Let the Good Times Roll
Mardi Gras would be heaven without the multitudes of half-lit party-goers, but it would also not be Mardi Gras, so those of the “laissez les bons temps roulez” mentality should make a beeline for America’s biggest, funnest, and most show-stopping party.
Months of intense preparation go into the creation of elaborate two- and three-story floats and costumes to match, crescendoing to a funky marching-band beat during the twelve-day lead-up to Mardi Gras itself. (Mardi Gras, which means “Fat Tuesday,” is the day before Ash Wednesday, which ushers in the forty days of the Catholic Lenten period, leading up to Easter.)
This is New Orleans’s exuberant feast before the famine, a dizzy intertwining of its centuries-old Caribbean and European cultural roots, as much a commercial show to reap tourism dollars as a revered local tradition around which otherwise conservative New Orleanians orchestrate their year. This is their party, but the world is invited.
If you’re willing to get out there early, you may be able to stake out a spot along the parade routes of St. Charles Avenue and Canal Street, amid a sea of carnivalistas chanting “Throw me something, mister!” – the festival mantra, which every New Orleanian learns at Mama’s knee.
Uncounted tons of “throws” – plastic doubloons, trinkets, and ticky-tack beaded necklaces – are tossed by float-borne revelers in the fifty-some parades that begin in earnest two weeks prior to Fat Tuesday; the biggest and best – featuring the famous floats – take place day and night beginning the previous Thursday.