It was reasonable of me to assume that my second Mardi Gras was not going to live up to the first. A holiday lasting a course of about two weeks in New Orleans, it is a celebration comprised of scores of daily parades with stunning floats which have been constructed over the course of the year, from which elite krewe members throw shiny junk at the parade-watchers. It is a time when friends and strangers on city streets share gallons of alcohol and piles of fatty foods. My first New Orleans Mardi Gras was magical and amazing and I will never forget it.
So how, afterall, can you outdo one's first exposure to scores of oversized floats, hoards of people at their happiest, glitter, romance--in other words, true razzmatazz worthy of a Broadway musical?
How can one outdo the first sighting of a rainbow, or one's first kiss in a field of flowers? Cannot be done. Nope.
Together with beginning of the year work-related stress, and two failed romantic interludes in the previous months, my 2012 Mardi Gras was not looking so good. This year I was, at first, what you could refer to as a Mardi Gras Grinch. And at almost two years of residency, my honeymoon with this town is over, and as of late I have been introduced to its unlikeable sides.
Take for instance my parade watching in front of a friend's boyfriend's family home, a mansion smack dab in the wealthiest section of St. Charles Avenue. I didn't appreciate the comment I heard from my acquaintance's white neighbor when one of the most elite marching bands of an all-black high school passes by: "Pretty good band, eh? Our welfare dollars at work."
Nor did I enjoy running into some parade-watching acquaintances, wasted beyond oblivion at 1 in the afternoon, still drinking in public New Orleans style. That's when one of them gives me a stunningly inappropriate, somewhat violative, "hug".
I could have done without any of it.
It is, afterall, a bit of a strange holiday, Catholic to hilt: get ready for 40 days of good behavior before celebrating the rising of Christ from the dead, by indulging of 14 days of very, very, very bad behavior. Does any other religion do this? I am not aware of Muslims running around in glitter costumes and drinking like demons before Ramadan. Mardi Gras is a little weird.
But then, then it happened. Like all good romances, the magic hits you in the face when you just about done give up on the thing.
It started on a Wednesday after work, when I accidentally came upon the newest parade of second only female troop, the Krewe of Nyx. I forgot about Mardi Gras until I stepped out of the bar after happy hour, to come upon the rain and the Nyx girls standing on their floats passing out magical junk: silk and lace eye masks, purses wrapped in satin and feathers, pink beer koozies.
Of course the other parades later in the week were larger than life as usual, bright lights and all; but for me the magic really started when I decided that I needed something completely--unexotic. Dear reader, the great thing about Mardi Gras is that this town shuts down. Gone fishing, back after lunch--offices all over the city shut down and it's time to just, just catch up with your people, and maybe just watch a parade or two. Nothing so crazy, but really, quite possibly, exotic in this country where the Protestant work ethic rules.
After attending enough parades to collect enough beads to line a balcony (contrary to popular belief, breast-flashing is in no way a part of that process for people who actually live here), after five days already of spectacular parades with amazing floats, we are all jaded, and I really, really just want to have friends over for brunch. With some bloody Mary's. On a Monday.
And I was really, really relieved when a work acquaintance, a visiting consultant from Washington D.C., and virgin Mardi Gras-goer, after attending 7 parades himself, suggested that all of us, just, just, go to Audubon park with my dog.
Whereas my first Mardi Gras last year was an amazing, glittery, bender involving a music video-worthy romance, this year's Mardi Gras was as exotic as playing with the dog, lounging around with old friends for a couple days, and making new friends, interspersed with just a few of the oversized float parades, eating, drinking, then repeat...
Five days of this was just enough rest for the most amazing parade of all on Mardi Gras Day: the small-time St. Ann's parade through the Marigny neighborhood, where these old little streets host a procession of un-motorized floats, and truly amazing, creative, sexy, strange, and glittery costumes made by and for locals.
Did I mention the glitter?
The one pattern I noticed in Mardi Gras of both years, aside from the glitter of course, was the time, and the ability, that Mardi Gras gives me as a recent New Orleanian to galvanize recent acquaintances into friends, and to remind me how lucky I am to have met those friends here I have already made. In the end, perhaps this phenomemon is in fact the true miracle of Mardi Gras.
Who knew it took costumes, a little booze and a lot of fatty foods to induce this magic?