Throw Me Something Mister!
There is nothing quite like visiting New Orleans during the Mardi Gras season to put you in the “Noo Awlins” spirit! Nobody knows how to party better than New Orleanians, whether it be in the form of eating, drinking or parading!
The fun happened the moment we stepped off the plane from New York Thursday morning. First we were wisked home to a seafood pig-out at my mother’s table, piled high with fresh boiled crabs and shrimp and my mother’s homemade gumbo. Then we grabbed our cameras and ‘crawled’ in bumper-to-bumper traffic to park at a friend’s house near Saint Charles Avenue. There a rolling cart was loaded up with folding chairs and a bucket of Popeye’s fried chicken to ‘camp out’ on the streetcar tracks and see three parades back-to-back: Babylon, Muses and Chaos!
The parades are put on by “Krewes” — a word coined in the early 19th-century by an organization calling themselves “Ye Mistick Krewe of Comus.” Krewe members are assessed fees to pay for the parade and the ball — and can amount to thousands of dollars per person. That doesn’t include the cost for the members to fund their costumes or the “throws” (beads and trinkets they throw from the floats)…another small fortune. It’s quite prestigious to be a member of a Mardi Gras Krewe.
Die-hard New Orleanian Mardi Gras fans equip themselves with everything they need to be there all night long to witness and experience the parades. Box seats for the kids are added atop tall ladders, folding chairs are lined up along the front lines, carts are filled with food and drink and almost everyone is dressed in Mardi Gras spirit. Purple, gold and green are the official colors and this year it seems about one-third of the crowd is dressed in striped polo-style shirts in these colors that can be purchased just about anywhere.
Three jealous women standing next to us screamed in our ears throughout the three parades while doing a good job of catching beads (and whatever else) and handing out dollars to the flambeaux carriers. The flambeaux carriers were originally slaves and “free men of color” and are “a beacon for parade-goers.” It’s traditional to toss them coins and in this case, dollar bills. This year at the Muses parade, there was the first-ever all-female troupe, dubbed the “Glambeaux.”
Muses is all about the nine daughters of Zeus and was the first all-female Krewe to parade at night in uptown. “Uptown” means ‘against the flow of the river’ and refers to a particular part of the city. In the 19th-century, Canal Street was known as the dividing line between “Uptown” and “Downtown New Orleans,” the boundary between the predominantly Francophone area ‘downriver’ and the predominantly Anglophone area ‘upriver.’ Muses is famous for its prized throw — the Muses Shoes.
My sister has two she proudly displays in her living room. Considered ‘folk sculpture,’ a catch of a shoe is “the primo of all Carnival throws.” One young woman standing behind us never stopped talking about hers and showing it off to everyone in the crowd. Other prizes during the Mardi Gras season include Zulu coconuts, Nyx purses, Druid’s light-up hats and Choctaw tomahawks…and I feel lucky just to have caught a few beads!
Friday was a full day of ‘doin’ bizness’ with Schuyler Hoffman, Parler Paris Nouvellettre®’s producer/editor who runs a B&B in the “Faubourg Marigny” named “Chez Palmiers Bed and Breakfast,” a visit to my local attorney and another to friend and colleague, Ray Ruiz, a real estate agent who also runs a B&B (“La Dauphine Residence des Artistes“). Then for dinner, my family opted on one of their favorite local haunts: Kenner Seafood where at a huge square table over which one had to scream to be heard, we ordered up a round of seafood — this time fresh boiled crawfish, raw oysters on the half-shell and fried oyster “po-boys.”
(By this time I am already a kilo heavier. It’s no wonder they call this festival “Fat Tuesday!” The food is ‘soooo’ great that I’d put it up against any cuisine anywhere…but, don’t tell the French that Cuisine à la Française has a serious rival!)
