I'm not even sure where to start. Freezing in Mandeville Friday evening because I didn't think to check the weather and it dropped to near freezing before the Krewe of Orpheus parade was over? That's one good starting point. (I've got a few photos from the Orpheus parade, but not many.) The parades were excellent, but then again I'm used to our Mardi Gras parades here--all two of 'em. The kid's parade is early in the day so the little ones don't get exposed to public drinking, nudity or so forth, then there's one later in the afternoon. Here, each Krewe has a single float, and all the local bands get involved, and some of the enthusiastic locals on bikes and custom cars and so forth. Beads are thrown and jostled for, crowds yell, people drink and cook, and specialty throws like cups and footballs are reasons to draw blood over. And of course, everyone knows to laissez le bon temps roule' as the saying goes.
Me, I've enjoyed those parades for a few years now. I'm always pulled between, as someone aptly put it in the comments of a prior post, the attraction and the repellant nature of crowds. I dislike crowds because I tend to dislike strangers milling around me, each intent on their own agenda, but the herd-instinct part of me is drawn to it, plus I like catching beads and cups over shorter people's heads. Heh! So naturally I got used to standing in the 'a few people deep' crowds on the streets, doing what I like best--cheering each Krewe's name as their float passes, hoping to attract a rider's attention long enough to have him or her throw me a particularly choice item: beads in that Krewe's colours or a cup with their logo.
Well, naturally it's done differently in NOLA. Bigger. Bolder. In NOLA each Krewe has their own parade, sometimes many different ones in different cities and times. Reading a newspaper insert showed days and days worth of parades, sometimes eight and ten a day starting mid-day and running into the night, scattered all over town. Even the smallest parades included twenty or thirty floats with over a thousand riders, then you'd work up to the super Krewes, whose parades last four to five hours and host crowds that are easily twenty people deep on all sides and have grand masters like Kid Rock and Val "I Was The Lamest Batman Ever" Kilmer. This is what kept me from going into NOLA anywhere near Mardi Gras season, the idea that they were ALL like that.
I was wrong, however, and glad to be so. Both parades were attended by what seemed to be even fewer parade goers than our little town's get-up, and the routes seemed longer, which made my natural crowd-a-phobia much easier to conquer. There was no jostling, no crowding, people were one or two deep at worst on the streets, and many were simply there to eat and watch the crowds. We found a good spot for the fortieth anniversary of the Krewe of Tucks ("The Mother of All Parades") who are known for their quantity and variety of throws and I started snapping photos*.
There's a ton to talk about. The enterprising folks who bought clever seats nailed to ladders so they could set their toddlers high up over the heads of the crowds, making them excellent targets for tossed beads. The group of Star Wars afficionadoes, the 501st Legion who wore professional-level costumes.
The trees full of strings of beads, and the beautiful wrought-iron fences of all those old Victorian painted ladies, each festooned with the purple, green and gold. The sense of age, the sense of place. Post-Katrina New Orleans is different from the "dirty old whore" New Orleans that I used to know. There's a new feeling, a new pride, a feeling of ownership and a desire to be better than they used to be that seems to radiate from every store front and bistro.
How about the people? Everywhere there was the people. The tourists and the locals, the lady who had dyed her white dog the traditional colours. The folks dressed up as if for masquerade, the happy drunks (three times I was asked if I was Jamie Hyneman from the Mythbusters.) The riders on the floats and the folks who walked in the parade, eager to show off, to smile and pose for a photographer. The people lining the streets, each showing off the colours in some personal way.
The best moment for me, however, was noticing an older gentleman beside me, wearing a purple LSU jacket. While I was lunging here and there for photos and grabbing for beads and cups and so forth he was calmly standing there, clapping and smiling, dancing to the bands, and when beads would come his way he'd reach up and grab them until he had a smallish handful. When a lull came, a pause in the parade or a band stopped to perform he'd walk up and down the line beside the street we were on, passing out his caught throws to the little kids, putting a necklace on a little boy here, handing a frisbee or a stuffed animal to a little girl there.
It really got me. Oh, I know he's probably a native of N'awlins and been to more parades than a dog has fleas. I know he's probably caught more beads than anyone could ever keep, much less count, and as such has no need of that sort of silliness. Regardless, his calm demeanour and the way he'd almost reverently slip a necklace of purple and gold around a little girl's neck or hand some stranger's child a plush green and gold fish made me smile all the way down, much farther than the antics of the happy drunk fools on the floats, happier by far than my own haul of beads and froofraw.*
I even got his photo.
Yeah, it made me feel awfully good, seeing that gentle kindness happening right there beside me. Don't ask me to give up my bags of beads, though, and don't even trouble yourself to ask for my prized Krewe of Tucks stuffed Friar Tuck, with his foaming mug of beer and his toilet plunger. I'm not THAT touched.
* The photo set for Krewe of Tucks can be found here. Caution--large set. There's 110 photos in there (just the first batch,) so be ready with some time. Also, even though this was a family friendly daytime parade some of the photos aren't really work or family-friendly, hence the "Moderate" rating I assigned them. No nudity (drat!) just some racy stuff that you might not want to let your smaller kids see. Just try explaining to a ten year old why that man is dressed as a monk wearing giant fake comedy breasts. Better yet, try to explain why you're looking at that cat lady to your boss. Go on, I dare you.