An alcohol induced trip down the rabbit hole is where I found the existential Wonderland known as Mardi Gras. Lights were refracting off of beer bottles and fake plastic beads, inducing a euphoria that literally nothing had captured before this past week. This will forever set a standard that celebrations will have troubles stepping up their game to, emblazoning an experience so unique that it is debatable whether it actually happened or not. But it did.
From the very beginning, starting with Krewe du Vuix, Mardi Gras held back no punches. The oldest parade, and by far the most obscene of them all, kicked off the week long celebration with political charged floats, breasts galore, and a drunk crowd that made the Ball Drop in New York look like child’s play. With the most recent election taking front stage, floats housed plenty of vulgar President Trump based sculptures; “Orange is the New Black” painted next to Trump in an orange prison jumpsuit to the Cheshire Cat tying the President up to a tree with a sign reading “This Pussy Grabs Back” were some of the many creative escapades.
To some this might seem like the stereotypical annual happenings of Mardi Gras, but as a newcomer it was one of those stories heard about, but never experienced. Even from that first night the smaller aspects of Mardi Gras started to astound. Pornhub had nothing on the amount of breasts and genitals that were being quickly flashed to garner a set of beads and if I had a dime for every dime bag that was offered to me nonchalantly I would be at least a couple dollars richer. Even more casual aspects, like the stench of Bourbon seemed to be intensified by the abnormal amount of partying. Personal space was that of myths and legends, but drenching yourself in someone else’s sweat never felt unappealing; it all felt like part of the experience.
“Get your face painted,” called out a middle aged woman in a fairy tutu, “or your nipples.”
Larger parades such as Nyx and Muses would throw hand decorated purses and shoes respectively, and each Krewe offered up something unique to collect. Despite the draw of the bigger parades though, I found the smaller day parades to be far more intriguing. Krewe of Barkus had hundreds of dogs storming through the French Quarter dressed up in different pirate outfits, drawing out the more family oriented crowds and allowing for a less booze filled parade. This came as a pleasant break from the crazy shenanigans that had preceded and it is nearly impossible to not shed a sober grin. Even the wine-based Krewe of Cork allowed for a relaxed break from the larger parades as it came around in the middle of the day, throwing out corks and an array of alcohol accessaries.
Even the obscure Sailor Moon and Mystic Knights parades were a sight to behold, bringing together people who genuinely seemed to appreciate and adorn the same hobbies and interests. There is a certain magic to seeing such a large group of people unite to celebrate what they love and Mardi Gras embellished this perfectly.
All of that being said, a week into the fete the fatigue started to set in. Out of the blue, Endymion came to act as a much needed pick me up. Endymion, acting as the largest parade and only possibly rivaled by Zulu, had floats lined up into the horizon and lights that made the parade feel like Carnaval on wheels. Whether this was because it was timed perfectly (on a Saturday and the middle of the day) or because it was family friendly, Endymion drew out even the most reluctant soul out. People had camped out on Canal Street for the past two days just to guarantee a decent viewing spot, numerous food trucks that I had never seen in New Orleans lined the streets, and the smell of charred grills filled the air the entire day. Honestly, this was the one parade that felt like less of a parade and more of one giant city potluck. That does not meant that it did not still knock the bar up a level; KISS performed live on the floats along with other live bands rocking through the night.
“What happens with all the beads and the trash, do you think?” My friend Matt Bartels questioned multiple times.
Only one day was I still awake at 6 AM to see the giant snaked fire hoses come out and spit across the French Quarter streets, tidal waving away all of the trash that had built up throughout the festivities. For those that managed to catch beads and did not want to keep them as memorabilia could recycle them at Harrah’s Casino for king cakes.
After the legendary was said and done, Mardi Gras ended. Ash Wednesday arrived and the city quieted down, settling back to its typical roots. Not quite peaceful, but not as restless. I had managed to wander through Wonderland and climb back out of the rabbit hole unscathed, but with all the technicolor experiences still running circles in the back of my brain.