Saturday, January 07, 2006

February 28th

Yesterday was the 12th Night of Christmas, which, if you didn't know, also marks the beginning of the Carnival season that leads up to Mardi Gras. The Phunny Phorty Phellows, unable to ride the traditional St. Charles streetcar costumed and throwing beads, instead rode the Riverfront line - in the New New Orleans, you adapt.

Lately there's been some talk about not having Mardi Gras. Mayor Nagin was for it at first, then some New Orleanians in Atlanta protested, and he backed off a little. The celebration was shortened from twelve to six days, many parades were cancelled, and the parades had to follow the same route, but then Zulu announced they wouldn't roll if they couldn't follow their traditional route. Now nobody seems to know what the hell is going on, so I figure I might as well throw in my two cents.

Mardi Gras will happen.

I understand the folks who say the city shouldn't throw a party when many of its citizens can't get back. New Orleans does need to get its folks home. I also understand the people who say we need to have Mardi Gras to show the world we can rebuild, because we also need the tourists to come back. But they're all missing the point.

Allow me to let you all in on a little secret: New Orleans doesn't put on Mardi Gras, and by that I don't just mean that the parade Krewes are private organizations. That's true, but the parades aren't Mardi Gras. Likewise, the city does pick up all the trash and provides police security at the parades, but that's hardly all there is to Mardi Gras, either.

Back in the 1700s, the Puritans managed to get Christmas outlawed. (Yes, Bill O'Reilly, the only people who ever actually did declare a war on Christmas were fundamentalist Christians.) I guess they were worried that if they had a little bit of fun, they wouldn't be able to stop. The U.S. government didn't put up a fight at the time because Christmas was seen as a British holiday and the Brits weren't really in favor in those days. But guess what happened?

If you've ever watched "The Grinch Who Stole Christmas," you know - Christmas came, just the same. People still put up their trees, and ate and drank too much, and snuck kisses under the mistletoe, and said the hell with those stuffy Puritans outlawing Christmas. Mardi Gras will come, too.

Mardi Gras - Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. The last chance to get our ya-yas out before we are reminded that from dust we all come, and to dust we all will return, not that we down here need much reminding these days. Not a day goes by that spray-painted Xs don't snatch at our eyes and whisper oblivion in our ears. Some believe it's not right to party yet. Too mnay friends and neighbors died too short a time ago. I understand them, too. But this is the city that invented the jazz funeral. After the coffin is brought out of the church and the dirge is played, the snare drum snaps and the trombone blares and everyone dances on down the street, toasting the departed and celebrating what was rather than mourning what isn't anymore. For everything else it is, Mardi Gras at its heart is about celebrating life in the face of the death that comes for everyone and everything eventually, and if there ever was a city that knows how, with a little glitter on its eyes, to not only laugh in Death's inevitable face, but also to turn around and moon him as well, it's New Orleans.

Death came for New Orleans hard a few months ago. Almost got her, too. Almost. But she is picking herself up and knocking the mud off her dress and trust me on this - she's ready to dance.

Mardi Gras means a lot of different things to a lot of different people. For some its the balls and pageantry, for others the parades. Everyone likes the music, whether its their child marching in a school band or their favorite trumpet player still going in a dingy Marigny bar at 4 in the morning. For some its just about boiling crawfish and kicking back with their family. For me it's always been about dressing up in a silly costume and running around town with my friends.

So here's my suggestion for all New Orleanians, whether real or just at heart, who can't be here on Mardi Gras - wherever you are, put on a silly hat and feather boa, cook up some gumbo, dig out that jazz or brass band or Cajun or zydeco cd, eat and drink too much, and dance with your family and friends. Just this once, let's celebrate Mardi Gras everywhere and make it a national, even an international holiday, so everyone sees and knows and feels what it's like here. Because no matter how many Katrinas come, Mardi Gras will happen. Even if no parades roll and nary a bead gets thrown, even if their aren't any balls and no band marches, we will still be out there, dancing and laughing with glitter on our eyes. Hell, we might even moon someone.


Judy said...

Okay, Dale. This sounds great -- celebrate Mardi Gras all over the country. Now, please send your last paragraph to The Washington Post, The Denver Post, some paper in L.A., and even the Today Show. PLEASE???? Love, Mom

Kate said...

Hey Dale. Thanks for the link, and also, your pictures are really interesting. Hope class is going okay. Later!

Dr. Funkenstein said...

absolutely brilliant essay...

a new admirer from NYC -- and a New Orleanian at heart.

Seaotter71 said...

Tonight in Los Angeles, a former New Orleanian did just as you suggested.

I made jambalaya from scratch, blared Big Chief 2 on the stereo, and in deference to the tourists supporting the New Orleans economy, I bared my chest to my wife in the hope of beads.

The cool thing was that I had not even read your post yet. Thank you for articulating the feelings I've had all day.