Monday, March 3, 2014

Top 10 Things to Know About Mardi Gras

The Top 10 Things You Need to Know About Mardi Gras(From Someone Who Isn't From Around Here)*

*Who, by the way, consulted absolutely no one before she made this list and who, incidentally, is completely uninterested in any arguments or corrections. So, there's that.

Disclaimer: I've been here for two Carnival seasons and I'm not really an expert but that isn't stopping me from telling you all about it. Most of y'all aren't from NOLA either, so you don't know any better and I'll gladly impart my knowledge upon you!!

First of all, YES that is Daryl from the Walking Dead on a Mardi Gras float. Zombies, I hope you enjoyed your hey day, because Daryl was too busy tossing beads to kill you. Which brings me to item #10 on my list of things to know:

#10. Celebrities Freaking Love Mardi Gras

It's true. Mardi Gras is as star-studded an event as any awards show. Celebs are always parading as grand marshals or krewe royalty or what have you. This year they include:

  • Norman Reedus ("The Walking Dead")
  • Ian Somerhalder ("Vampire Diaries")
  • Carrie Underwood
  • Hugh Laurie ("House")
  • Will Smith
  • Quentin Tarantino
Whatever. You get it. It's a big deal.

#9. King Cake: It's What's for Dinner

There's no escaping King Cake during Mardi Gras. It's the only time the treat is (*or SHOULD BE) available, so it's literally everywhere. Every office at work, in every store, handed out by strangers in the street. You can try to fight it, but why? IT'S SO GOOD!

If you are what you eat, then for two months of the year I'm purple, green, and gold sugar with a little pastry and cinnamon on the side.

#8. Context Is Everything

For those of you outside of New Orleans this time of year, you probably hand over plastic beads to little kids playing dress up and think of cheap stuffed animals as bad carnival prizes. Don't fret-- we feel that way, too. UNLESS, of course, that cheap trinket is thrown from a float. Suddenly it becomes precious as gold. Context, I tell you, is EVERYTHING.

And the bigger the trinket? Cheap though it may be, there will be BLOOD. Seriously, I almost fought an old man for a medallion. A plastic necklace with a plastic disc attached. And if it lights up? Oh, buddy. I NEED IT. 

#7. It's Good to Be Adorable

Seriously, you want to know who gets all the good stuff? Kids. And, less common but just and popular, nuns and adorable old ladies. As an average parade goer, your only option is to seek out these adorable folks and try to poach their throws. 

What? Don't judge me. I have no shame. The old folks have had their day and kids gotta learn sometime that life is hard.

There is, however, one less seedy option for getting the goods...

#6. Witty People Will Out

The only hope for the average Joe to get some goodies is to sport a witty or outrageous costume or make a witty sign. I want to be clear, I didn't make it to Muses this year (*work) so illustrating cartoon LeeAnne in this bit is just a pipe dream because I am so epically jealous of the woman who made this sign and got not one, not two, but SIX shoes. 

It gets boring up there (or so I'm told-- I've only ridden in a dinky Mardi Gras parade around campus, so I have no idea) so anything that catches a rider's eye, challenges them, or makes them laugh is win-win for all.

#5. Nothing Is Weird Here

I also considered naming #5 "Read carefully" because yes, you read right. If you read this warning in the Midwest, you'd probably be quite alarmed. Not here. It's everyday language.

I've said before that anything goes in NOLA. That goes double for Mardi Gras. 

#4. Plan Ahead

You best plan ahead, y'all, because you ain't getting anything done on Mardi Gras day. Grocery shopping? Nope. Run some errands? No way. Grab a bite to eat? Forget it! The entire city of New Orleans shuts down for Mardi Gras. It's a holiday at work-- the university is closed. But not anywhere else. Because everywhere else, it's Tuesday.

I take that back. Last year, we drove around for an hour or so until we found a little Thai joint that was open. That might not seem like much time, but considering how many restaurants there are per capita around here, that's plenty. Let's just say we passed a lot of "CLOSED" signs and our tummies rumbled for a long time.

#3. Mardi Gras Knows How to Jam

When you turn on the radio each winter, you know it's officially the holiday season by the time the sax solo chimes in to "Last Christmas." Christmas has a soundtrack hundreds of songs deep-- but I'm telling you: the holiday soundtrack doesn't end after that! Mardi Gras has a prolific list of songs itself. 

It's not Carnival without "Mardi Gras Mambo" or Professor Longhair's "Go to the Mardi Gras"-- these songs instill more holiday cheer than any Christmas carol.

Want to listen along? Here's a great Mardi Gras playlist on Spotify: New Orleans / Louisiana (Mardi Gras) music

#2. Master the Vocabulary

Sometimes I'm pretty sure that people here in New Orleans make up words just to see who will go along with it. That educated guess aside, there are a lot of words associated with Mardi Gras that I never used before moving here. Here's an extremely abbreviated list for you foreigners:
  • carnival (or carnivale) - the official term for Mardi Gras season, from Twelfth Night (the twelfth day of Christmas matters here) through Mardi Gras day
  • doubloons - coins some krewes give away; there's much debate as to their worth, but I like them until I inevitably lose them
  • krewe - a group of folks who put on Carnival parades or balls (See also: Micro-krewe and Super Krewe)
  • ladders - not just for home improvement jobs, special ladders with seats and wheels are set up for the little ones to sit on for a good viewing/catching spot
  • Mardi Gras - officially, "Fat Tuesday" (the day before Ash Wednesday and Lent), but unofficially the name for the entire season
  • micro-krewe - a "krewe" that puts on a smaller parade whose floats are often shopping carts, bikes, or small trailers. Chewbacchus is my favorite--it's sci-fi themed and goes right past my old place!
  • riders - those nice masked folks who throw goodies at you
  • super-krewe - a big ol' krewe with thousands of riders and double decker floats. Endymion is my favorite because their Pontchartrain Beach float is a gigantic, sparkly, fiber-optic paradise.
  • throw - the goodies you get from Mardi Gras parades
  • "Throw me something, mister!" - the Mardi Gras creed; may the throws be ever in your favor

#1. Do Whatcha Wanna!

Rebirth says it best: DO WHATCHA WANNA! Mardi Gras is all about having a great time! People are nicer during Mardi Gras than any other time of year. You look parched? Have a beer. You haven't caught anything? Have these glorious beads. You lost your phone? Why, here you are!

I digress to tell you my very own Mardi Gras miracle: On the way back from a parade route, a friend and I came across a track. OBVIOUSLY we had to race back to the car... and apparently fling my phone out of purse along the way. We discovered it was missing when we got back to the car and headed back to search. We called once and a gentleman had it and was waiting for someone to come looking for it.

That's right folks. He didn't steal it, break it, or ignore it. He figured someone would come back for it. 

Mardi Gras blessings upon that man-- may his car never be towed, may his beers always be cold, and may his kids catch the best throws from every parade.

Enough talk: It's Lundi Gras, y'all! HAPPY MARDI GRAS!!