So we always thought that Mardi Gras equaled Girls Gone Wild. Period.
We were so, so wrong.
We would get mad, working at the Burning Man festival, when others more wet behind the ears than our dusty cranky faction would say, “Yeah, Burning Man’s great! It reminds me of Mardi Gras!”
You don’t know what you’re talking about, our subconscious would scream. Have you any idea what it takes to live in a van for 2 months out of the year, in one of the harshest environments on Earth, laboring like a hard-time prisoner and eating nothing but Pabst Blue Ribbon and bacon? … Do you have any inkling as to the effort involved in building a fantastical city out of THIN AIR for FIFTY THOUSAND PEOPLE, and that we have to TEAR IT ALL BACK DOWN TO NOTHING?
(The subconscious, you see, can become quite the Bill Hicks-level righteous aggravationist when faced with 10-hour days under the hot sun in hangovery dust storms.)
But you know what? On Friday and Saturday nights? When we’ve built the city infrastructure and every-thousand ticketholders have come and added the bells and whistles and finally put down the tools to suit up in their finery and go out on the town and look at what other people have been working on all year in their spare time? It DOES remind us of Mardi Gras. Now that we’ve been to Mardi Gras as New Orleans residents, we get it.
Our first parade ever was Muses, on Friday night. They’re the only all-woman Krewe which marches after nightfall, and we heard it was the best one, with the best throws, so we braved traffic and crippling cold weather to post up in front of the corn dog stand on St. Charles and watch the art cars — er, Mardi Gras parade floats — do their thing.
Before Muses, which had moved from the Thurdsay due to rain, we saw the Mystic Krewe of Hermes, Le Krewe d’Etat, and the Krewe of Morpheus parades, all on the same route. If you don’t know what any of that means, then you’re up to the speed we were at a month ago, so do your own research. Mardi Gras is a fascinating, culture-rich, old-world-taken-from, across-all-barriers holiday that (this sounds corny but) makes me proud to be an American.
And just like at the Burning Dude, on the weekend anyway, attendees revel in distributing and/or collecting useless crap that, for one night only, seems like treasure. MOOP! We gave in though: Two boxes of Mardi Gras beads, all colors and sizes, somehow made their way back to the house. Right now they sit in the closet, waiting for the day when we till the weeds out of the back yard. Then we can throw the beads up in the tree, and if they fall out, they won’t mess up the rental gardening equipment.
Indeed, the Mystic Krewe of Muses did bust out some good throws. We caught a reusable grocery bag, a stuffed-animal toy for the dog, and a necklace and matching bracelet made of high-heeled Barbie shoes. The Muses’ grand prize throw — the object of the game, if you’re that serious about throw-collecting at parades — is a custom-decorated real shoe, gaudied up with glitter and tassels and puffy paint. Talk about useless. But like we said, for one night, it’s gold.
The actual point of the parades, of course, is not to throw and/or collect beads … really, the whole City of New Orleans agrees to come out to party at the same time, to lay down their weapons and insecurities, and to make eye contact with — and mutually celebrate — the rest of their hometown. Each bead-throw is a person-to-person gift exchange (“Throw me something, Mister!”) … a way for those riding on the floats to make people happy, and for those on the street, a way to reinforce the sometimes-shaky notion that most people, given normal circumstances, are really really nice.
The tourists? They’re on Bourbon Street. The rest of Mardi Gras is for us.