“Take Mardi Gras,” he said: ‘You visit, or move here from somewhere else, and you go stand on a street corner and see a parade and that’s Mardi Gras. But that’s just the first part of it. Just the beginning.”
We were in Vancouver for the first time last fall. Right off the plane, nothing in the fridge at home, we dropped in at a place whose owner happens to hail from then Pacific Northwest. We chatted about how much we enjoyed Vancouver. He agreed with us that is was very broad, but not nearly as deep as New Orleans, and that prompted his thoughts on Mardi Gras.
A couple of weeks ago we were at a house party for Krewe de Vieux in the Marigny, and we met a few couples, most now with kids, who’d been masking together In their own unnamed themed subkrewe for years, yet another layer of the purple green and gold onion.
As a child, my parents brought us to Napoleon Avenue at Magazine to see the truck parades. My dad would drop off my mom and all of us, find parking, and then schlep the ladder back from wherever to the neutral ground. We always had Popeye’s.
Beginning at 16 I was off with my friends, starting at Napoleon and Claiborne and walking to St. Charles, turning up the Avenue, and roaming all the way into the Quarter, with pit stops on the way that changed from year to year. In the hubris of youth, I thought we were seeing the ‘whole Mardi Gras.’
When I was 20, I celebrated Carnival in Venice, a forever memory, and in 2006 I was downtown for light crowds and blue skies the year after Katrina at maybe the best Mardi Gras ever.
Lately, we’ve been in the Quarter and the Marigny, catching the Krewe of Saint Anne and dropping in on parties behind the walls that reveal little to the street.
Just a few of the 1000 Mardi Gras. But there’s so much more than that. The Indians, of course, a world I knew nothing of as a child and even a teen in NOLA. There’s the high-society Mardi Gras of the old line Krewes, unknown to me then, and still unknown today. MOMS Ball, the off the radar after parties, the neighborhood celebrations of Krewe de Vieux in the Marigny Rectangle, dads camping on St Charles to secure prime real estate for the kids on the big day, barricades on Orleans Avenue a week before Endymion hits, and on and on and on.
And strangely, I write this in my seat on a plane crossing the Atlantic, reflecting on a Mardi Gras we’ll miss this year.
No tears, we’ll be fine, but the decision has certainly made me reflective of the crazy layers this town has. Carnival’s not the only example, but it might be the best one. That might be the single thing hardest for those from elsewhere to get: like so much in NOLA, Mardi Gras is not a single thing, but rather a multitude of strands, each different in some degree from the others, but wrapped into a single unity.
When we ask someone how was Mardi Gras, we’re really asking for their story. We know the theme before they start, but the plot is a mystery until they tell it, until they spill the beans on which of the (many more than) a thousand ways to measure this day and this season is their own.
The more you look, the more Mardi Gras has to reveal. Have a great day!