Mardi Gras baby!! HEY MISTER, THROW ME SOMETHING!!
Trip Start Aug 26, 2005
125Trip End May 26, 2008
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Where I stayed
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode
Who never ever learned to read or write so well
But he could play the guitar just like a ringin' a bell
There are literally thousands of songs written about New Orleans and Louisiana. It's an inspiration to artists and appears to leave an impression on people as I was about to find out.
Rideshare has turned into a raging success. I scored a lift from Houston to New Orleans with an American called Tom
On crossing the bridge Tom mentioned that we could stop at his parents place before he dropped me at the hostel. Fine by me. We were greeted by his family and had an amazing meal of red beans, rice and Cajun chicken. We had fun at his parents and I had a few glasses of wine. Then it was midnight and time to go. I was dropped at the Hostel at 1am and initially they said they had no beds. Oh no! please NO!! But on double checking, they found me a spot in an 18 bed dorm and I settled in. Tom was great and told me that his family are hugely into Mardi Gras and have reserved and area on the main boulevard. They take a grill and beers and said that anytime over the next 3 days, they would be there. I promised I would visit them there and thanked them for their hospitality, the beans, the rice, the chicken and the ride
It was 1am and my 18 bed dorm was empty, as was the rest of the hostel. I returned to the front desk and asked what was going on. Where were my room mates? You told me the place was full. Where is everyone? 'It’s Mardi Gras’ he said. ‘They are all out partying, they won’t come back until the sun comes up’ I felt guilty for sleeping when everyone was out having a good time, but the last few days have been tiring, so I caught some zzzzzz’s in my deserted room.
"Laissez Le Bon Temps Rouler" – “Let the good times roll” as they say to start the Mardi Gras festivities. The 16th of February is the official start of the big parades and parties in New Orleans and the festival doesn’t stop for 6 days. Intricately detailed floats pass down the streets 3 or 4 times a day as the crowds cheer as they pass. For me, the good times started at the ‘India House’ hostel, which would be my Mecca for the next 8 nights. The hostel was spectacular. Damaged in hurricane Katrina, they have done enough work to restore it and keep it opened and although basic, and pretty filthy, it had its charm and the awesome bunch of people staying there made it a very special place.
It was a good start to my time there when I woke up on my first day and was asked If I wanted to join the ‘Crawfish Broil’ party. What the hell does that mean? I asked. I was then sat down and educated about Southern food and tradition and discovered that the Crawfish was a big part of it. Crawfish are like miniature lobsters. They are tiny little things, smaller than an Aussie prawn, and extremely cheap. $2 per pound. I have no idea how many pounds the hostel bought but there were more than enough crawfish to feed the 50 people that turned up to devour them at lunch the next day. They bought them live, and filled a huge boiler pot with potatoes, corn, onion, mushrooms, garlic, peanuts, asparagus, Cajun spices and of course - the Crawfishies.
A great big table was lined with brown paper and while we drank local beers and got to know each other, the staff from the hostel gathered around the boiler and finally the huge pot was poured over the table. A mountain of Crawfish and food filled with spicy Cajun flavors appeared over the table covered in brown paper. Twist the head, suck its brains out and then pinch and squeeze the tail and that’s how you eat a crawfish. They were delicious and spicy but a whole lot of work. An Irish described it as 5 calories worth of work to get a 2 calorie piece of meat. And it did feel like that when the third batch of them came out. We had been ripping heads off and eating for over an hour but weren’t the slightest bit full. We were hungry and exhausted, but it was a fun cultural experience.
Over the course of Crawfish, I made some good friends at the hostel – a few Aussies, Mexicans, Germans, French and a few Americans
The parade we watched had 40 floats, in the theme of 'Endangered and Extinct Animals'. The floats were spectacular. All had blinking lights and were covered in glitter and bright colours. The masked people onboard were wearing animal costumes of course. I discovered that night that it’s a law that if you’re on the float, you cannot show your face. The floats came past and the crowd was jumping and screaming 'HEY MISTER, THROW ME SOMETHING!' the official call to get beads. There are many other ways to get beads during Mardi Gras, and as the night gets on, they get more creative. The simple 'Show us your tits' chant doesn't work and it takes more creative calls to get something. It’s common to see guys doing pushups or strange acts and girls doing even stranger wilder acts to get a big set of beads. As the Endangered Animals floats passed our group we had mountains of beads hurled at us and by the time the last one came by, I was barely able to walk. The weight of these beads is just insane. I swear the rum I was drinking had nothing to do with it. I thought I had collected my fair share of beads, but the girls, with their ‘assets’ had done a better job, and one of the Mexicans we were with couldn’t see, for the beads covered from her shoulders to the top of her head.
After the last float had passed, we joined the masses and fought our way down the infamous Bourbon Street. 10 blocks, full of bars, and clubs of every description. First, second and third floor balconies were full of people all wearing masks and costumes, hurling even more beads and fluffy toys and random items to the screaming crowds below
They don’t really have any drinking rules in the French Quarter of New Orleans, which was more of less untouched by the Hurricane. People wander around the streets and in and out of clubs and pubs with those red plastic cups you see in movies like American pie and road trip loaded with beer and spirits and everyone is having a great time.
The next 6 nights or so followed pretty much in the same way. Food and drinks at the hostel, then parade watching, bead collecting and partying until the sun came up, at least, that’s what they told me. It all ended too quickly and the day after the last float paraded down the street, the hostel crew began to break up and I was in a cab, headed to the Airport, where I had a plane waiting to take me to Miami.
NEW ORLEANS, Louisiana:
Mardi Gras revelers packed New Orleans Saturday as large crowds turned out to watch parades and fill the French Quarter in what many viewed as another step in the long recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
Parters, most with drink in hand, lined the sidewalks along parade routes, shouting and dancing while masked "krewe" members on passing floats tossed out beads and other trinkets in a celebration now 151 years old in New Orleans
Local officials said hotels were near capacity and flights into the city full. Bars and restaurants reported strong business while streets in the city center were jammed with traffic. (Watch how throwing beads is a form of therapy)
All in all, locals said, it looked and felt more like a normal Mardi Gras than the 2006 scaled-down version, which was the first after Katrina flooded most of the city and killed 1,300 people in August 2005.
"I had a friend who rode on a float last night, and she said looking down at all the people and the fun they were having, she felt like it was back," said Joi Manthey, a chaplain for riverboat pilots.
Attendance this year is expected to be above last year -- when estimates ranged as low as 400,000 -- but still below the pre-storm level of about 1 million people.
Numbers do not tell the full story of Mardi Gras, locals say. More important is its role in the self-image and psyche of the city.
Mardi Gras has a local role despite opposition from some who believed the citywide party in 2006 was inappropriate amidst the devastation of Katrina, many locals viewed it as a way of showing the world New Orleans would survive
They said Mardi Gras played a vital role in reuniting a population that had been dispersed by the storm. Much of New Orleans is still in ruins and less than half of the pre-storm population of 480,000 has returned
But many people came back for Mardi Gras in 2006 and again this year.
"Last year was like a group therapy session for everybody from New Orleans, it was a way to reconnect," Manthey said. "You could go find your friends because families watch the parades from the same place every year, and you could find out how they were and where they were."
This year, said graduate student David Parker, it looked like more non-New Orleans people had come back to Mardi Gras, too.
"Last year, it was more intimate. It felt like 'our' party, this year it's 'a' party again," he said.
Attorney Donna Fraiche, standing in front of her genteel Uptown home, said Mardi Gras this year represented a return to "the new normal" in the still-damaged city, and was a precursor of better days.
"Last year was about survival, this year it's resilience," she said. "This city will come back."