The Complexity of Mardi Gras

Golden woman.

Mardi Gras.

What it is. What it isn’t.

This post is driven by a couple of comments I read on Facebook. It seems that a small city in Indiana might not be able to have Mardi Gras because a bar closed.


Is that what you think of Mardi Gras? Sure, we have big parades. The krewes toss beads and other stuff. You know, “Trow me sumptin’ mistah.” There is plenty of boozing and a little debauchery, usually on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. But, that’s not all.

At the heart of it, Mardi Gras season — Carnival — starts on the Twelfth Night after Christmas when the wise men journey to Bethlehem to bring the baby Jesus gifts. It lasts until midnight Mardi Gras Day when the police clear out the remaining revelers.  Night turns into day. And, it’s Ash Wednesday. The beginning of Lent.

In other words, it’s a religious holiday. Imagine that.

It’s also a time when we locals celebrate quietly. It’s more-or-less like Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled into one. We visit with friends and family. We gather around meals. We bring little gifts. The more blue blood among us go to fancy balls and events that are by invitation only. The big krewes, like Muses, have balls, lunches and other events for their members and guests. It’s an honor to be invited.

For our part, we host a brunch on the Sunday before Mardi Gras Day. Our friends and family mingle, eat, have a drink or two. If they want, they can walk up a couple blocks and see the parades on St. Charles Avenue. We are also lucky enough to be invited to two balls. We aren’t blue bloods. Imagine me in evening wear with a little mask. That’s what I do. That’s what they do.

There is a lot of symbolism. Mardi Gras Day is the day when the Indians reveal their new suits for the first time. For some, a year’s worth of work comes down to this one day. For others, they’ll show their new suits throughout the year. It’s a day when Zulu leads the parades. They mask in blackface. It harkens back to a time when they couldn’t afford masking materials. The  so-called Take It Down movement wants them to stop. The Zulus just laughed and started dancing. As far as I’m concerned, the Zulus can do whatever they want. They are the soul of Mardi Gras. Maybe of the entire city.

The million or so tourists who flood our streets, drink way too much, and fight for beads and other “throws” don’t know any of this. It’s all a giant party to them. One day of being stupid. Some try to arrive on the day, itself. With blocked streets, heavy traffic and the parades they are lucky to get anywhere near in time for… what?

I’m not attacking the partiers. Sheesh. We need the money. I’m explaining what those Mardi Gras partiers in other cities don’t understand.

When I was exiled to the desert after Hurricane Katrina, I went to Mardi Gras in Old Town Albuquerque. Make no mistake, Christmas there is breathtaking. The onset of fall is wonderful. But, Mardi Gras? Not so much. It made my very sad. I think we went during our first year there. It was on a Saturday. Sheesh. Whatever happened to Fat Tuesday? I was so homesick that we flew back to New Orleans for a cobbled together Mardi Gras, because 80% of the city was still broken. It’s when I saw Zulu warriors — the real ones from Africa — walking in place of our Zulus because most of them couldn’t get home. If they could, they had no home to come back to.

That’s what Mardi Gras means.

The picture. This is the one I planned for yesterday. I intentionally made it contrasty. WordPress “helped me” by tuning it down. She walked by me while I was sitting on a wall getting ready for the next parade. I couldn’t catch up with her. That is, until we both walked into the local grocery store for lunch. I asked if I could photograph her. Even though anybody masking is fair game, it was our lunch break. Heh! I made some smiling portraits and I made this one. I like it best. My agencies will like the smiling pictures. They are trying to make money for us. Besides, you can see me working in the reflection in her sunglasses. Nice shorts, huh?


Leave a Comment

  1. Good afternoon Ray. Our local rodeo traditions have, passed. The kids get out for Rodeo break last Thursday and Friday of February. I myself always loved our local holiday because I was always out of school on my birthday. Today is my 48th. So I love when e n you talk about Celebrating and traditions, it is also that time of the year us Tucsonans. So, have a coffee in celebration of my birthday. Made,it another year!

    Liz Carter

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I love the photo and noticed your image…it’s really cool that it shows the roles of two Mardi Gras “workers” (for lack of a better word).

    I absolutely love NOLA (as I think you’ve figured out) but have never been to Mardi Gras, because I don’t want the tourists’ behavior to ruin the way I look at the city. It is great to hear the inside scoop, and I think that post would be a good op-ed in a local paper. In fact, it’s a good op-ed right where it is.

    Have a great time at your brunch on Sunday. What do you traditionally serve? I’d love to see photos of the food. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you. I don’t think it would be a good op ed because who am I writing to? The people who live here already know this stuff and the tourists who come for Mardi Gras don’t really care.

      You should come. There are places, like Uptown – further upriver than us — where the parades are family-like and friendly. That’s where I typically make all these pictures. Except it’s been raining most of the week and I don’t want to work in the rain especially since I tend to fall down. 🙂 I started to leave a few minutes ago and I got wet just walking through the garage and out to the driveway. I’m going to have to work very hard the next four days.

      Our brunch? Three tuna fish sandwiches that 30 people fight over. Heh.

      Seriously, there is no tradition. But, since we are travelling so much this year, we decided to put on the dog. We also brought in a ringer from the coast to help cook. My sister, Annie.

      Here goes.

      Redfish Courtbullion, Oysters Rockefeller, Grillades and Grits. Shrimp and Cheesy Grits. Eggs Sardou, Crawfish Etoufee, Crawfish Monica, Red Beans & Rice, with Andouille on the side so it can be used with the red beans and with eggs. Homemade Potato Salad — some folks who like soul food put it in their red beans, a couple of salads, four Po’ Boys that are cut into about two inch wide pieces so that they are finger food. Same with Muffalatas, NJ’s Fried Chicken (mom’s version with Memphis style that has some heat), Bread Pudding, Drop Biscuits. About ten or so King Cakes that our guests bring.

      Ready to eat now?


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