When I was growing up, Mama would walk my sisters and me to the parade route only blocks away, and we would camp out all day, catching beads and trinkets from the floats. We caught so much stuff, it was almost like Christmas again.
Most of those crazies you see on the news are tourists who go down to Bourbon Street to partake of debauchery. For native New Orleanians, Mardi Gras is a family holiday – one to hang out in districts other than the French Quarter with loved ones. Streets are closed all day long, so you walk sometimes for miles just to see who you can see. Or you park your lawn chair in a good spot and picnic. You do this between parades – and there are at least four on Mardi Gras Day, starting with Zulu in the early morning and ending with the truck parades in the late afternoon.
I was a member of the Krewe of Selene for a few years. (A “krewe” is the name of the group who puts on the parade. Each parade krewe has its own name.) Parading is the official end of the season. Before the parade, there are meetings, “throw” purchases, picnics, and a formal ball. What y’all see on parade night is just the end of a long season of festivities behind the scenes.
What is a “throw,” you might wonder? It’s any old junk that we riders throw to the crowd. Selene is known as a “good” parade. By good parade, any spectator will tell you that this means that their riders don’t throw chintzy stuff. Their beads are long – longer than 33 inches. They throw stuffed animals and toy spears and dolls and glow sticks and doubloons. The year that my float’s theme was China, we even threw fortune cookies. When I was little, I used to feel sorry for people not from New Orleans – they didn’t have Mardi Gras and throws!
Being on a krewe is not cheap, but if you don’t want to spend money on throwing junk to strangers, you don’t join a krewe. Not a “good” one anyway. And by the way, the cost of a parade is strictly borne by the krewe – taxpayers do not bear this burden, and sponsors and advertising dollars are forbidden. That means that police presence, the cost of the floats, hiring bands, getting the Budweiser Clydesdales (another sign of a good parade) is paid for with membership dues. Mardi Gras has truly earned the nickname “the greatest free show on earth.” (Free to the spectators, anyway.)
For years, I would wake up the day after Selene and hop a plane to head out West for a relaxing week of skiing, sledding, and snowshoeing with Jillian. Even whizzing down a mountain made for a nice slow pace compared to the go-go-go of Mardi Gras.
But I’m not on a krewe anymore. That time has passed. I no longer board a plane to hit the slopes out West. I’m just not in the mood. I want to be where home is, and that happens to be in Central Louisiana now.
So, a Mardi Gras parade seemed like the thing to do this weekend, in spite of the cold. Though the Krewe of Janus is a small parade compared to the grandeur of South Louisiana parades, it was just the type of show that I needed to see.
Norm escorted me to Monroe yesterday afternoon to participate in this uniquely Louisiana tradition. My, it is good to be home. Good to make new memories.
Laissez les bons temps rouler!