mardi gras

One of the great things about a road trip around the country is getting to see friends and family along the way. In some cases, it’s been far too long since we saw them last, and in other cases, it’s meeting up for the first time. Coming to New Orleans has given us the latter. Dennis’s cousins, Kathe and Paul Cedro, who live west of NOLA in Luling, knew that Bridget and I were coming to town and we arranged to head over to their place on our second night in town and enjoy some home cooking, southern style. Shrimp Creole and stuffed crab, with King Cake for dessert. Yum. Between mouthfuls we caught up on all things family – theirs and ours – and over coffee Bridget and I got the lowdown on New Orleans – the must-dos while we’re in town. Time slipped away far too quickly, and with a promise to get together after Mardi Gras (Paul and Kathe have enough years of Mardi Gras, so they head out of town when the party begins) is behind us, we said our goodnights and headed back to Chalmette.

Laissez les bons temps rouler – let the good times roll – says it all. Mardi Gras – one big party. From one street to the next, the throngs of people move to the beat of the music. Friday afternoon we headed into town, parked the car by Washington Square, and set out through the streets of the French Quarter to join the party. There are no quiet streets downtown this week. The forecast for the next few days is rain and more rain, but it held off for us today. We wandered through the French Market – given over to a flea market, with the usual jewelry, art and clothing for sale. I’m told that muggings are de rigeur during Mardi Gras so my first order of business is buying an over-the-shoulder purse, long enough that I could wear it over my head without strangling me. The flea market seems like the perfect spot to secure such an item, and I’m right.

With new purse in hand, so to speak, we continue along Decatur to Cafe du Monde, because that’s what you do when you come to New Orleans – coffee and a beignet (or in our case, three). Another big yum. At this point, we are just a stone’s throw from Jackson Square to the north and the Mississippi to the south, and we take in both. The square sits in the shadow of the magnificent St. Louis Cathedral, where, I am told, the clock bell chimes on the hour, but don’t go by me – any bells are drowned out by street musicians, who ply their trade along the four walls of the square alongside jugglers and mimes and local artists, with their wares hanging on the fences.

Already I love New Orleans – and I think part of that is how it reminds me of Old Montreal, at least down here in the French Quarter. With the added bonus that there are so many second-story balconies dressed up for the party.

While Bridget takes an hour to busk on Decatur, I go in search of bookstores and voodoo shops – making a start on my research. I barely scratch the surface and know that my work in this area won’t really begin until after Mardi Gras is over and done with. Work and play will not mix for the next couple of days. Up Royal Street, down Pirate’s Alley and along Chartres, cutting down Ursulines to Decatur, I find Bridget still busking. But it’s time to call it quits, put the violin in the car, and begin the party part of the day.

To and from the car requires us to walk up and down Frenchmen Street, chock full of bars, many where the music can be heard out on the street.

We’re drawn to the blues music flowing out the doors of the BMC and we wander in for our first drink of the day and catch the tail end of the band’s set. It’s a pickup band, without a name, just three friends playing the blues. But we’re told by the guitar player to check out his “real” band, El DeOrazio, and that we aim to do. But not tonight. We’re off in search of a parade. Or two or three.

That means a walk through the Quarter to Canal Street and a bit beyond, to secure a spot on St Charles Avenue early enough so we’re in prime territory to see the floats as they pass by and catch all the beads and trinkets thrown our way. What a hoot! We’ve got the stamina to make it through two parades (each parade during Mardi Gras, and there are many, is sponsored by a “krewe” or club). Tonight’s parades are put on by the Hermes krewe and Le Krewe D’etat. We’ve been told that the parades get bigger and bawdier each day leading up to Shrove Tuesday, which means tonight’s parades are tame. But not that tame.

And the secret to making the whole thing work?

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