New Orleans: Mardi Gras

"You need to be at our place around 7am," said my friend Emily. "Six-thirty if you want a breakfast cocktail. Six if you want bacon and pancakes."

By Paul Oswell
Published 4 Mar 2014, 12:43 GMT, Updated 30 Jun 2021, 17:49 BST

Having already been pulled into the French Quarter madness of Lundi Gras in New Orleans (the Monday before Fat Tuesday), I suspected this might be an optimistic arrangement, but you never knew — locals tell of Mardi Gras miracles, and maybe this could be one of them.

This was perhaps my fifth or sixth Mardi Gras in the Crescent City. I had come to love the sheer spectacle of the huge, gaily lumbering mega krewes (the secret clubs that organise the various parades), the vast floats and gigantic cacophony.

But now I'd moved here and as a local — albeit an honorary one — I wanted to mix in something more personal. I had friends here now. There was intimacy. I wanted Mardi Gras days brimming over with unique moments, to be personally romanced by a smaller parade.

This was going to take investment. Effort, even — if getting up to drink preparatory mimosas at 7.30am before joining the early-morning march of the Krewe of St Anne (or the Societé de Sainte Anne, to give it its formal name) can be dubbed such a thing. Despite a 1am finish to revelling the night before, I sprung up when my alarm went off at 6am. Perhaps not a bona fide miracle, but vaguely impressive, nonetheless.

As my merry band blearily wended its way to a dive bar in the Bywater neighbourhood called Bud Rip's, the trickle of daybreak revellers that walked beside us on Piety Street became a stream and then a lake. It was now 8.30am and Champagne bottles were being passed between intricately-costumed weirdoes, throwing caution to the wind and starting their Mardi Gras days at full tilt.

What must be almost 1,000 people line the streets, in costumery the likes of which is near impossible to encapsulate. Giant apes, elegant courtiers, near-naked football players — it was all on show, because Mardi Gras doesn't care, as long as you've made an effort.

After rumours and false starts, the march, led by the ebullient Storyville Stompers band, rolls on, smiles and beads to the fore. By the time it reaches R Bar on Royal Street an hour later, I was heady with music and colours and, obviously, booze. I've already had several joy-inducing personal moments, including a conversation with a toddler dressed as Einstein.

No matter that I don't fully partake in the full tradition of St Anne — the onward march to see Krewe of Rex, and the observance of pouring ashes of loved ones into the river — even this small amuse bouche of a lesser-known parade has whet my appetite.

Here's where the delicious treasures are. In the grubby nooks between, under and behind the grand krewes. I don't doubt the grandstanders' commitment for a second, but in the micro-krewes, the local marches and the niche celebrations, you find carnivalistic zeal bar none. This, I'd argue, is where the real miracles happen.

Image: By Infrogmation (CC-BY-2.5), via Wikimedia Commons

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