Photo: Jason Paul

Moon over Mardi Gras

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By Jason Paul

Surrounded by hundreds of people, we tried to push through the exuberant crowd. No one was standing in silence. Everyone was screaming and bumping into each other.

We were weeding through the crowd until we spotted them, staring straight back at us. It was a shock to see at first but our eyes cannot be distracted. An exquisite lady is exposing her breasts to us.

We stared back at her, but found she was not looking at us. She was eyeing an overhead balcony where guys are dangling their beads at her.

They drop them to her and they lands in her hands. She blows them a kiss and fades into the crowd.

The festival, known as Mardi Gras, is one of the craziest and exciting parties. Nothing prepared us for the hysteria.

Held in New Orleans, the Carnival is full of madness and celebrations. The beer taps are open and most of the city comes to a virtual halt. It is “The City that Care Forgot.”

Mardi Gras is a month long festival that is full of balls, parades and partying. It began on Jan. 6, and continues until Fat Tuesday, 40 days before Easter. About a million people show up for the finale, this year on Feb. 11.

The festival that explodes in the final week is called the Carnival. Over 50 parades march in the Carnival’s final two weeks.

There are many events going on, but the main excitement is walking down the side streets and being absorbed by the crowds. All barriers — age, gender, race, money — are erased. It is customary to see the young and old dance a makeshift jitterbug before giving a happy Mardi Gras farewell.

It was centered in an area called the French Quarter that borders on the Mississippi River. In the 12-block section where the Carnival is held, the Victorian-style buildings tower over the narrow cobblestone roads. Two rows of cast-iron balconies hover over the streets.

Everyone was wearing beads and necklaces. Folks from the balconies swung assorted beads from the rails and people on the street hooted, cheered and danced for the beads until they were satisfied with a thrown necklace from the balcony. It was not uncommon to hear someone shouting “Throw me sumthin’, mistuh.”

The more revealing the show one puts on, the more immaculate the beads that are thrown from above. It is customary to see a girl flashing and guys dropping their drawers. There seems to be no boundaries as to how far some will go.

Our adventures in the French Quarter were bizarre. On Lundi Gras, the Monday of Carnival, we headed into town and made out way to the infamous Bourbon Street.

Down these seven blocks are Creole restaurants, hot dog stands, sleazy strip joints and souvenir shops. But it’s the blaring live jazz music that echoes from dozens of watering holes that embraces you.

We screamed for beads and drank a lot of watered down beer. But after many hours, it go quite tiring and most of my friends were ready to call it and evening. Well, two of us weren’t, so Jay and I spent the entire night in the eccentric city.

We continued our quest for more neck jewelry. Eventually, after Jay had a few too many beverages, he decided he wanted more exquisite beads. So he turned around and mooned some girls in a balcony.

Unfortunately, there were six police officers watching his performance. Within seconds, they pounced on him and threatened to toss him in jail. After a few minutes of pleading, he was set free.

At every corner, there were street performers — jazz players, blues guitarists and tap dancers. At one spot, a couple of guys were playing the bongos. Jay asked if he could try it and they roped the drum over his head.

He made over $5 after 10 minutes of busking. A pair of seductively dressed girls started dancing in front of us and put on a lengthy and very intimate performance.

In the wee hours, most of the crowd began to disperse. With nothing else to do, we became acquainted with some vendors and started to peddle their products. We hawked devil sticks, beads, hats and pizza.

With nowhere to rest, we settled against a urine-stained wall, carefully placing pizza boxes around us.

My friend was cold, so I lethargically kept guard for any trouble. A passerby started to film us — I guess we looked pretty rough.

At dawn we grabbed a coffee before heading out for the big parades. We grabbed a six-pack of Blackened Voodoo, a favourite local brew that should not be missed if one comes here.

The parades were so crowded that people used stepladders and car rooftops to get a better viewpoint. The first procession was a group of about 50 elderly gentlemen — led by the local jazz legend — strolling along and playing some of the best Dixieland jazz I have ever heard.

This was followed by the Zulu parade held by African-Americans. Members on these beautifully decorated floats were dressed in grass skirts and outrageous costumes. They threw plastic cups and beads while playing African music.

It was amazing to see what the locals were wearing.

Many wore simple masks but other were dressed up as clowns, Potheads, tampons and witches.

The refreshing aspect of the festival was the friendliness. We met people from Canada to Brazil.

However, once midnight rolled around, the police at one end on the district and swept everybody out of the French Quarter.

After 40 hours of madness, we finally returned to our campsite. Our rendezvous with Mardi Gras was finally over.

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