Welcome to our travel blog. We are Tabitha and Nic. In 2011 we 'retired' in our early 40s and set off to travel the world. We spent our first year in South America and have been lucky enough to make two trips to Antarctica.

Our blog is a record of our travels, thoughts and experiences. It is not a guide book, but we do include some tips and information, so we hope that you may find it useful if you are planning to visit somewhere we have been. Or you may just find it interesting as a bit of armchair travel.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Mardi Gras - Fat Tuesday itself (Throwback post)

Knowing that people arrive the night before to get the good spots for Tuesdays parades, we had again booked places in the stands.  The time we were not far from where the mayor and dignitaries sit, so we got a good view of him giving his toast to the Krewe royalty as they passed him.
Fat Tuesday's main parades are the two big Krewes of Zulu and Rex; they are followed by the Krewes of Elks and Crescent City, which are a conglomerate of local small businesses or private individuals who come along on decorated flatbed lorries.

Back at the start of the twentieth century, black labourers from the various local wards formed individual Benevolent Aid societies, which were a kind of co-operative insurance where everyone normally paid in their fees, but then a member or their family would get financial help from the scheme if they were ill or died.

In 1901 a group of these societies paraded in Mardi Gras, albeit that given the racial divides at the time, they only did so in the black areas of town, not with all of the rest.

Then in 1909, one of the groups known as The Tramps went to see a musical comedy which included a sketch about the Zulu Tribe.

From then on, the parade group adopted Zulu as their name and theme.

This caused some contention and antagonism during the high racial tensions of the 1960s, as many considered the theme and the dressing up as Zulu warriors to be demeaning, but they carried on and their following increased again, and by 1968 had moved onto the regular parade routes.

They are now one of the most popular parades - hence their Fat Tuesday slot - and have the most prized throw of all, the decorated coconut.

Unfortunately we were a bit further back in the stands, so whilst we got a good view, we knew we had little hope of getting one of the coconuts, as they have been banned from throwing them into the crowds due to the risk of injury.

As it happened, we did get one of the undecorated coconuts that had been cut into a speak no evil monkey, but we later gave it away.
The Zulu parade is enormous, and some of the costumes are great, but it did seem strange to see everyone wearing the big Afro wigs and being blacked up. And not just the few white people; even though most of the riders were black anyway, a number of them blacked up to give themselves a darker colour.

The last main parade was Rex.  As I mentioned in an earlier post when I talked about Comus, Rex is The King of the Carnival.  Established in 1872 and apparently based upon the Russian Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff who visited New Orleans.

It is he that gives Mardi Gras its colours of purple, gold and green, symbolising justice, power and faith respectively, and its somewhat surprising theme tune if 'If I ever cease to love', which is said either to be a favourite of the Duke's, or the song that was sung by an actress that he took a shine to.  Rex also started the tradition of handing out doubloons back in 1960.

The mayor, who by the way arrived at the parades on the back of a white horse, greets Rex and gives him the key to the city.  

The Rex floats include the Butterfly King, the Mardi Gras jester, and the white bull.  This bull first appeared back in the Mobile parades, and at one stage was a live bull, but today it s a huge white bull figure that snorts a smoky steam from its nostrils.

The rest of the floats we themed around All creatures Great and Small, and included some marvellous animal figures.

Quite a lot of people begin to leave after Rex, which I thought was rather a shame, as whilst the Elks and Crescent City Krewes are obviously less impressive and have less in the way of throws, they probably actually have to put more effort into getting themselves prepared for the parade.  The floats are basic, but they are still worth sticking around for I think.

After the parades, we decided we really ought to head up to Bourbon Street.  Whilst we like a good drink and are happy to enjoy a party, we have never really been in to the whole drink as much as you can solely to end up passed out  somewhere, which is the general gist of Bourbon Street, so we didn't plan to spend long there.  But we felt we had to see this infamous location for ourselves.

And it was indeed exactly as expected.  The beautiful ironwork balconies of the French Quarter street were covered in purple, gold and green decorations and full with people - often business hospitality groups - who pay a lot of money and reserve months and even years in advance. The street was packed solid with revellers, many of whom did not look like they had bothered with the parades at all, but had simply spent the day in the bars.
New Orleans is one of the few places where it is legal for people to take their drinks out and walk around with them, rather than being confined to or just around the bar, so people buy their huge novelty drinking cups filled with their liquor of choice and wander up and down the street.  Traditionally the people on the balconies throw them beads, so the crowds clamour for them, and this is where the tradition of women flashing for beads comes from.
It is a source of great regret to many of the local people that so many people now associate Mardi Gras with the raucous excesses of Bourbon Street, rather than with the less drunken exuberance of the parades themselves.  We walked around Bourbon Street for a while, watching the crowds and the odd religious protesters demanding that everyone repent their evil ways, before deciding to move on to a more salubrious place to drink.

And we didn't have to go far at all, as just a street or two away you leave behind the mob, and find a lot of nicer bars with people enjoying themselves just a bit more sedately!  Of course you pass a few people who have made it this far away from Bourbon Street and then passed out comatose of the ground, but you can just step around them.

We soon found ourselves a nice bar called the Hermes Bar, which is in fact part of Antoine's Restaurant, one of the oldest places in town.  As a traditional venue for Krewe royalty dinners, Antoine's is full of Mardi Gras history, so a suitable place to end up today.  Indeed we saw some of the Krewe royalty leaving as we arrived.

We chatted with the barman while he made us some great cocktails and he told us about the restaurant and the Comus dinner that had been going on that evening.  He also gave us one of the Comus doubloons, which of course while certainly not valuable, is relatively hard to get because they no longer parade.

We soon ended up chatting to a few people around us including a local woman who does one of the city ghost tours and her two out of town friends and later, a couple from Calgary, which got us an invite to the infamous Bullshooters stampede breakfast. We had a great evening, and overall we thoroughly enjoyed our first Mardi Gras.

Oh, and what of all those beads and other throws?  Well we decided to send some of the more interesting ones back to the UK so that I can make up some garishly kitsch cushion covers at some point as souvenirs of our Mardi Gras.  But the rest we have sent on to one of the local charities that collects them and presumably sells them on again.

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