The day began the previous night, on Lundi Gras. A fun night spent with chosen family.
The morning started at 0 dark thirty. Scouts, brave souls of our little tribe, up before the rest of us, sacrificed sleep to find a site for the day’s festivities. When we arrived to stake our claim, in the darkness, could be seen multiple colored tents. Their palette was providing contrast to the velvet night.
Nature’s dimmer switch slowly turned up the light. Its rosy glow bloomed over the city. In doing so, life along the route began to awaken.
The silent chill in the air lent an extra tang to the charcoal lighter fluid as grills were prepared for the day. Fortunately, the aroma gradually gave way to the savory odors of smoked meat & barbecue sauces.
To keep the sleepy masses awake, or awaken them, – music blared forth. Pounding rhythms and beats echoed off of buildings in the narrow streets. Awash in the sound, the cries of street vendors pulling and pushing their makeshift carts, hawking trinkets, colorful symbols in glorification of this last day of excess. All done in the spirit of a party, the atmosphere festive.
Children played in the streets, dodging among passersby, as they tossed balls or chasing doubloons pitched by a krewe of skeletons. Running to burn energy, for the sheer delight of movement is a joy of childhood competition without malice as ballerinas, basketball players, and even cowboy’s race and laugh among themselves.
Police seek to be a presence – making a show order exists; however, minutely, in this barely contained chaos.
Trees along the streets were in full bloom with the fruit of carnival. These specters of parades past hung in multi-colored hues from peas’ size to pool balls as they swayed in the gentle breeze. Streamers mingle among the beads, fluttering in the wind. They struggle in vain, desperate attempts to escape the clutches of the branches which ensnared them.
Nomads wandered along the route, some seeking a spot, any patch of open ground they could call their own for the next several hours. Almost as many continue their migration, following the vendor’s passage’s signs – the buzzing of vuvuzela’s, glow bands, flags, and more. Nearly infinite in their variety, the wanderers’ pass. Costumes vary in degrees of thought, creativity and complexity entertain as they pass. For those who chose to wear them, they are out to see and be seen. The light breeze and mild chill clothed people in varying ways. Quilted jackets with shorts, t-shirts, and jeans, garments so sheer the wind and one’s gaze passes through with ease. Then, those bundled head to foot in coats and blankets create a warmth that does not exist for them.
The parades arrive. This Mardi Gras Day was grand and elegant, brilliant and beautiful. The sequined, brightly painted floats were colorful beacons of joy against a sky gone gray. A celebration of life, yet, as they pass, a subtle change comes over the crowd. Perhaps a predatory instinct from humanity’s past, the hunter gatherer’s senses, only cheap trinkets have become the prey.
Among these modern hunters, those few exist who could not be satisfied. Dragons hoarding their treasure could be more charitable. A shove here, a push there, no regard to age or infirmity, they cannot accept others gaining the sorely coveted objects of their desire.
The majority, once sated, began to share. In the spirit of community, good people hunted for the smaller, weaker, or slower than themselves. Color, age, politics were not barriers; this day, people being inspired to connect during this king of festivals. The shared mood catalyzed these people to encourage one another, uplift each other and share the jubilant spirit.
In this rejection of instinct, a glimmer of civilization, winning out over predation, seeing acts of caring, sharing among a group – unrelated except being present to share joy leaves an ember of hope smoldering in the darkness.
People danced, played, and – for that day, at least, came together in community and camaraderie.
Be they Brown, Black, Yellow, or White, all of the people gathered that day sought an experience of joy and celebration. To watch the spectacle of costumed revelers atop the artfully crafted floats. All just for a few hours, putting aside the troubles of the world and their lives.
THIS is Mardi Gras.
As is this, one year has passed since I jotted the notes for this missive, and Mardi Gras is upon us. Little did we know then what awaited us in the days and weeks which followed. How many of those gaily dressed ambassadors of debauchery and self-indulgence would not see another Mardi Gras.
Though the streets are loudly silent with the absence of parades, Mardi Gras’s spirit lives on in its people. It is ingrained in the DNA of the residents.
People sought other ways to celebrate. One is the idea of “House Floats” which provided work to artists and skilled creatives decorating homes in the guise of parade floats. Drivers will roll slowly past these stationary parades.
Masks are still a part of Mardi Gras. The dazzling painted and feather masks have given way to face masks with a grimmer purpose. Many of these are decorated in fantastic designs and can uniquely represent the owner’s personality.
The ubiquitous King Cake, a famed symbol of Mardi Gras, is even more popular this year. And yes, Bourbon St has seen parties and crowds, even though the revelries this year can have consequences.
Merchants, bars, restaurants, and artists of all types are suffering. The crowds and tourists who provide a needed boost to the economy are missing.
People are struggling. South Louisiana is a culture that adapts, absorbs, and evolves its traditions. While we put on a brave face, smiling and laughing, it is a time when even a few bars of a Mardi Gras anthem are heard on the radio, such as “Mardi Gras Mambo,” can bring us to tears.
There are people for whom Mardi Gras is a pointless holiday. Seen only as an excuse for public drunkenness, lewd displays, and chasing dollar store grade toys. I agree. There are people for whom that is all Mardi Gras represents. For the most part, they aren’t locals.
It is about families, friends, creating shared memories, and setting aside your burdens for a spell.This much I feel confident, Mardi Gras may be subdued this year, but Mardi Gras is happening.
Mardi Gras is more than parties, parades, and trinkets. It is about people. As long as our people retain that spirit, Mardi Gras will live on.
Thank you for reading,