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mardi gras

February 12, 2005 Leave a comment Go to comments

A few years ago, our friends Chris and Jen took Mark and Deb to New Orleans for Mardi Gras, to the timeshare that Jen’s family has in the heart of the French Quarter. They all came back with stories about how much fun they’d had that we made Chris and Jen promise to take us the next time it was their turn to use the family timeshare. So Saturday February 5 2005 found the four of us flying into New Orleans.

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We were in New Orleans for a whole week, so we got to see the (barely contained) chaos that is Mardi Gras in the French Quarter, which ended Tuesday at midnight, and then stay through the rest of the week to see the historic districts of the city at a much more relaxed pace :-)

(Almost all of these pictures in were taken by Chris with his new digital camera – thanks Chris!)

Parades

Although technically Mardi Gras itself (“Fat Tuesday” in French, the last day before the start of Lenten fasts) is only one day, in New Orleans the celebration actually starts in January. The whole week before Fat Tuesday is full of parades. From Saturday through Tuesday there are 3 or 4 large parades each day, with each parade lasting several hours.

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Each parade is run by a “Krewe”, an organization that puts on their own themed parade each year such as the “Krewe of Thoth” and the “Krewe of Bacchus” and their is some rivalry between the Krewes to put on the biggest and most spectacular parade. So of course there are bands and drill units and floats, but each parade will have 30 or more huge floats, with bands or drill units between each one. I wouldn’t be surprised if every high school and college marching band in Louisiana is in some parade. And we saw bands from as far away as Chicago too!

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All Mardi Gras floats have one thing in common: each is manned by maybe a dozen people in masks and costumes, throwing beaded necklaces to the crowd. I read that each year something like two billion beads are thrown out! Apparently, the goal for parade watchers is to collect as many beads as possible. If you really want to collect a lot of beads, it helps to wave wildly at the float riders and yell out the signature Mardi Gras parade shout, “Throw me somethin’ Mister!” :-) The waving hand below is Nancy’s.

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It also doesn’t hurt to be a beautiful woman who doesn’t yet have a lot of beads :-) so Nancy and Jen were up front catching beads, and then after each float put most of the beads around my neck. (Did I mention that Chris and Jen had been to Mardi Gras before?) We had to go back to the hotel at the end of each parade so I could unload and stop looking like a Mr. T wannabe.

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Once the whole extra suitcase that Chris and Jen had brought was completely full of beads (did I mention that they had been to Mardi Gras before?) we were able to just watch the parades for the fun of it. :-) We did have to search a bit to find a spot that was safe from thrown beads though.

The Krewe of Bacchus put on the final parade, on Tuesday night.

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The celebrity kings for this year’s Bacchus parade were Sean Astin and Elijah Wood (Sam and Frodo from the Lord of the Rings movies). The lighted floats of the night parades were my favorite.

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Bourbon Street

While the parades of Mardi Gras are billed as “family friendly”, Bourbon Street in the French Quarter is just for college kids and wild partiers. :-) For the week before Fat Tuesday, the area is a 24-hour-a-day party.

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Then at midnight Tuesday night / Wednesday morning, the party comes to an end as the very last “parade” of Mardi Gras begins, with mounted police leading the “Krewe of Sanitation” in clearing and cleaning the by-then incredibly trashed streets.

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Another great tradition of Mardi Gras are all the creative costumes you’ll see people wearing, from historical period outfits

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a whole family dressed as pink elephants

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the alien singer from the movie The Fifth Element

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to many that I have no idea what they were supposed to be :-)

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even two men in a bathtub

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and a guy in chainmail armor made entirely of Mardi Gras parade beads!

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French Quarter

Once the Mardi Gras parades and Bourbon Street parties are over, the pace in New Orleans slows down. We were lucky to be able to stay the rest of the week to enjoy the historic French Quarter.

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We spent several days strolling around the Quarter, shopping, visiting museums, taking walking tours, and stuffing ourselves on Cajun food – red beans and rice with andouille sausage was my favorite. :-)

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One museum we visited is called “The 1850 House”, a townhouse unit in the Pontalba apartments right on Jackson Square near the river. The townhouse was first inhabited in 1851:

“The first family to rent the 1850 House was the Soria family. Isaac and Hetty Soria lived in the house with their grown children Augustus and Eugenia. Like many Pontalba residents, the Sorias were merchants to who came to New Orleans from elsewhere (in this case New York) to take advantage of the vast economic opportunities here in the mid-nineteenth century. Like the majority of the Pontalba residents, the Sorias were slave owners, their slaves numbering between five and eight.”

The ornate family rooms contrast with the bare and functional working and servants’ rooms.

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We also took a walk along the Mississippi riverfront, where we saw the working tugboats that move barges up and down the river, as well as the touristy paddle-wheel riverboats.

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Here is one of the few pictures of Chris, who took almost all of the pictures this trip with his brand new digital camera :-)

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Garden District

No visit to New Orleans is complete without a stroll around the beautiful Garden District, a short trolley ride away from the French Quarter.

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We started with a guided walking tour of one of the city’s historic cemeteries. Essentially built on a swamp, above-ground cemeteries have always been a necessity in New Orleans.

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But the biggest attractions in the Garden District are the wonderful old huge southern mansions, one of which is now the French Consulate. Rock stars, famous authors, and sports legends all call this neighborhood home, but for us from the Bay Area the prices are amazingly low. Our tour guide told us that Trent Reznor of Nine Inch Nails bought a mansion in the District for (can you believe it?) only $600K!

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We actually met one of the residents of the Garden District. Our tour guide said that this cute, friendly cat is known as a terrorizer of dogs, and all the neighborhood dogs run away whenever they see it coming!

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The weather in New Orleans was cool during our week there, with some days sunny and a few days of misty rain. Like we often do whenever we visit a new place, wesaid “We should live here!”, at least until we were reminded that it was early February – from April through October Louisiana is hot and very very muggy :-)

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