family truck parades. Really, though, Carnival is a fortnight-long process, with tens of parades long before Fat Tuesday. Some of the best and most family-friendly (not as crowded) parades will start soon (sooner than ever this time, since Ash Wednesday falls really early this year). So you will have plenty of weeknight and weekend-day parades to go to, way before Harry Connick Jr. returns to town on Lundi Gras. If you have friends from out of town who want to come for parades and king cake parties but cannot make the four or five days before Feb. 5 (this year), tell them to come the week or weekend before that. They’ll still have a blast. Buy an Arthur Hardy’s Guide with detailed history and calendars at any store around (they are fantastic and can be mail ordered), or find a parade calendar online, and you are set to go. Order a king cake online or pick one up anywhere, all with a plastic baby embedded and awaiting your teeth. I envy you the opportunity to experience this for the first time, and through the eyes of a kid at that. Have fun!
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