The Mardi Gras That Wasn’t
Mardi Gras was special for me this year. My daughter Lena, who lives in New Mexico and has never seen a Fat Tuesday, came to spend a week with her dad.
She had only one real request. “Take me to Mardi Gras.”
I know my way around the city. It used to be my home when I lived and worked there for seven years. I stayed in the French Quarter for a while, walking a few blocks to an art studio and working as a copywriter. Then I got another job and moved uptown near Carrolton and St. Charles.
After living in New Mexico for over 20 years, I found it easy to navigate around in New Orleans when I moved back to Louisiana a few years ago. The city and Orleans Parish did not change much until Katrina. When you're a city that old and settled in your ways, who needs change?
I wanted Lena to see some of the different facets of Mardi Gras. We caught part of the parades Sunday near St. Charles and Napoleon in the uptown area. It was very family oriented with the little kids in their ladder boxes and lots of friendly faces.
After a while we sat down on a grassy spot to eat the sandwiches Lena had made that morning. I had told her it would be hard to find good food because most of the restaurants closed on Mardi Gras day, but I was wrong.
About halfway through our lunch, Lena looked across Napoleon and pointed at the house in front of us.
There were poster board signs for jambalaya, red beans and rice, crawfish, sausage, and drinks. A family had turned their front yard into a makeshift restaurant for a day.
On Mardi Gras Day near Lafayette Square on St. Charles we caught the Zulu Parade. A nice family let us into their cordoned off area on the parade route and a lady dressed as a clown let Lena use her butterfly net to see if she could catch a prized hand-painted Zulu coconut.
After about an hour with no coconut, I began to wonder if Lena would be successful. At one point a Zulu warrior leaned down from his float and teased her by sticking his hand and a coconut in the net, then jerking it out.
I took Lena's picture with her net and Lt. Gov. Mitch Landrieu who was hanging out in the area and chatting with everyone. A few minutes later I looked away, and Lena had her coconut.
We then ventured into the quarter to Royal Street. Standing on the corner of Royal and St. Ann, we watched and gawked at a stupendous array of costumed characters, from nurses to French maids, Uncle Sam to Sen. David Vitter, Roman soldiers to makeshift marching bands, and an organized musical production of something called “Obama Mia.”
Lena began tapping at her phone, texting messages and sending photos from the epicenter of Mardi Gras to her friends in New Mexico.
Many years before on Mardi Gras Day in 1979, when her mother and I were newlyweds, we stood on the same corner taking in similar sights. It was the year New Orleans Police went on a strike and parades in the city were canceled. Masking and partying still went on in the French Quarter, but with few tourists in sight. Locals called the event “The Mardi Gras That Wasn't.”
Mardi Gras this year was much different, packed with the biggest crowds since Katrina and people everywhere who seemed grateful the city can still pull off such spectacular event.
Lena and I call 2009 the Mardi Gras that was.