On February 21, 2006 I published my third blog post, the first one that had any confidence or verve, and I had not yet mentioned Carnival. This year Undine has pointed out that she, and perhaps others, are waiting for my 2009 Carnival posts. I am flattered, but mostly I feel Carnival is unrepresentable unless writing about it is one’s job and one can put in a great deal of time.
I had a wonderful time at Carnival in 2006 … was too depressed by my job to participate in 2007 … appeared in a pleasant but somewhat lackluster manner in 2008 … and am working to a deadline in 2009. I had planned to limit my participation this year for that reason (although you have to realize Carnival has been going on for some time, and I have already attended a ball and three parades). Still, Undine has got me thinking: perhaps if I go to some of the most interesting events, in a way planned to be truly refreshing, it will be good for my paper.
That doesn’t mean I will write about what I see, as one cannot write about everything. I only write about what is new or newly discovered, and I am busy writing something else. But if I go to country Mardi Gras in the next few days, I will try to represent it somewhat, since you are unlikely to see it on television. In general, I recommend New Orleans the weekend or week before Mardi Gras, and the countryside for the five fattest days. Still, these notes are about New Orleans.
Relevant parades today are Isis, Tucks, and Endymion, all rolling in daylight. I have marched in Endymion myself, and I can tell you, those routes are long and it can get very cold in those costumes. On Mardi Gras day I like to see Zulu and Rex somewhere below Canal Street. But the night parades a few days earlier are more magical, and I especially like to see them pass underneath the regal oaks of St. Charles Avenue. The masked riders look more otherworldly, and the shining beads stand out as they are flung against the torchlit sky.
In a night parade you first have the torchbearers, carrying real fire. At one time they were inmates released from Parish Prison to fill this role, and it is traditional to throw them coins. Next come my favorites, the knights on horseback. They wear capes and spiked helmets, and they toss the first doubloons. After the knights comes the King’s float, and then a marching band. In New Orleans a classic band is the St. Augustine High School Marching 100. Here they are, preceded by torchbearers:
Here they are on a different day, less tired:
During and after the parades many people have gracious open houses with amazing buffets. If you are able to attend one of these it is always a great addition to the experience, and you can meet very interesting people. When I get home the first thing I do is sort my beads like Hallowe’en candy, which do I want to save for a special occasion, which do I want to give away instantly, and which are in the middle group, open for my everyday use. I am not the only one who does this. Beads can be spread on tables or in fireplaces, or hung on doors and mirrors, and it must look artless but it has to look good.
Carnival starts at Twelfth Night, but I really know it is coming when in early February a float parks on the street near my house. The same one comes every year, waiting to be decorated and brought out in the final days. I like it. I like being at home in the weeks of Carnival and hearing a tambourine rattle in the distance, and the children running across the cobblestones – Indians coming! And in the high days of Carnival I like to wander through the neighborhoods and come across random second lines, like this:
E.T.A.: There is one other, very important thing to know about Mardi Gras: you must shop and cook ahead of time. The streets will be jammed. It is hard to get anywhere and you will be out a lot, threading yourself through crowds. You never know how many people will suddenly appear at your house … or when you will arrive home having walked, jumped, and shouted for miles in the cold, sustained only by beer. You want to have already on the stove a large pot of jambalaya, one of gumbo, and one of étouffée … and you might want a court-bouillon, too. Yes, you could eat other things, but you will find that these spicy stews are not only the best option for feeding a crowd — they are what will best sustain you.