Mardi Gras in New Orleans
It’s carnival season in the Big Easy. I’m in New Orleans for Mardi Gras, staying about an hour out of town with a friend from Alaska. Between parades, Rene takes me sight seeing along the bayous. We encounter every style of home from the beautiful antebellum era to modern brick structures, including a Louisiana twist on modern mobile home living. These mobile homes don’t have wheels; they have stilts.
For the big event, Fat Tuesday, I ride into town with expectations of chaos. This is my first Mardi Gras since a tiny neighborhood parade in Rubonia, Florida. This is the Mardi Gras of all Mardi Gras, and the rumors fill me with trepidation as much as they pluck at my curiosity. Catholics Gone Wild should sum up the rumors, and a few protestors agree. How can thousands of people purge a year’s worth of properness in a single night without chaos? What I find, however, is an incredible amount of restraint and friendliness among everyone. So many beautiful people stand arm in arm without a hint of hate among them.
In one way, the modern Mardi Gras represents all the wonderful progress we’ve made in 250 years as a people. I’ve never felt more comfortable around tens of thousands of drunks as I do today. I look around and see a smidgen of every demographic. Everyone is here with an open mind. Of course, we expect a celebration like Mardi Gras to draw people of all types, and we don’t let a little nudity, cultural diversity, or sexual deviancy to ruffle our boas. In fact, we flaunt our social deviances with pride, and we relish in the chance to see others’. Given the crowd around me, I feel pretty lame dressed in my cargo pants, rain shell, and hiking boots.
Yet despite the amazing leap forward in tolerance, Mardi Gras today also represents the embarrassing regression of our industrialized global society. Gone are the days of handmade parade throws, cherished for their rarity and individuality. Quantity has supplanted quality in every single way. Today, we reach our hands to the sky, display our most private body parts, and scream for the same cheap plastic crap being thrown from parade floats the world around. The lower cost beaded necklace, made in China and Taiwan by underprivileged factory workers, packaged, and shipped everywhere, allows riders to throw more to a crowd that constantly demands more. And by the end of the day, New Orleans looks like an oil spill of litter and garbage. All of this plastic, some drilled and refined only miles from the party, ends up discarded and destined for an incinerator or landfill. It sickens me.
Still, I’m very pleased to be in New Orleans for Mardi Gras. Watching the parade krewes pelt the crowd with throws is an experience I won’t soon forget. The elation I felt while dancing with a traveling drum circle on Bourbon Street will stay with me for a long time.
I’ve learned that New Orleans is a bit of the old mixed with a bit of the new; history and the future stand side by side. The past is a story of hard work and sacrifice. The future is a painting of colorful acceptance. Truly, I do look forward to returning again one year with a new set of expectations. As we are growing out of our bigotry, I hope we as a people grow out of this wicked wastefulness we call capitalism and globalization. Let’s embrace our differences, but let’s do so with a common goal to sustain ourselves.