I assure you, this is the last Mardi Gras-related post. After this, we will revert to strict, Lent-ian sobriety:
My ideal Mardi Gras is to trek all over the city and check out the different things going on. This is more logistically complicated with the wee ones (infernal varmints!), but we still do o.k. We spent most of Tuesday on St. Charles watching Zulu and Rex, within a few blocks of a bathroom and a well-stocked refrigerator. But late in the day, when Sarah and June had had their fill of festivities, I asked Louise, "Do you want to go downtown and see the freaks?" She said yes.
Driving on Mardi Gras is complicated. For much of the day, the city is scissored in half by miles of back to back parades. Even late in the afternoon, one is likely to be waylaid by stray floats returning back to their warehouses, or a block party choking off the street.
As we drove along S. Claiborne, traffic ground to a halt as police cars and then giant floats rounded the corner. We hooked a left over to Broad. On the way we passed a small troupe of Mardi Gras Indians marching and drumming through the uninhabited streets of Broadmoor. On Broad, we ran into thronging crowds left over from the end of Zulu. We hooked a right, down a narrow street, past the empty projects. As we approached N. Claiborne and the overpass, traffic again ground to a halt. To our left was a lone Indian in brilliant yellow feathers. We hooked another left, through the projects, threaded through the crowds of Orleans Ave., along back streets and finally down to the Marigny.
Along the way, Louise asked a million questions. "Where are we going?" "Frenchman Street." "Why?" "That's where the freaks are." "What are freaks?" "People who wear fancy costumes and dance crazy." "Why are they on Freak Street?*" "That's just where they all go on Mardi Gras day." "Oh."
We parked and walked the rest of the way. The street was packed with hundreds of people, all elaborately costumed. Some stood around, drinking and chatting. Others danced in the street to loud, bad samba music. Some guy asked me, "Hey, is there a drum circle around here?" At first, Louise was very quiet, taking it all in. Then she perked up. She pointed out her favorite costume, a sort of sparkly, sequined, birdlike ensemble. She asked more questions. "Do freaks listen to loud music while they sleep or only in the daytime?" "What do they wear when it's not Mardi Gras?" "Where do they live?" "Are we freaks" We ran into friends. She saw one of her little schoolmates, also dressed as a princess. They jumped around and played.
Finally, after taking it all in, we headed back to the car. On the way, we stopped at a barbecue stand from Arkansas and got her a sausage-on-a-bun with potato salad for dinner. As we whisked home on the highway, with the sun dipping below the horizon, she chomped on her sandwich and nattered happily in the back seat about all of the things she'd seen. It was nice.
* Her inadvertent but entirely apt alteration of the true name.