A Happy Mardi Gras

You should celebrate the end of a love affair as they celebrate death in New Orleans, with songs, laughter, dancing and a lot of wine. ~ Francoise Sagan

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is not just Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras is not a holiday, it’s a season. The first Mardi Gras parade happens a month before Fat Tuesday. Officially, Mardi Gras starts 12 days before Fat Tuesday, but in New Orleans, Mardi Gras (Carnival) starts with that first parade. The city embraces the season, hell it revels in the season. Work schedules change around parade days and on the final weekend, which starts on Thursday and ends on Fat Tuesday, the city is fully on holiday.

I did my first Mardi Gras around 15 years ago. I really didn’t know what to expect, but I’d been to New Orleans before and I really loved being there. There is absolutely something about that city that touches my soul. I have often said, New Orleans is the only city that from the first minute I set foot in it, felt like I have always been there, like it was home.

So I knew I would have a good time, like a lot of folks though, the images I had about Mardi Gras were the drunken debauchery that is Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras. Imagine a mile long drunken frat party that is hosting an episode of Girls Gone Wild. That is Bourbon Street on the last weekend of Mardi Gras, but that is NOT Mardi Gras. The central part of Mardi Gras are the parades. As a kid I hated parades. In my hometown a parade meant a couple of poorly designed floats, a couple of mediocre marching bands, cop cars, fire trucks and clumsy cub scouts and old dudes in uniforms. The only thing I ever found exciting was the time they actually had a tank in the parade and the cleats tore up main street.

So I wasn’t all that excited about Mardi Gras parades but I figured I’d give them a chance. So for my first parade I found my way up Charles Street on the parade route looking for a place to watch. The first surprise was that the route was full of families, they had ladders for the kids to sit on and people were picnicking before the parade. It became immediately obvious, this was not going to be like the frat party on Bourbon Street. The second thing that became obvious was that people were super happy, they were social and friendly and it was easy to meet people.

The parades themselves were amazing, incredible floats including some that were very political and funny. The marching bands were incredibly skilled, there were dance crews, riders on horse, walkers carrying torches. The parades were huge and went on for hours. Then there were the throws, as most people know, the riders throw beads, stuffed animals, toys, signature throws that are unique to each crew and often hand crafted. They also throw doubloons, fake metal coins stamped for each krewe, I love these. I have collected a doubloon at every parade I’ve ever attended. I give away almost everything I collect either to kids at the parades, cute women, and I mail a bunch back to my nieces and nephews. The only things I keep are signature throws, the occasional quirky or interesting throw and of course the doubloons.

This year, in addition to the doubloons, I caught three grail from the Krewe of King Arthur (their signature throw) and a really nice winter hat emblazoned with the krewe’s name on it. And I usually keep a couple of strings of the nicest beads.

My last Mardi Gras was 2020, yup, right at the beginning of the pandemic. Returning home the first headline that I saw was Mardi Gras – Super Spreader Event! Fortunately, I didn’t get COVID somehow, although I had a small cold. Which of course led to my staff joking I was patient zero for COVID in California.

As I’ve written about before, I went into a bit of what they’ve termed languishing, during COVID. I wasn’t depressed, I was functioning at work, working out but I was really void of motivation. A book project didn’t get finished, my writing dropped off significantly. And while socializing wasn’t a good idea for health reasons, and I’m a bit antisocial to start with, I definitely withdrew a bit more than usual. Of course, my joy is travel and that was pretty solidly curtailed as well. I found myself spending a lot of time just watching TV after work and exercise.

The last couple of months I’ve turned the corner, started writing a bit more, and then the message popped in. It was my buddy Rich, it was a simple message, Mardi Gras 2023? I immediately said yes. It felt like this trip was a fitting end to the COVID period and my languishing. Now, don’t jump all over me, I’m a trained biologist and I know the pandemic is not over. I’m still very careful and masking actually far more than most people. But there’s a shift for me as COVID and COVID protocols have just become part of life, and I’ve adapted to that new way of life.

So this trip to Mardi Gras was going to be significant for that reason if nothing else. But this was the best trip I’ve ever had to Mardi Gras. First, it was a great balance of time in town with a good friend as well as a few days on my own. This was my first time attending the next to last weekend of Mardi Gras and it was wonderful. All of the things you want from a Mardi Gras weekend but the crowds were much smaller and I got to see parades I’ve never seen before. Rich and I met some great people at the parades, we hung out with some great folks from Alabama, and as it always seems to happen, met some New Yorkers.

The trip started with an error on my part. I thought I had booked the last place I stayed. I got to the hotel and everything was different. At first I thought they’d done a big remodel but it didn’t make sense. I was happy when I got to my room because it was huge and well furnished. When I first left the hotel it immediately hit me. I had booked the Hotel St. James, but in fact I had meant to book the Eliza Jane, also nice, but in fact the rooms at the Hotel St. James were nicer.

The one downside to this trip, it was really cold for Lousiana, in the 40’s one night at the parade, low 50’s during the day. We did a swamp tour which was great, our captain Zander was a hoot. But it was too cold for alligators to be out and about, and of course they are usually the stars of the tours.

The one thing of course that never lets you down in New Orleans is the food. I’ll be doing a post later this week just on my food and other recommendations for New Orleans but I want to mention two places. The first is Cochon, my favorite restaurant in New Orleans. This time I got my favorite dish there, the rabbit and dumplings and it was and always is absolutely transcendentally good.

The second restaurant was one that had been on my list for some time, but I had not made it to, and that was Coteri. Coincidentally it was recommended to me twice while in the city on this trip. I made it the day before I left and ate there three times before leaving, they have the best gumbo I’ve ever had. I also added another to do off of my list, a Sazerac at The Old Absinthe House. It’s become a tourist trap in the French Quarter but how often can you drink an Absinthe drink in a nearly 200 year-old pirate bar. One other restaurant that has always intrigued me is the Ruby Slipper. I stay near there and walk by it every morning, and every morning it’s packed with a huge line out of front. On my last morning I finally got there early and in without a line. I had a plate of very good biscuits and gravy, I’m not sure it was wait 30 minutes to get in good, but it was very good and from what I saw on other plates, the food is very well done.

When I woke the last morning, I got an email upgrading me to first class for my first flight home a really great way to wrap up the trip. Below are some pictures from the trip, enjoy. ~ Rev Kane

About Michael Kane

Michael Kane is a writer, photographer, educator, speaker, adventurer and a general sampler of life. His books on hiking and poetry are available in soft cover and Kindle on Amazon.
This entry was posted in Happiness is Adventure, Happy Travel Stories, personal happiness and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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