Mardi Gras Costumes


I just returned from an amazing five day trip to see my sister in New Orleans, during which I became immersed in the unique culture of the Crescent City, tasted some delicious cuisine, and learned about Mardi Gras Krewes while watching parades and sporting fabulous costumes.  I found New Orleans to be a city that is easy to fall in love with –a city of quirky individuality, yet at the same time one with a strong sense of community.  New Orleanians are proud of their culture and supportive of one another, despite the many obstacles the city has faced and still continues to face daily.  

  
During Carnival, people of all backgrounds in New Orleans wear costumes of every type imaginable, while still upholding their true sense of self, tradition, and community.  Costumes are funny things…and during Carnival, anything goes.  Creating and wearing a costume allows us to become whatever makes us happy.  Costumes give us the opportunity to not necessarily become someone else, but to become the best version of ourselves.


I arrived in New Orleans on Wednesday night.  After seeing my sister’s adorable house in the Bywater neighborhood, we had dinner at a charming little French restaurant, Patois, where we kicked off the extended weekend with King Cake Martinis.  Is there anything more delicious on Earth?  (No baby Jesus inside, but they did have sprinkles!)


Thursday started off with breakfast at my namesake, Elizabeth’s, where I discovered the deliciousness that is Praline Bacon.  After a quick bike ride to the French market (where we purchased my first ever King Cake), we participate in Jivamukti yoga at Swan River Yoga in the Marigny.  What a wonderful way to become centered and at peace before a weekend of craziness.  The studio was small, but I think it nurtured a sense of camaraderie among the dozen or so participants, and the instructor did a beautiful job of tying together our yoga experience with Mardi Gras festivities and costumes.

One item on my NOLA bucket list was to see the Lower Ninth Ward, the neighborhood hardest hit by Katrina.  We had time to drive around this neighborhood on Thursday afternoon.  I was difficult for me to picture what it would have looked like in the aftermath of Katrina, but there was really powerful sculpture that was created that depicts the level that most houses were raised compared to the actual water line of the hurricane (nearly over the roof).  Many houses are still abandoned since Katrina, and a lot of them still sport the symbols painted by the inspectors who came through months after Katrina, indicating the hazards present in the house and number of people found dead.  However, there have also been notable efforts to rebuild the neighborhood.  I saw a few of Brad Pitt’s energy-efficient, modern homes, elevated several feet above the level of past houses.  Additionally, numerous organizations including Habitat for Humanity have constructed new homes in the neighborhood.




After the sobering experience of seeing the Lower Ninth Ward, it was time to get ready for my first night of parades.  We donned fabulous costumes accessorized with feathers, beads, and glitter, then biked to St. Charles Avenue to watch three parades.  We set up camp with the mini Krewe my sister belongs to (Krewe of Mariah – Vote Mariah Carey in 2012) and watched Babylon, Chaos, and the fabulous all-female Krewe of Muses roll by.  I’ve never see such colossal and elaborate floats!  Each Krewe had a unique theme and thousands of throws for the parade viewers.  Muses featured shopping-themed floats, and their most popular throws were shoes (but only for the few who were lucky enough to catch one).  The after-parade party consisted of late-night pizza and drinks at Balcony Bar, after which I concluded that “Mardi Gras is exhausting!”  


We spent the day on Friday exploring the French Quarter and witnessing the constant party of Bourbon Street.  I couldn’t imagine living in such a wild neighborhood, but it sure was fun to participate in the excitement and catch a few souvenirs from partiers on the balconies.  While venturing through the French Quarter we saw a few walking parades, idiosyncratic entertainers, and – one of the highlights of my weekend – a live street band composed of a few local gutter punks and a brass band.  It was so much fun to spontaneously come across live music in the street, and completely embodies how I imagine classic New Orleans culture.  




After a trip to CafĂ© du Monde for beignets, a quick stop at the Mask Market (while sporting our own masks, of course) and dinner at the Crescent City Brew House, it was once again parade time!  We stood in front of Irish House restaurant on St. Charles (an intelligent decision since they had public bathrooms, available for a “wee pee fee”) to watch Hermes, d’Etat, and Morpheus roll by.  It was another spectacular evening with intricately-decorated floats and fabulous throws.  Following the parades, we attended a free concert by The Revitalists and Rebirth Brass Band, the latter of whom just won the Grammy for Best Regional Roots Music Album!  The concert was awesome, though I was exhausted again when we arrived home after all this excitement.


Saturday revolved around nursing some hangovers, which included finding somewhere to eat brunch.  It turns out brunch is a popular meal around noontime on the Saturday before Mardi Gras, so after much frustration and driving around to various restaurants that had three-hour-long waiting lists, we decided on Fat Hen.  We waited 90 minutes for a table, and another 30 minutes for food, but it was worth it because the food was incredible.  Satsuma juice changed my life.  Or at least my brunch.  Plus, thanks to liberal laws, we were able to enjoy some mimosas in plastic cups outside the restaurant while we waited, along with another helping of King Cake.  After a fabulous meal (I completely devoured my gigantic waffle), time to costume up for more parades!


 P.S.  You’re probably wondering at this point, what is King Cake?  In short, it’s a delectable dessert that comes in a variety of flavors and is offered only during Carnival time, and only in New Orleans as far as I know.  Inside the cake is one small, plastic baby Jesus (previously made of glass or gold).  That’s right, Jesus in the cake.  Traditionally, the person who gets the piece with Jesus inside has to host the next King Cake party!



Pouring rain and flash floods don’t stop New Orleanians who have their hearts set on a midcity parade!  And they don’t stop Krewe of Endymion either, a super krewe with nearly 30 massive floats and celebrity guests, including Maroon 5 this year.  Endymion had a fairy tale theme and the floats were amazing!  I was proud to catch several medallions, a Saints T-shirt, and a pink feather boa.  We continued the party after the parade at my sister’s favorite bar, Finn McCool’s, where we enjoyed iced Irish coffee, fried Mac and Cheese balls (!!!!), and Karaoke of the finest quality.  It was a perfect last night in NOLA.


Every vacation should end with a day of rest.  Our lazy Sunday started off with drinking coffee and reading the newspaper on the front porch, enjoying a fairly sunny and comfortable morning.  We joined some friends for brunch at Satsuma, which was almost as delicious as Fat Hen, then explored the newly re-opened Louis Armstrong Park in the Treme neighborhood.  The park was gorgeous with a small stream running through it and several sculptures of jazz musicians and the famous Mardi Gras Indian Chief, Tootie Montana.  The park preserves the location of Congo Square, a traditional meeting place for slaves and a monumental location in jazz history.  While we were there, a group of teenagers performed a traditional African song and dance in Congo Square.  The music was so beautiful and I could imagine groups of people celebrating in a similar way on some Sunday afternoon hundreds of years ago.



I had such a wonderful experience in New Orleans – filled with Mardi Gras festivities, delicious food, and amazing people – that it was difficult to pack up and head to the airport.  The people of New Orleans love their city more than any other city in the world, and I can understand why.  This community has encountered endless obstacles that could have destroyed any other city, but NOLA has persevered.  I look forward to visiting again.  Until then, wear whatever costume makes you happy!

Comments

  1. Betsy,
    What a great summary of your time in New Orleans! You captured the essence of what I feel about the residents when I've visited. Nice job!

    ReplyDelete

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