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All Because It's Carnival Time

07:00 February 03, 2016
By: Debbie Lindsey
She said the same words I had repeated again and again through the years, "I hate Mardi Gras!"
This time, those words hit me in a way that surprised and even annoyed me. Back before Katrina, I would have found in her a kindred spirit. But I just sat there feeling, for the first time, how all those folks throughout the years suffered through my bashing of their near-religious fervor for Carnival.
I am not sold entirely on all things Mardi Gras. There are abuses and liberties that outsiders and opportunists take during this age-old celebration. The definition of Risque is not 'show your tits.' And indulging in libations needn't result in having to power hose sidewalks. Somewhere along the line, Mardi Gras and 'frat parties' have become synonymous, delivering a harsh hazing of the French Quarter in particular.

I came to New Orleans with my own Mardi Gras experiences and history. My hometown, Mobile, has been doing Carnival longer for than New Orleans. I felt a 'been-there-done-that' attitude. As a child, sure, it was an event worth remembering. And to be fair, as an adult I enjoyed the Mardi Gras balls.
All you needed for a Mardi Gras ball in lieu of an invitation was a good looking evening gown, a fictitious date bearing tickets, and an ability to deliver a bold-faced lie. My girlfriend and I would sneak into the event, claiming to the security guard that a female emergency run to the drug store had prompted us to leave briefly (I would feign embarrassment while discreetly showing a small box of tampons clutched close to my plunging neckline). And of course, that our 'dates' were nowhere to be found at that moment. That same box of tampons embarrassed our way into many an 'invitation only' event.

Often, in years past, on the very pages of this magazine, I have taken Mardi Gras to task and without much of anything nice to say or to add to balance the enigma of our New Orleans traditions that embrace this pre-lenten spectacle. I never wrote about my first glimpse of Fat Tuesday nearly twenty years ago on Royal Street: I was waitressing at a cafe on the corner of St. Ann and Royal when I thought I was seeing the Second Coming of Christon Broadway. Next, a gaggle of drag queens sashayed by, causing my tray of gumbo bowls to nearly take flight. Between my distracted attempts at food service I viewed this Fellini-like film as it rolled past the cafe windows; men, women and children sporting bird beaked Venetian masks and garbed in velvets befitting the elegance of that bygone time. The sky seemed the fill with streamers of bright ribbons and beehive wigs that, swear-to-god, looked to be as tall as the balconies across the street. Oh, and the music -- calypso, African, Funk, and New Orleans Brass all coming together in a frantic, sensual frenzy.

I look back and wonder why the hell I didn't walk or dance out that miserable job then and there and join that caravan of frivolity. I later found out that the parade I witnessed that day was the Society of St. Anne, and little did I know at the time, many of my future friends were all there dancing, strolling and parading. The guy performing under the weight of a giant brass tuba would turn out to become my friend, Woody. And somewhere under all those wigs and headpieces was Tracy, the hat maker, Little Jen, 'Yoo Hoo' Steve, Marinnette and many more were parading, watching and toasting.
"Mister, throw me something!." How about an armful of friendships just waiting for me?
Amazingly, I maintained my dislike for Mardi Gras even through all the St. Anne parades I joined for so many years. In fairness to my attitude, living in the Quarter during Carnival is not for the faint of heart. While the comic genius of Krewe du Vieux, the cuddly, camp of Barkus, the haute couture madness of St. Anne, and the screw ball comedy of Krewe of Cork have always brought me to my knees in laughter and admiration, I never thought to look any further. I let the Bourbon Street brand of Mardi Gras ugliness prejudice me.

However, nothing brings on an epiphany better than seeing your city and its people being drowned like rats. Suddenly, a tremendous region of our country was dying. Eight years ago, we nearly lost our unique way of life, our verve. For me it was a baptism of sorts. My loyalties were tested and my cultural curiosities strengthened. I promised myself I would embrace all the uniqueness of New Orleans that I had neglected or shunned. And man oh man that first Mardi Gras back after the Flood was holy water to my soul. I am a born again New Orleanian! Never did I expect to tap my toes and wiggle my butt to Iko Iko or allow purple, gold and green into my color scheme. Bourbon Street can take a hike because me and my bike are goin' to the Treme with my camera fully loaded to look for some bone-shakers and catch us some Indians.

Happy Carnival!

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