Live from Mardi Gras

Mardi Gras
Listening to the good counsel of my friend Becky, a New Orleans resident and reporter for the Times-Picayune, I cancelled my rental car and opted to fly in with one rolling carry-on and a folding bike as my one piece of checked baggage. It was a good choice: parade routes and holiday traffic would have rendered GPS useless in a tangle of parades.

We attended three private parties and two parades. The daytime Thoth parade was a family event, with young kids on ladder seats — boxes on top of ladders that put them above the crowds, a great target for gentle bead throwers. The second parade, Bacchus, was a zoolike frenzy exacerbated by the rescheduling of Endymion right after it. One local described Endymion as “the SUV of parades,” with a super-size me mentality that extends to its fan base, which makes a habit of setting up tends in the neutral ground (that’s the Nola word or the grassy median) several days befor the parade. The land-grabbing mentality is looked down upon by those who are not Endymion fans. The crowds were ten or twelve deep, and people brought port-a-potties strapped in the back of pickup trucks. In order to see anything, I had to climb a bead-encrusted tree.

The private parties were all unique, from a 1,200 square foot house with a pretty patio to a stately home serving red beans and rice, crawfish etouffe, and Emeril’s greens. The last was at the home of Muses foundress Virginia, who showed us the stroller parking lot in her yard and her impressive collection of hand-decorated shoes, which are second only to the Zulu coconut as the rarest and most coveted throws of Mardi Gras. The shoes included a pump covered with gold-painted macaroni — “Mac n shoes” — as well as the “sad crab” shoe covered with BP oil. The shoes, like the Muses floats themselves, are full ripe with clever political satire. If you step back and read the floats, it’s like a Colbertesque year in review.

Getting back to the hotel took hours. I had Gary, the photographer, let me out in the middle of the gridlocked street. I unfolded the bike, put my rolling carry-on on my back (the first time I have ever used the backpack straps, which I had nearly cut off for lack of use) and rode through the barricades and glittered streets. When I got to my hotel on Canal, the crowds were thick as molasses. I had to fight my way through with the bike, but eventually got in past a skeptical doorman. Gary didn’t make it through the traffic to his own hotel until hours later.

Right now I am blogging from my phone, dressed in a purple and yellow satin-and-sequin costume with a red mask, preparing to board Float number 18 in the Orpheus parade. It rolls at 6, but they will drive us uptown to the start, and so the madness begins now.

Bon temps are rollin’

– Kim Cross


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