Up on Ladders

After a couple of days watching Mardi Gras royalty and street revelers parade past my condo overlooking St. Charles Avenue, I’m ready to step into the bead-strewn streets myself. It feels like a daring move, even though I once was a Mardi Gras queen competing for beads by day, thrilled to be in the thick of it. I agree to meet one of my daughters and her family a mile up The Avenue.

When Saturday meeting day comes, I walk along the streetcar tracks, weaving through the street revelers, a family troupe dressed as spotted Dalmatians on one side, a bevy of girls in rainbow tutus on the other, and Miss Piggy dancing with a fleecy alligator just ahead. I thread through folding chairs, ladders rigged with kids’ seats, coolers, tent canopies, and littered beer cans, through the smell of beer, grilled hot dogs, corn on the cob, and cotton candy.

Being on the street is a world apart from watching the crowds pass by from my condo. Down here I catch the street revelers’ party spirit much more easily. It seems as if everyone around me is feeling the radiance of this bright sunny day—with or without beer. (Beer is synonymous with New Orleans party time—something it’s taken me years to come to terms with.) The street is dotted with bright shiny beads, mostly purple, gold, and green, the official carnival colors.

Kids and grownups stretch out their arms to the maskers on the float, calling “Throw me something, Mistuh,” the street revelers’ mantra. Fascinated and curious, almost as if I’m experiencing this familiar Mardi Gras tradition for the first time, I make my way slowly through the crowd. I’m sweating by the time I reach my daughter and her family and friends under an open tent complete with water, beer, coke, wines, sandwiches, red beans and rice—my favorite, a dish I make whether I’m living in Seattle or New Orleans!

After a helping of red beans and some socializing I’m on my way home, back down St Charles Avenue, maneuvering through noisy groups having their own parties in the middle of The Avenue. The street’s alive with color—so intense it’s almost overwhelming. Everyone’s wearing purple, gold, and green shirts, skirts, tights, hats, flowers. In the street revelers’ spirit!

By the time I make it home, I’m wearied by so much excitement and joy. I  throw myself onto the sofa to recover, but five minutes later I hear the St. Augustine Band passing by, one of my favorite Mardi Gras bands from the 1980s and 90s. I bounce up to peer down at them. They play really loud! Even up here, I can feel the tubas, trombones, trumpets, flutes, cymbals, and drums vibrating in my ears, my bones!

After they pass, I settle down for a nap, only to be wakened by the sound of more drums. The Druids are approaching! It’s dark now, but I can make out men and a few women dressed as ancient characters, including a Druid queen. This is new for me! In all my years of participating in and watching krewes, I’ve never seen the Mystic Krewe of the Druids. What other new experiences are on the way for me?

Stay tuned for the women’s krewes! The Women’s Movement of the 1960s and 1970s has left its mark on Mardi Gras.