Thursday, February 19, 2009

Vendredi Gras

Mental snapshots from my first time in New Orleans at Carnival season.

The farther from the French Quarter you get, the less nutty the paradeviewers are. I watched from Magazine Street, right at the beginning of the parade. Started with wine and cheese at Shannon's house (which can only be reached by walking, as the street was closed already). That her male Golden Retriever, Boomer, who weighs as much as I do, likes to hump was the most debauched part of the evening.

Shannon, E, N, and I put wine and beer into a backpack and grabbed a folding chair, a beach chair, a stepstool, and a ladder and strolled down the street as Krewe d'Etat was starting its parade. No crazy mob; just the locals. Two pieces of advice I remember: don't touch the police horses (mandatory instant arrest), and that no matter how I felt about beads I'd end up going for quality, not quantity -- and for quality of the other throws. Other throws?

As we arrived, the lead police motorcycles were going by ... and a band was marching the wrong way. Turns out the Dominican High School Band was in the wrong place. So they turned left in front of the parade and hung out on our side street until their spot came up.

Krewe d'Etat is a great parade. Every float mocks politicians. There were floats that mocked Ray Nagin (the absent mayor), a member of the city council who cries, the banking system, the trillian-dollar bailout, the win of Obama, and a whole float on Sarah Palin.

Floats are preceded by fire-carriers -- they have a different name, but basically they are men carrying poles with a platform with two flames on top. It lights the parade. That was my favorite part, not only because the fire was nice and warm as it went by, but because apparently you're supposed to throw pennies at them (demeaning, but they are unpaid workers and have to schlepp fire for miles). I handed quarters to them, walking into the parade route. It was fun to give out money.

After the fire-carriers, there is someone carrying a sign explaining what the float title is. Locals also seem to notice the float number. The Dominican band was on "after seven," they said. I said, "good, because it's 6:45," causing laughter around me. Seven was the number of the float they followed.

I immediately became a bead snob. And I was excited to collect cups -- they throw plastic cups!

When I discovered they were throwing stuffed animals, I shouted for them. Shannon told me I had to just go up to the float and ask. So I did. In that neighborhood, you were already two feet from the float, so I just stepped forward. At one point, I followed the float for a while, and they gave me two stuffed animals.

S and N and E kept offering me the stepstool or ladder, but between jumping up and down, following the floats, and giving the fire-carriers money, I couldn't stand still.

The Morpheus parade started less than 10 minutes after d'Etat ended. It took me a while to get that everything was about dreaming.

Our next goals: moon pies.

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