Monday, February 4, 2008

Happy Mardi Gras Y'all

One thing about D.C.- we don't do much about Mardi Gras here-but that's as good an excuse as any to get out of town which I usually do, but this year I'll have to let memory carry me on this one.
There are a lot of misconceptions about Mardi Gras and a lot of them have to do with beads and breasts, but I'm here to tell you that's just not right.

Waking up on Mardi Gras Day in New Orleans feels just like Christmas morning. Everybody's all excited and wound up, and you never know what you're gonna get. You don't even know who you are going to be-you could dress up like a bird or a cowboy- wear a mask or not. There are no rules. It's the culmination of at least a month of parties and parades. The music on the radio is all about Mardi Gras as soon as you hit Lousiana, and it's a lot better than Christmas carols. King cakes appear- a sort of coffee cake confection buried in sugar the colors of Mardi Gras- purple, gold and green, with a tiny toy baby hidden inside for someone to find. We eat the leftovers for breakfast, and still the baby might not show up for two more days. Boudin, crawfish, red beans and rice and greens- it's all soul food- perhaps the most appropriate name ever come up with to describe nutrition.

The parades don't start; they roll. Get your spot on the neutral ground and prepare to fight for your position or just get lucky as the beads rain down- landing on your out stretched arm like so many horseshoes on a spike. The war stories come later-when and how you caught the best throw, or how a toy alligator was snatched from your kid by some frenzied woman the size of a linebacker, but then there's the guy beside you who saw the whole thing and quietly slipped his catch to your child.
The best throw of all comes from The Zulu parade- featuring the sometimes innocuous- sometimes amazing painted coconuts. But real coconuts, plastic coconuts- what ever they were giving, I was never able to get one.
Then one year I was sitting by the side of the road in the wake of Zulu- trash blowing around me-nothing left but memories and broken beads littering the street. Here comes a lone guy walking up the parade route on his way someplace else. I say Happy Mardi Gras to him, and
he returns the greeting as he passes, but then he turns and says: Where's your coconut then?
I shrug.
And suddenly out of thin air he holds out to me a plastic bag holding the best coconut I've ever seen-it's painted black and all dolled up with glitter hair, a bright red mouth and real plastic eyes outlined in white makeup.

That just made my day, and my Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras Day. The beautiful thing is you never know what you are going to get or what is going to happen-whether it's a coconut or a flower exchanged for a kiss, or seeing The Indians in full head dress, or a band weaving through the Quarter which stops right next to you playing that New Orleans jazz. New Orleans does its best to keep on rolling even through the on going aftermath of Katrina. My hat goes off to that town. Don't ever let it go.

Everywhere else it's just Tuesday.

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