Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Happy Mardi Gras, all!

This is the time when I'm happy we are here and sad for those who aren't, including my poor husband, who had to schlep to work in Baton Rouge today - a city that is in the same state as New Orleans, but is nowhere near the same state of mind. Friends of ours today said he should quit his job. "Bite your tongues," I said. Dan just started his job here, number one. Number two, don't knock something too quickly that has enabled us to move back to where we want to be. And number three, it gives all our friends a place to pee on Mardi Gras day that is only a block and a half off the parade route. Work with us here, people!!!!!

I was all set to cook some pancakes and stuff for good friends who were to arrive early this morning to stake out a good spot to view the Zulu parade. Shortly before 7 AM, I heard my husband cursing. I began cursing inwardly myself, thinking I would have to clean up after one of our three animals, which is usually what such cursing from Dan means. But no. This time it was a curse on Entergy, because our power was out.

Now this city has been through a lot. People here have suffered way more in the way of trials and tribulations than we have. I have heard many ongoing sagas of New Orleanians tussling with the gazillion-headed hydra named Bureaucracy and the hydra's close relative, that dragon of Daily Living Amenities.

But, please, folks. No power on Mardi Gras day is just insult to injury. Most of the powers that be fought like hell to celebrate Mardi Gras the way it has always been celebrated down here. It was of great economic necessity to continue it - private organizations are the ones responsible for the parades and the balls, the elaborate costumes, the stuff thrown off the floats, and the hiring of the military and school bands that play in the parades. The ascendance of superkrewes in which celebrities are the toast of their celebrations also brings in a lot of outside money, because they open their membership to folks from out of state who can pay the dues and their costuming and throws costs. A large number of carnival krewes also affiliate themselves with major local charitable causes and donate money and time to those causes.

It's bad enough that there aren't the usual cleanup crews that travel right behind the parades. The cleanup after the Bacchus and Endymion parades took two days to be fully completed - and that had to be done in between another three parades that rolled the night after.

A call to a friend in another part of town established that not all of the town was dark. Whew! The power company told us it would be back on in another two hours, and five hours later, it was back. However, I couldn't entertain the folks I was looking forward to cooking for. My son got paraded out today and we ended up hanging around the house most of the day and letting our friends and their friends in to pee off and on. I wish we'd spent more time outside enjoying the weather. I got to talking to some numbers of passersby about all kinds of things, and I guess my one regret this year is that I didn't have the time to talk to more of them, and to get some doubloons from the Zulu and Rex parades for Dan, the doubloon man. Then again, I get paraded out, too, by the time this day arrives.

Parade themes are always a hoot. They range from fictional themes to anniversarial reprises of past parade themes to mythology to places and people...but my favorites have to be the satirical themes. Once I get my scanner hooked up, I'll throw up the cards thrown by the Krewe of Chaos that show illustrations and explanations of each float in the 2006 parade. Hades - A Dream of Chaos was very well done - of all the different things around here that have lampooned the events after Katrina and Rita (including a novel fundraiser for charity: a fashion show with clothing made from FEMA blue roofing tarps), this parade was a nice masterpiece of spoofs on everything from failed leadership to nasty refrigerators to a "Chocolate Divinity" float whose riders tossed out special cups with the float drawn on them. The parade themes are usually a secret until Mardi Gras time rolls around, but knowing this city, the hurricanes and their aftermath was fair game for the royal Carnival treatment.

I myself dug up a T-shirt I saw in a local shop and had to have. Two fleur-de-lis flank "FEMA: We All Ask'd For You!" on the front. The back lists all the flood damaged neighborhoods and areas that "ask'd", concluding that "They all inquired 'bout you!". The woman in the shop said it was a big seller, and I said that sadly, I could see why. Other homemade Carnival costumes included some more blue tarp suits, folks wearing large 45s of the top ten Katrina hits (among them "Up On the Roof" and "When the Levee Breaks"), a guy in a short jacket, purple Speedos, and a hideous Dubya mask, people dressed as MREs (Meals Ready to Eat, given out by the federal authorities to the earliest returning residents), and people in cleanup gear with small graffitied refrigerators, pushing a Katrina Deli cart serving up some nasty treats. Stand in one place along the parade route, and it all passes you by. Same with the French Quarter, only it's raunchier down there.

Anyhoo, I'm glad it's Mardi Gras time and not just all crammed into one day. Our own neighborhood has been great entertainment all in itself. Our new neighbors hired a live band to play on the weekend in their front yard, and the music was good, though I don't think they should have attempted the Police's "Roxanne" without a tenor. We managed to find a parking spot close to our house on a major parade day, a victory of near-Biblical proportions. Our son honed his mooching skills by bumming a seat on a ladder along the parade route for a superkrewe parade...next to a little girl of six or seven (an older woman, no less!). He made out like a bandit with stuffed animal throws one day, and he asked me to go to the neutral ground with him to wander around. Not bad for a kid who got clocked in the head with some chunky beads in his very first parade and was a bit shell-shocked for the next few parades after that. One day, on the way to a parade, he told Dan he wasn't worried anymore, and that fear of being hit with beads that had dogged him was no longer an issue. This kid may well forget he was born in Flushing - then again, it may well predestine him for membership in the krewe of Tucks, which throws out printed toilet paper and small squirting potties.

So to those of you who have no concept, don't begrudge this town its partying spirit. It may well be a major key to keeping the post-hurricane demons at bay in this area. The most telling thing I have seen ( or haven't seen, really) is that though many religious types have said the storms and flooding were divine punishment for a wicked city, the numbers of fanatical displays that protest Carnival (guys toting huge crosses, street preachers trying to convert revelers) have gone way down. Some may say it means this city has been written off spiritually, but I think a city with as many houses of worship as New Orleans has has got a good handle on spirituality. New stories of miracles and new myths are being writ into this city's fabric every day.

Anyone with eyes and a peanut brain can see that this is a city that needs the time and space to unwind.

So though I am Jewish, I celebrate this time some, too. May this town muster up the strength to get through the next six months. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

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