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Are You Going to Party in New Orleans?

It is said that New Orleans has two seasons: Pre-Mardi Gras and Mardi Gras.

Mardi gras image

Our family moved to New Orleans in 1984. Yeah, last century. We lived there for eighteen years. That would be eighteen Mardi Gras seasons. As a confirmed hermit, I was not a dedicated parade attendee, but I was—and I remain—a huge fan of the cake. Lol

I don’t remember the exact date that I began writing a column for my hometown paper about the ups and downs of living in New Orleans. As noted below, a version of this column was published in 1989. Again, last century. 

Okay, let me catch my breath because this was thirty-one years ago. Ouch. I’m guessing some of the things I wrote about have changed, but I’m not sure. 

A quick recap of just what Mardi Gras is and when: Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, is a Carnival celebration that starts on or after the Epiphany and comes to a head before Ash Wednesday. Fat Tuesday reflects the practice of eating rich foods and such before the fasting of Lent begins. So it is based around religious days, but it is one HUGE party in New Orleans. 

This year, Mardi Gras falls on February 25th.

So here is what I wrote (somewhat edited) in my column about my thoughts on Mardi Gras in 1989 (that still hurts!): 

It is said that New Orleans has two seasons: Pre-Mardi Gras and Mardi Gras. 

Pre-Mardi Gras is a lackluster time for us non-Krewe people. We have no beads to buy, no royalty to announce, no balls to buy dresses/tuxes for. We have to settle for anticipating Christmas while we wait for the Mardi Gras magazine to appear on store shelves so we can plan our approach to this great big party.

If Easter is early, Mardi Gras decorations in green, gold and purple appear almost on the heels of Christmas decorations. RV’s and bleachers pop up along established parade routes and king cakes (sweet bread, braided into a circle and decorated with gold, green and purple sprinkles, the plastic baby inside) debut in stores. The Krewes announce their royalty and the Balls commence.

It is fortunate that Cinderella didn’t go seeking her Prince down here. Not even a fairy godmother could get her into one of these balls. Invitations are scare and highly prized, and even if you get one, you won’t spend the evening dancing. Nope, non-Krewe guests spend their “magical” evening observing the festivities. That’s right, only Krewe members — and the select partners they “call down” — may dance at the ball. Guests, even the ones who arrive in pumpkin coaches, only get to tap their glass slippers.

Since Krewe members are masked, Cindy’s probably lucky she can’t go to the ball. There is always the risk of ending up with an aging frog instead of a buff young Prince. Krewe’s are a rich man’s game unless they are a rich woman’s game, like Cleopatra, an all-girls Krewe that throws, in addition to cups, beads and toys, bikini underwear with their Krewe badge printed on the crotch. If you catch it, you must wear it.

No fear, mom and pop. No stripping allowed. You apply these panties over your pants. It’s an…interesting…look. 

Here’s a look at Zulu, one of the most famous New Orleans Krewes:

Jonesie’s favorite Krewe is called Tucks. They are kind of an anti-Krewe. Their king sits on a toilet throne and they throw stuffed shirts—or is it toys? I forget. I know they prefer to forget their tuxedo pants on the night of the ball, in favor of unusual boxers.

The common people have one simple goal during Mardi Gras: get an obscene amount of “throws” in as wide a variety as humanly possible. Yell as loud as you can, “Throw me something, mister!” and reveal private body parts if asked by Krewe members. Throws include (but are not limited to) plastic cups, cheap beads, spears, coconuts, doubloons (rare), playing cards, and the aforementioned panties. 

If you fail to leave without a suitcase full of these useless items, you’ve wasted your money and our time. Come on down and join the biggest, “free” party in this country. Bring an empty suitcase, but leave your glass slippers at home.

(A version of this column first appeared in The Lovell Chronicle 20 July 1989.)

So that’s what I thought about Mardi Gras last century. I’m not sure what Krewe’s even exist now. But I can close my eyes and remember the change in the air, I can hear distant bands, and smell the smells of Mardi Gras. And I can almost taste the cake…

Perilously yours,

Pauline

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