Thursday, February 28, 2008

Mardi Gras Parades in New Orleans

I owe you all an explanation. I have been so busy with work, life, and love, but I need to make time to share with you about my first Mardi Gras here in New Orleans and my experience as a New Orleans outsider who is has been welcomed to be an "insider." There are some crazy-cool facts about how Mardi Gras operates in the City of New Orleans.

Essentially, Mardi Gras is like a month-long, citywide party. There are many, many parties and large parades (30+ parades) in the City and its surroundings in the weeks and month leading up to Mardi Gras. The parades are a BIG deal and so much fun to go to, and it is hard because you'll want to go to all of them.

Each parade has a unique offering, be it highly coveted "throws" (such as feather boas, lacy panties, particularly beautiful beads, plush animals, blinking rave lights, toys, hats, shirts, and moon pies), elaborate costumes, awe-inspiring floats, or a celebrity parade leader. I'd say the most revered throw is the Zulu "coconut." (Zulu is New Orleans first black krewe, and has a very rich and historied past. Mayor Ray Nagin generally rides with the Zulu parade.) Doubloons (coins with the Krewe's insignia) are also popular catches.

Also, there are plenty of brass (high school bands), animals (horses and drunks), and men in uniform (military gentlemen and police officers) in each parade.

As for celebrity parade leaders, Hulk Hogan (the Hulkster) was the celeb for the Bacchus parade:

All of the parades are put on for free to the public by these exclusive and sometimes ultra-secret (very hush-hush) organizations which are called "krewes." Being in a krewe and krewe rider in a parade is a humongous deal in New Orleans. You pay sometimes in upwards $2,500+ just to ride in a parade and be a krewe member. And the float riders pay for all the stuff they throw you, and that can be expensive. But a krewe does not only involve putting on Mardi Gras parades, they also put on Mardi Gras balls, which is like "prom + homecoming for adults" and with free-flowing alcohol. Yes, it is that cool! But balls are very exclusive, and you won't get an invite unless you have the right connections.

Since the 1970s, Mardi Gras parade floats have grown to be bigger, more elaborate. See below at some of the images that I captured from the Bacchus parade:

Louisiana's Boys: LSU Football Players

America's Men: The U.S. Military

Sensational high school bands and cheerleaders

Floats lining up and readying for the parade:

There are some other traditions affiliated with Mardi Gras parades. Back in the earlier days of the Mardi Gras parades, the night parades would get especially dark. Men would follow the parade route and light the streets for the paradegoers with lamps and torches, so that the paradegoers could see the parade. As a token of the paradegoers' gratitude, they would throw money to the men so that they could pay for the fuel for their fire torches. That tradition has carried through to today, and thus, you throw the torch-lighting gentlemen some money (usually $1.00 or a pocketful of change, so bring some money).

Some more floats and NOPD officers managing the crowd:

But there is quite an aftermath. Usually, the city measures how successful Mardi Gras was by the amount of trash afterwards.

I hope you enjoyed this tiny sampling of festive Mardi "PARTY" Gras (or Fat "PHAT" Tuesday) pictures, and that you visit New Orleans soon!
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