julia dimon/for metro toronto
Boobs, booze and beads — three things that come to mind when you hear the words Mardi Gras. One of the world’s best parties, Mardi Gras in New Orleans is more than just X-rated frat-boy fun.
After 10 days of Carnival craziness, I discovered that this free street festival has many faces. From the colourful and very PG-13 parades uptown, to tacky tourist-traps in the French Quarter, there isn’t just one Mardi Gras experience.
For those who couldn’t make it for Mardi Gras 2007, here’s what you missed:
In residential areas of New Orleans (Uptown, Algiers or Metairie) parade-goers were lined up along the route, staking out their spots before the floats rolled. A good parade spot is determined by where you can park and where you can pee.
Dressed in purple, green and gold feather boas, locals arranged fold-up chairs, coolers filled with snacks and homemade ladders for the kids. Everyone from toddlers to university students were enjoying the spectacle, eating cotton candy and spraying each other with Silly String. The vibe was familial, the energy positive and safe.
As the parade approached, costumed men riding atop floats threw beads. The crowd went crazy. They waved their arms and hollered, jumping to catch the cups, foam footballs, coins and other Made-In-China trinkets.
Part greed for beads, part self-preservation, the crowd kept their hands up and their senses alert. When a pack of heavy plastic beads is hurled full-speed and mistakenly makes contact with your face, it hurts. So it’s best to keep your hands up and your eyes open.
Between bead tosses, high-school marching bands keep the crowd entertained with big brass instruments, sequined costumes and choreographed dance routines.
Over Mardi Gras season, there were some 60 parades like these, held across the city. Most of the super parades, organized by Krewes with names like Endymion, Bacchus or Zulu, take place over the last few days leading up to Fat Tuesday.
Although public drinking (from cans and go-cups) is allowed at the parades, nudity is not. For this crowd flashing would be inappropriate, not to mention illegal.
If you’re looking for boobs, Bourbon Street in the heart of the French Quarter, is stereotypical Mardi Gras at it’s best. While locals steer clear of the area, tourists on a bender flock there en masse.
It’s sleazy, overcrowded and dirty but, for a Mardi Gras first timer, it’s a worthwhile trip. See it, snap a photo and get out.
Stuck in a mob of drunk people, its pedestrian gridlock. The crowd is packed like a jar of human jelly beans. You can’t move. The crowd pushes, pulls and all you can do is hope a fistfight doesn’t break out.
Along claustrophobic Bourbon Street, tourists may run into a troupe of Christian protesters. They hold signs and bull-horns and shout at partying pedestrians. “Mardi Gras is a festival of the flesh. You’re sinning against Jesus. You’re going to hell,” they yell.
But after a few hours on Bourbon Street, pushing through the rowdy crowd, you feel like you’re already in hell. The quarter was chaos.
When there are thousands of wasted guys with an I’m-on-vacation feeling of invincibility, things can turn ugly. Luckily, there is a Mardi Gras experience beyond the stereotype. Though Mardi Gras in the French Quarter lives up (or perhaps down) to its reputation, other parts of New Orleans promise better, not to mention more family friendly parades, ones even doomsday Christian protesters can enjoy.
Julia Dimon is editor of The Travel Junkie, an on-line magazine for the young and restless traveller. She can be reached at www.thetraveljunkie.ca.