Today is Mardi Gras – Fat Tuesday – the last day of celebration and excess before the Lenten season begins. I knew nothing about Mardi Gras until I moved to the South. And actually, Mardi Gras isn’t that big of a deal unless you’re in Coastal Mississippi or Alabama or in south Louisiana. I was really surprised when I lived in Louisville because as a heavily Catholic city, I figured that Mardi Gras and the Carnival season would be a bigger thing. It’s not. I think that as more and more images of Mardi Gras seep out into the world, and as many people realize how much money there is to be made in Mardi Gras, plus they experience it and know how much fun it is, Mardi Gras will be exported to other places; it already has been.
My first Mardi Gras experiences were with my best friend Shannon. She came to visit me during the spring of my first year in the south (2005). I was not brave enough to go to New Orleans for Mardi Gras because of all the stories I’d heard, so instead, Shannie and I made our way first to Natchez where we just happened to run into a parade and then to Biloxi for the parades on Mardi Gras day. We had a ton of fun, and I got hooked.
Of course, in August of 2005, Hurricane Katrina devastated the Mississippi Gulf Coast and the breaking of the levees shattered New Orleans.
I decided that if I was ever going to do Mardi Gras in New Orleans, then the year after Katrina was the year for me to go and do it. No one wanted to go with me. So I went by myself. I wasn’t actually there on Mardi Gras – I wasn’t brave enough to go on that day – but rather I went the Sunday before Mardi Gras. And was promptly adopted by a family of Chalmatians (people who are from Chalmette, LA). That particular Sunday, there were five parades rolling because the parades from the day before had been rained out.
I think I got to New Orleans around 7:00 in the morning. I did not leave until about 4:00 the next morning. If you’ve not been to a Mardi Gras parade, they take awhile to roll, particularly the superkrewes like Endymion. To have five parades on one day is a lot. That entire day I didn’t have anything to eat or drink because I hadn’t brought anything with me, intending to buy what I needed throughout the day. The very sweet Chalmatians offered me their bologna sandwiches and their sodas, but I felt odd taking from them when they had so very little. Plus, I have to be really, really hungry to eat bologna. That doesn’t work for me. But my Chalmatian friends – like I said, so very sweet. They offered to let me stay with them in their FEMA trailers so I could come back for the parades the next day.
I didn’t take them up on that offer, but I was left with a wonderful impression. I think I drug 75 pounds of beads back to my car at 4:00 in the morning.
And I’ve been in love with Mardi Gras ever since.
I keep telling Sweet Husband that one of these years we’re going to go to Mobile for Mardi Gras so we can see where Mardi Gras started. But really as long as he takes me to Mardi Gras every year, I’m going to be a very happy girl.