Saturday was a gloriously warm, sunny and balmy day. To get a good parking spot at the Endymion parade, we set out hours early and found a not-quite-full lot near the start of the parade where the floats and bands line up at Delgado Community College in City Park. Under the old oak trees heavy with Spanish Moss we had a very lazy picnic lunch, a walk around the park and stopped for coffee at Morning Call for coffee and chicory “café au lait” and “beignets” before heading over to the parade route. (One must not leave New Orleans without at least one ‘hit’ of the special brew and local donuts at Morning Call or Cafe’ du Monde in the French Quarter. I stock my pantry in Paris with “CDM” dark roast regular grind for my own daily ‘fix.’)
The park grounds filled with the members of the Krewe in costume along with their families and friends, the band members, the support people, etc. and the spectators. By the time the parade was scheduled to start late afternoon, it was wall-to-wall bodies waiting in anticipation. Endymion is one of the more prestigious Krewes and the parades are considered top notch, so everyone wants to see it at least once in their lifetime.
What was most interesting was watching the behind-the-scenes activities pre-parade as the elaborate headdresses were positioned on the King, Queen and her Maids, the beads were pulled out of their bags and hung on hooks to be ready for action. Without realizing it, we had positioned ourselves in front of young actor Ian Somerhalder’s float, who plays Damon Salvatore in TV’s The Vampire Diaries. The young women screamed with every move he made and he was already getting an ego boost from throwing beads to with whomever he locked eyes.
After about half-way through the length of the parade — about 1.5 hours, we decided to head home and managed to sneak out of the parking lot and drive away from the madness with no one on the roads — good timing!
Many New Orleanians who can afford to travel actually leave during Mardi Gras season. The inability to maneuver through the city due to the parades can be very frustrating for those who are jaded by the year-after-year celebration. Sunday morning the entire family gathered at my first cousin’s for a copious brunch. My first cousins’ children have amazingly striking resemblances to our own — something that always surprises me about the power of genetics.
Then, we bravely ventured into the French Quarter for a gander at what was going on there and stumbled into all sorts of hilariously audacious behavior. My daughter had a field day with her camera photographing the street characters along Bourbon Street and in front of Preservation Hall, on St. Peter Street, who just loved posing for her. One young gay guy stopped me on the street and albitrarily asked me if I spoke French so that he could clarify how to pronounce a particular phrase correctly (which cannot be repeated here) he could use to ‘get the guys.’ Another recognized me from House Hunters International and asked for a photo together…all this in the midst of chaos!
From the French Quarter we trekked to Uptown to park as close as possible to Bethany Bultman’s gorgeous Tara-like plantation home on Louisiana Avenue where she was hosting friends who wanted to see the Bacchus parade. Finding parking was the biggest challenge, following a family to their car to take their spot many blocks away. There were a few testy moments during the one-hour effort, but toughest of all was crossing the mob along the parade route to reach the other side. Amazingly, while gently holding a packaged “King Cake,” we politely asked each person if they minded we cross so they would move their chairs aside to let us pass.
At Bethany’s, old and new friends filled their plates with gumbo and red beans and rice, King Cake and other delacies, filled their cups with whatever was their choice and settled in. No one went out to actually see the parade pass by and opted instead to see the Academy Awards on TV. We left when the parade was over, realizing that after all that effort, we never actually saw the parade, except for the mountains of trash left by the motley Krewe and loyal fans.
Today is a virtual day of rest before the big day: Mardi Gras Day, Tuesday, March 4th, the day before Lent. (The “Carnaval” in Nice ends this same day, too!) There will be parades all day long all over the city and a lot of hell being raised of which we intend to participate…in costume! Stay tuned for more action reporting live…from La Nouvelle Orléans.
A la prochaine…
Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC
(at the Endymion parade)
P.S. I am excited to be filming a new House Hunters International episode on the Riviera March 13-16! We are looking for properties in which we can film in or near Villefranche-sur-Mer that fit the following description: 1 or 2 bedrooms with 1 bath, about 20-40 m² with a value of about 175K. If you know of any property that fits this description, please contact me IMMEDIATELY!!