I am happy to report that I’ve perfected my “Sunday before the Sunday before Mardi Gras” routine. This year there’s one extra Sunday thrown in because the parades were moved around so as not to interfere with the Superbowl, but that’s another story entirely.
I spend the morning at home – today including time in the grass with the cats – it was such a beautiful, sunny, warm morning! Then sometime around 12:45 or so, I hop on my bicycle and mosey the eight blocks over to the parade route on Napoleon Avenue. I start way down by Magazine Street, where the second parade of the day is still lined up waiting to roll. I walk by riders not yet on their floats, hanging out with their friends, grabbing a drink at the corner bar, and just generally relaxing, comfortable in their outlandish headgear and one size-fits-all satin costume tops.
Then I continue along the parade route, riding my bicycle ultra-slowly, weaving along in between the hundreds of football-tossing youngsters, vendors, dancing toddlers, bubble machines, spectators, and police officers. I stop to visit with friends I see along the way who are relaxing while they wait for the second parade to start. St. Charles Avenue is a six mile long block party and cookout. People not from here don’t have a sense of just how family-oriented Mardi Gras celebrations are! I understand why people born and raised here often don’t want to move away. I don’t know of anywhere else that celebrates like this for two weeks when most of the rest of the country is under a blanket of snow and ice.
Here’s 40 seconds of one little taste of one piece of one block.
When I get tired of dodging mini-footballs, snappers, and wandering children, I eventually peel away from the parade route, following it to the side a block or two. Now I drink in the beauty of the city on a sunny warm Sunday, with its Greek Revival columns and porches and the Japanese magnolias blooming everywhere.
I eventually make it to the French Quarter, lock up the bike, and walk to Barkus, the dog parade. The spectator dogs rival the participant dogs in cuteness and costumes, so there’s plenty to see even before the parade comes by. I sit on the steps of St. Louis Cathedral and drink in the scene – the fortune tellers, the artists, the musicians, and the dogs – all the dogs! Big ones, little ones, ones in every conceivable costume – and all smiling like this is the best day they ever had!
Before the dog parade ends (it lasts for hours, it seems) I wander to the Rouse’s grocery story on Royal Street, pick out a sandwich (this time chicken salad on an onion roll) a drink (SOBE citrus – glorified sugar water) and a treat (Crackerjack – I must have been craving some sweetness!) and then stroll to Jackson Square, snapping a dog photo here and there as I go, eventually settling in to a spot in the sun on the long curve of benches, while flocks of pigeons wheel overhead.
As the afternoon shadows get a little longer and the sun sinks lower, I find my way back to my bike, my pockets lined with a few dollar bills I can drop in the buskers’ hats and baskets when I pause to listen and take their pictures.
All day long I remember to breathe. Breathe in the smells of magnolias, crawfish boils, Lucky Dogs and sweet olives. And look. Look up at the French Quarter porches festooned with purple, green and gold. Look around at the sea of people – so many laughing, happy, smiling faces! And listen. To the horns on the riverboat, to the “whuuump” of the sousaphones in the brass bands, to the clip-clop of a mule leading a carriage of tourists through the streets. I try to soak it up. And usually (always) it’s too much to absorb all at once. I feel like I can’t possibly take it all in. I choose a snippet here, and a snippet there, my heart full of sensation.
Then I take my time riding home, past the now empty floats on Convention Center Boulevard, back into the neighborhoods lined with stately live oaks, back to iron fences dripping with beads, and right into the Grand Finale.
Three blocks from the house, I run into the Lyons Club, one of the very old walking clubs, out for their practice march. I catch them just as they reach the neighboring watering hole where they take a break to refresh their drinks. They’re in dresses, or dressed like Elvis, or like unmentionable male parts that come in pairs. The womens’ group, The Organ Grinders, are there too – just one of so many womens’ parading dancing troupes that include the Pussyfooters, the Camel Toe Steppers, the Bearded Oysters, the Cherry Bombs… yes you are noticing something about their names! Everyone’s in great spirits. And the sun is close to setting.
And in minutes I’m back to my sweet little grassy yard, with two cats and a husband who’s been gardening all day, and life is perfect.