Mardi Gras! (How I discovered the joys of nude bicycle riding)
If Las Vegas is Disney World for adults, then I'm pretty sure that New Orleans is Disney World for adults if Minnie…
If Las Vegas is Disney World for adults, then I’m pretty sure that New Orleans is Disney World for adults if Minnie Mouse walked around topless. (Let that sink in for a second.) Of course, this is just a silly stereotype, and the idea that just because it’s Mardi Gras time down in New Orleans every woman is walking around lifting her top up so she can have some touristy strand of beads thrown to her by some drunken frat boy or some pathetically soused middle-aged adolescent is nonsense. For example, my wife and I were down in the “Big Easy” this past week visiting her sister, and I can assure you that we were on the famed Bourbon Street for at least three minutes before a young, and if I may be so bold, rather attractive young lady pulled up her top to expose all that my father’s 1970s issues of Playboy magazine had promised and more, so the drunks hanging out above the street on their balconies would toss her some beads. So there it is. (I figured, let’s get the salacious parts out of the way first.)
Unlike the fraudulent Tour de France, none of these “athletes” tested positive for steroids. However the guy in the yellow cowboy hat did test positive for beignets. This also confirms my long-held theory that amongst the many things you shouldn’t attempt to do while in a state of nudity, riding a bicycle remains right at the top of that list. (You Tube)
Mardi Gras as it is known concludes on Tuesday, March 5th, a day which is referred to in New Orleans as Fat Tuesday. The next day is the holiday known as Ash Wednesday. (Or as it’s known amongst the people of Hawaii, Oregon, California, and Colorado, “Hash Wednesday.”) The days leading up to Fat Tuesday are filled with drunken revelry, indulgent eating, and I’m guessing if you’re like me, a lot of heartburn. Once it’s Ash Wednesday, a period of repentance is commenced by followers of the faith known as Lent which then concludes with the Easter holiday which would appear to have something to with rabbits and chocolate eggs. What exactly is Mardi Gras, and how did this time of “eat, drink, and be hung over” get started?
How inclusive are these wonderful parades that fill the days and nights leading up to Fat Tuesday in New Orleans? Let me just say this, they are so inclusive that pregnant ladies as well as New Orleans Saints star running back Alvin Kamara both participated. (Hoffman Collection)
While most people are at least aware of the concept of Mardi Gras on let’s say a tertiary level, what they may not know is that the holiday is not a single day event, nor does it necessarily only take place in the famously touristy area of New Orleans known as the French Quarter. (Even that moniker is somewhat illusionary, the architecture is actually Spanish.) Mardi Gras rather is a celebration of the Carnival which commences on or after the Christian feasts of the Epiphany, until it ends with the previously mentioned Fat Tuesday. The word Mardi Gras is literally French for “Fat Tuesday.” (Is it actually acceptable to “fat shame” a day of the week?) The “fat” refers to all of the fatty foods that people partake in.
The roots of Mardi Gras have been traced to the ancient Romans, and their pagan holidays that celebrated the arrival of spring. Some believe this tradition may go back as far as 130 B.C. (Before Crawfish.) However, beginning approximately in 4 B.C., the holiday found its Christian foundations. It was then that allegedly the three wise men visited Jesus with their gifts of “Frankenstein and Merv,” or something along those lines, and so on the 12th day of Christmas, Christians celebrate the Epiphany, a celebration of Jesus coming for the Jews as well as the Gentiles. thus leading to the Carnival celebration, which continues right up until Mardi Gras. (I can’t help but feel I should be kneeling while I’m explaining all of this.)
So much of the Mardi Gras celebration is the endless parades that take place in the days and weeks leading up until Fat Tuesday. Now I know what you’re thinking, and no, this rather portly looking King is not drunk and throwing up on his subjects…I think. (Hoffman Collection)
It was the French who brought Mardi Gras to America in the very late 17th century. King Louis XV sent an expedition to the southern part of what is now the United States to defend his claims to the territory. The first official Mardi Gras celebration in America actually took place in Mobile, Alabama, the first capital of New France. The festival moved along with the French throughout the deep south. However, despite the fact that New Orleans was officially settled in 1718, the first recorded Mardi Gras parade did not arrive until 1837. (New President Martin Van Buren declared, “Mutton chops for everybody!”)
