This week, I’m heading to New Orleans where I’ll ride in the Krewe of Muses 2011 parade on Thursday night. It’s a family affair, as my sister will be on the float with me and my parents are driving in from Florida to watch the spectacle.
Some people scoff when I tell them that Mardi Gras is a family affair. Beads, beer and boobs – that’s how most people categorize New Orleans. Some people say they’d never go to a Mardi Gras, as they imagine it to be nothing but Jersey Shore style antics. And in the heart of Bourbon Street, that may be true.
But what people don’t understand is that Mardi Gras goes way beyond getting drunk and getting naked. For New Orleanians, Mardi Gras is an organic celebration that has nothing to do with frat boys getting their drunk on. It’s a seasonal holiday, part of the rhythm of the city, that would go on even if all the out-of-towners stayed home.
The Uptown parades are family friendly affairs, where children sit on ladders so they can retrieve the best beads (as a rider, I have to admit that I’m susceptible to a tiny hand reaching out for a throw).
Some of my friends who grew up in New Orleans cite the lights and excitement of night Mardi Gras parades as their first memories. If I was a parent, I wouldn’t hesitate to bring my child to an Uptown parade, as long as you stayed close to Napoleon Ave. and the beginning of the parade route.
For those who live there, Mardi Gras is a time full of crawfish boils and parade parties and catching up with family members who come back to soak it all in. And you gotta mask on Mardi Gras Day. People spend weeks, if not months, plotting the perfect costume – and on Fat Tuesday, the French Quarter belongs to New Orleanians who wander through the less traveled alleys meeting up with friends and admiring each others’ outfits.
My parents, who suffered through a chilly Krewe du Vieux (my first parade) back in the mid-1990s, fit right in to this laissez les bon temps roule atmosphere. They’ve always loved New Orleans, especially the food, and fondly remember their visits during my seven years down there. Age is a state of mind in NOLA, and spotting an septuagenarian at a brass band concert is a regular occurrence.