“Mardi Gras is the love of life. It is the harmonic convergence of our food, our music, our creativity, our eccentricity, our neighborhoods, our joy of living. All at once.” Chris Rose
It has been a week since Fat Tuesday – I am finally recovered enough to update my blog. Mardi Gras is not just a day, it is a season! Carnival starts on twelfth night (Jan 6) and culminates on Mardi Gras day.
Mardi Gras is French for Fat (Gras) Tuesday (Mardi), the day before the start of lent, when you go from feasting to fasting. But the terms Carnival and Mardi Gras are now used interchangeably. This year the carnival season is extra long because Easter is so late. That is a lot of feasting!
Purple stands for Justice, Green stands for Faith, Gold stands for Power.
Over 50 official parades, over 1,000 floats, over 600 marching bands, over 135,000 parade participants. Most parades start Uptown and go down St. Charles St through the Garden District ending on Canal just before the French Quarter where the streets are too narrow and unsafe for the huge floats and bands. However there is plenty of unofficial revelry in the Quarter.
It’s all about the Throws. Beyond basic beads, each crew has themed throws (beads, medallions, toys, cups, coins, etc) of varying values that are tossed from the floats. I collected ALOT of throws.
A Krewe is an organization or group that puts on a parade and/or ball during Carnival season. The first krewe was the Mystick Krewe of Comus, a secret society that coined the term Krewe and organized the first parade and ball on Feb 24, 1857. There are no corporate sponsors; krewes are non-profit organizations, funded by member dues and fund-raising activities. There is no single Mardi Gras theme. Each individual krewe has a theme/signature, and they may also have a parade specific theme.
With over 50 parades, everyone uses the Parade Tracker app on their phones! I would watch the tracker as parades neared my house, pop out, grab some "throws", then pop back home when things got too crazy! The speed of the parade was affected by weather. Parades could be delayed by rain, or they would move pretty fast if rain was a threat which made it harder to score “throws” since eye-contact with the throwers is important if you want the good stuff.
The Mystic Krewe of Nyx is named after the powerful and beautiful goddess of night, and embraces a sisterhood and friendship among members. With almost 3,400 female members, 130 parade units including 44 floats, it is one of the largest Mardi Gras parades. Their signature is the purse. I caught a hand decorated clutch purse, purse-logoed socks, a purse medallion and beads. They even have their own specialy license plate!
The Krewe of Muses was founded in 2000 and has 1,100 female members. The krewe is "diverse in every way - ethnically, racially and socioeconomically" and they conduct community outreach in the schools and the arts community. Their signature is the shoe and their hand decorated high-heel throws are highly sought-after. Their motto is: "Happy are they whom the muses love!"
The Krewe of Tucks is an 1,800 member, co-ed club founded in 1969 as a rag-tag group of Loyola University students.
Still irreverent, the Krewe of Tucks' logo features a friar holding a toilet plunger. The Krewe's King rides a huge toilet throne, their Throws include decorated plungers, blinged out toilet brushes, plastic toilets and other toilet themed items. Oh and rolls of toilet paper. All the live oak trees along St. Charles are covered in TP by parades end, causing alot of headache for the cleanup crew. The Tucks parade theme this year was Tucks get Sick, and each of the 35 floats depicted a different Illness. Shingles: Ready to Mingle, Runs DMC, the Clap, SaturdayNight Fevers, Hot Flashes, Bourbonic Plague, you get the idea.
I found a good viewing spot for Tucks and got to chatting with my new parade pal Treasure. Treasure was part of the cleanup crew and explained that her birthday was coming up on Fat Tuesday. I could tell she had had a tough life. We exchanged some throws and she was sweet to pose for this selfie with me.
ZULU: I got up early on Fat Tuesday to brave the 36 degree weather to view the Zulu parade.
Zulu was incorporated in 1916 and this year's parade boasts 1500 members and 100 floats and bands. Their most famous parade King was Louis Armstrong who reigned in 1949. They are known for their coveted throws - decorated coconuts! I didn't get a coconut but the sweet girls near me did. I did catch a good medallion, heavy, carved and bedazzled.
REX: The afternoon warmed up to 49 degrees for the Rex parade. The Krewe of Rex dates back to 1872 and the all-male krewe has become the symbol of Carnival and their King is the presiding King of Carnival. There were 26 floats this year, with the theme: Visions of the Sun. The floats were stunning in the clear and bright sunshine!
The unsung heroes of Carnival are the clean up crews. Over 500 people participated in the cleanup on Fat Tuesday, including city workers, temporary staff and contractors (like my friend Treasure pictured above at Tucks). Close to 1,000 tons of trash was collected. More than 119 pieces of equipment were used in the clean-up efforts this year. They install special grates in the drains to catch the beads before they get to the sewer system. The city also supports efforts by several groups to recycle beads, toys and other parade throws in an effort to reduce waste.
I was surprised to drive along St. Charles on Ash Wednesday and except for the stacks of barriers and all the beads still hanging in the trees, there was no sign of the tons of trash, beads and people that lined the streets just hours before. The city of New Orleans has this down to a science! Ready for St. Patrick’s Day.