Don’t miss the next Mardi Gras in New Orleans

Don’t miss the next Mardi Gras in New Orleans
July 23, 2009
Gregory Miller

f you are like me, you like to be out in a crowd.
One of the best things in life is free, if you live in or near New Orleans.

Free happens to be right up my alley, and in this particular case, it wasn’t an alley in the French Quarter, there really aren’t any!!

Trivia aside, there is nothing trivial about Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Each year, this is the site of the largest Carnival event on earth. Some people in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil might disagree with me on this point. I say to them, with a smile on my face: “To each their own!”

Unlike Rio Carnival, Mardi Gras is for practical purposes, a season of its own design here in the Greater New Orleans community. Beginning in the not-so-distant past as a social calendar for the young women at debutante balls, Mardi Gras has evolved locally into balls, parades and of course parties. The best parties in some circles are the masquerade balls, and most cherished are often the family get-togethers with king cakes.

For New Orleanians, the Carnival season begins on “Twelfth Night” on the sixth of January, twelve days after Christmas, elaborate parades take place the last five days of the season. The festivities close on Fat Tuesday, which visitors commonly call “Mardi Gras”. In the final week of Carnival many events large and small occur throughout Greater New Orleans.

Leading up to Fat Tuesday is the generally celebratory couple of weeks, including the daily parades, and some days several large parades are on the calendar so you can choose your destination in New Orleans, and be guaranteed a great time here or in a surrounding community.

I mentioned before, “…it wasn’t an alley in the French Quarter, there really aren’t any!!”
Why? While many tourists’ activities center on Bourbon Street and the French Quarter, none of the major Mardi Gras parade routes has entered the Quarter since 1972 because of its narrow streets (no public alleys) and overhead obstructions (no larger-than-life floats). Instead, major parades start in the Uptown and Mid-City districts and follow a route along St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street, on the upriver side of the French Quarter.

This past Mardi Gras was not an exception to the rule that it is generally brisk weather. A tourist may be expecting the balmy climate of a Rio de Janeiro, due to New Orleans’ being as south as south can be on the Mississippi River and Gulf of Mexico, I respectfully beg to differ.
Plan on a jacket and trousers, unless you are a performing parade member or riding a float as part of a krewe.

The parades in New Orleans are organized by Carnival krewes. Krewe float riders toss throws to the crowds, the krewe member pays for the privilege of being on the float, and for the items each krewe member throws. The most common throws are strings of plastic colorful beads, which I myself have caught. New Orleans’ history with the buccaneer spirit flavors throws of pirate doubloons (stamped aluminum or wooden dollar-sized coins usually impressed with a krewe logo), sure to thrill the treasure seeking child in us all. Commemoratively decorated plastic throw cups, of which I have several, and small inexpensive toys that the dogs should never be allowed to chew. Major krewes follow the same parade schedule and route each year.
Some krewes have an air of mystery and conspiracy about them, but that is a story for another time, ironic that the krewes represent the story of another time, in the wonderful place called New Orleans, Louisiana.
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