New Orleans finds a way to celebrate Mardi Gras despite the pandemic in Daydreaming on the Porch

  • Feb. 15, 2021, 4:16 p.m.
  • |
  • Public

I can hardly believe Mardi Gras in New Orleans is tomorrow. I grew up in the “Crescent City,” the City That Care Forgot.” From an early age I knew it was a special place, especially each year at Mardi Gras. Always a city of extremes contrasts — terrible crime and poverty in one neighborhood and immense wealth in adjacent neighborhoods — it was during Mardi Gras that people temporarily cast aside these glaring disparities and their cares to once again revel in the magic of seemingly endless parades, garishly but brilliantly painted and decorated floats, bands, and extravagant costumes.

I loved it when I was a kid. Every year on Mardi Gras day, “Fat Tuesday,” my family would pack up a picnic lunch, always containing Mom’s delicious fried chicken. We’d head for the wide and world-famous St. Charles Avenue where we’d watch first the King of Carnival, Rex, and his parade, followed by a couple of hundred truck floats filled with costumed families having a ball throwing beads and trinkets to the assembled crowds.

It was invariably quite cool, bordering on cold most Mardi Gras Tuesdays over the years that I remember them, and that would include most years from when I was a small child through college. After college, I left the city for good, but I miss it a lot. Who wouldn’t? I think most people who’ve been there would agree it’s totally unique among all U.S. cities.

The anticipation and excitement was always palpable as I waited along St. Charles for the arrival of the Rex Parade, the highlight of a tradition in the city that goes back to the first parade in 1857. I’d be standing along the street along with thousands of others, many of them in costumes. It was always thrilling to hear the first sounds of drums in the distance. A police car with flashing blue lights would appear, clearing the way for the floats.

I’d have my hands stuffed in my jacket pockets to keep warm. Then the floats would start passing and hands would go up imploring, “Throw me something, Mista!” (Back in the 60s almost all of the carnival krewe members were men, but that unfortunate situation is totally different today). Krewe members constantly reached into their bags for beads and trinkets to toss to noisy and boisterous parade-goers. But most of the stuff was pretty junky, but hey, it was free.

The most coveted “throws” were and probably still are, the commemorative doubloons or aluminum coins which each krewe minted in limited quantities. I remember how thrilled I was when I was 12 and somehow managed to nab one of the first Rex doubloons ever given away. I remember people would dash toward the sound of doubloons clinking on the pavement. The quickest way to be sure someone didn’t grab it before you did was to put your foot on it and then bend down to retrieve it. I won’t even guess how many fingers were smashed in the frenzy to get a doubloon. I was spared fortunately because they weren’t THAT important! Some lucky ducks managed to snag them as they were still airborne. I think that happened to me once. What memories! [In retrospect these many years later, this all seems quite foolish and absurd, but it was fun at the time].

But the real treat from parade going was seeing the colorful and laboriously designed paper mache floats, which were lighted up at night. The pandemic, however, has crushed a lot of the joy out of carnival season this year. Last November it was announced there would be no parades. This cast a momentary pall of gloom over this Mardi-Gras-crazy city. Hundreds of float builders, designers, decorators and painters were laid off. But that wasn’t the end of it, as The New York Times article linked below can attest. A few ingenious citizens got together and decided in lieu of parade floats, they would get the word out that they were hiring those laid off artists and float builders to decorate and create floats at their homes and in their yards. Three thousand people are participating. And thus a generations-long tradition continues. This is a perfect example of the spirit and determination of New Orleanians who are proud of their city and Mardi Gras celebrations. It wouldn’t be New Orleans without them.

Continuing the traditions:

Mardi Gras in 1920

Last updated February 16, 2021

ConnieK February 15, 2021

They're holding the parade? I thought it had been cancelled!

Oswego ConnieK ⋅ February 15, 2021

No parades. Decorated houses and yards to resemble parade floats. Check out the NYT article for some great photos.

ConnieK Oswego ⋅ February 15, 2021

Oh, they're doing it again THIS year! Sorry. I missed that. :)

Sabrina-Belle February 16, 2021

What a wonderful place to have grown up in. Those house decorations are amazing ; another triumph of the human spirit over adversity.

Oswego Sabrina-Belle ⋅ February 17, 2021

That sums it up! Well said!

Jinn February 17, 2021

Mardi Gra went on last year too and there was a virus surge after but the publicity dropped away . I love the concept of Yardi Gra . I love New Orleans. After we visited I was sure I wanted to move there and Frank loved it too ; then Katrina happened and we were shocked. I still want to go back when we can travel. We had a magical two weeks there . We stayed at La Pavilion . Do you know it ? Reportedly it’s the most haunted hotel in New Orleans . It was very French :-)

Oswego Jinn ⋅ February 17, 2021

I certainly hope you can go back. I sure intend to. I’d like to take a Spring road trip there and stay in a nice B&B or maybe a swanky hotel. Le Pavilion — I certainly know of it — very fancy. I want to do a lot of photography when I get there. I’ll also visit my old neighborhoods.

Jinn Oswego ⋅ February 17, 2021

It was pricy there and the person checking us in was kind of a snot initially but she warmed up . . Lol . Really everyone who worked there was lovely . My husband is so gregarious that he knew most of the staff’s names in a few days . They were so friendly and we talked to them whenever we were coming and going. They gave us a lot of suggestions of what to see , what to do and where to eat :-) They did a lot of little special things for us. It made the trip even more special. Even just coming in when they greeted us by name and asked us what we had done or where we had been that day was really kind.

Oswego Jinn ⋅ February 17, 2021

Sounds like truly first class treatment at that hotel. But it doesn’t surprise me. New Orleanians are like that! Some of the best people you’ll ever meet.

Jinn Oswego ⋅ February 18, 2021

I agree. I don’t know if they do it now but at Le Pavilion they had a huge copper hot chocolate pot and every night at 7 PM anyone could go there for hot chocolate , muffins, bagels, doughnuts and fresh fruit . People from the hotel and off the street congregated together visiting and snacking . They had wonderful hot chocolate and goodies. It was outstanding .

Kristi1971 February 17, 2021

My uncle (mom's only brother) would ride his motorcycle down there for that many times.

Oswego Kristi1971 ⋅ February 17, 2021

It’s definitely an experience people want to return to year after year!

MageB February 18, 2021

There's been a lot of publicity about the houses and their decor. Sorry I cannot go and see them.

Oswego MageB ⋅ February 18, 2021

I wish I could have also.

Marg February 22, 2021

What a great idea! I’m so glad the tradition was able to continue in part of its glorious form - still the spectacle, still the colour, just not the crowds :)

Oswego Marg ⋅ February 22, 2021

The crowd’s will be back in years to come, but I’m sure Mardi Gras this year will be especially remembered for a long time!

Marg Oswego ⋅ February 23, 2021


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