“Who says I’m not fun? Not only did the first Mardi Gras parade take place on my watch, but look at these mutton chops. They literally say “Fun on your face.” All bow to the King of Kinderhook!” (Getty Images)
Today Mardi Gras is associated with fun, costumes, masks, parades, parties, eating, and from what I understand from a well-placed source, a little bit of drinking. Despite what some people think though, it’s not a giant drunken “strip-fest.” Many of the parades are viewed by families, and they line-up all along the parade route which travels about seven miles. It begins in the beautiful Garden District, and travels down to Canal Street, right near the fabled French Quarter, although not into the actual Quarter. The streets of the French Quarter are far too small to house a parade, although the after-parade festivities do seem to make their ways into the historic district.
As for the parades themselves, the people of New Orleans like to station themselves along the parade route throughout the day, pre-gaming the way Parrotheads do at a Jimmy Buffet concert, with their kids. Beads are of course a major player in all that is Carnival and Mardi Gras. Everybody has them or seeks them out. Every time a float that is part of the parades sails by, the people on the float toss beads, cups, and other trinkets to the people who are lined up along parade route. (Allow me to say for the record that no, you don’t have to lift your shirt, or pull down your pants, or do anything else unseemly or should I say “un-Christian-like” in order to have those who inhabit the floats throw the beads and other assorted “Tchotchkes” down upon the commoners who await their prize. Had I known this of course, I could have saved a lot of money on nipple rings.)
There it is, in the middle of all of this celebration of all things Jesus, a Jewish synagogue. Strangely, even though it was Saturday, there didn’t seem to be a lot of activities going on in and around the temple. What a shanda! (Hoffman Collection)
In addition to the floats, seemingly every high school in greater New Orleans participates in the parade, along with their dancers and cheerleaders. The kids sound and look great, and considering the poverty and challenges that the schools in the city of New Orleans have to deal with, this is a great accomplishment for these schools, as well as an immense source of pride for the students, however, none of them throw gifts at those aligned along the parade route, so I have to temper my enthusiasm.
As for the aftermath of this non-stop party, it’s a messy business to be sure. As I stated earlier, the parade routes look a lot like what I imagine Times Square looks like after New Year’s Eve, or the aforementioned tailgating at a Jimmy Buffett concert, or Chernobyl shortly after the meltdown. I’m honestly not sure that there’s a device made by man that would be capable of scooping up all that has been left behind. This of course is in addition to the hard work the police have to do to keep order, although I’m not sure why there would be trouble. I mean what could happen when you mix parades, people in costumes, and an entire city drinking all day?
Fans of all ages, drunk as well as not that drunk await the parades of Carnival. Note the trees. Those are not snakes…I think, they are beads that have made their way up into the trees. How do they get down you ask? Easy, hurricanes. Also check out the left side of the street where you see a ladder with little seats on the top. Little children sit on those to get a better view. (Hoffman Collection)
It’s great when different regions of the country have local celebrations and traditions, it really helps define an area, and few do it with more flair or in a more distinct manner than the good people of the “Big Easy.” After Fat Tuesday, things will die down, even in the French Quarter. In fact, they say that even on Bourbon Street, sometimes around 3am on Monday morning, it barely feels like New Year’s Eve.
It’s important to have fun holidays and celebrations this time of year. Really, here in the Northeast, winter drags on like the third hour of the Academy Awards. Even the grand NCAA basketball tournament isn’t until much later in the month of March this year. Luckily we have St. Patrick’s Day coming up in a couple of weeks. Of course if I have my way I’ll be safely in my house, away from the crowds and noise, drunk on corn beef and cabbage. Perhaps if I lift my shirt, my wife will throw me the end piece of the brisket. Yeah baby!!! Party!!!