That's it ! The festive period of carnivals has started all over the world. AT New Orleans, best known for its jazz clubs and its unparalleled festival, we celebrate Mardi Gras like nowhere else. The party starts long before February 12. During the preceding twelve days, music, colorful parades and joyful grains of madness punctuate social life. Hundreds of masked balls and private parties are held across the city and more than sixty parades parade through the streets. Follow us in this colorful bacchanal with many faces ...
A carnival with mixed flavors
In Louisiana, Mardi Gras does not apply only to the said day, but to the entire carnival season. Playful, comical, satirical, grotesque, insane, there is no lack of qualifiers to designate this event celebrated in more than eighty towns and villages in Louisiana. In New Orleans, more than sixty parades and a torrent of revelers sweep through the streets during this festive period which has its highlights between January 29 and February 12. Mardi Gras marks the climax of the event and the party is in full swing in the Vieux Carré until midnight, the time of the start of Lent.
Born in Europe, the Mardi Gras celebrations were originally intended to ridicule the aristocracy by imitating its sumptuous way of life. The tradition was exported by emigrants to New Orleans. Institutionalized at the end of the XNUMXth century, Mardi Gras forgot for a time its grotesque side in order to become more pompous, in particular with the arrival of the Krewes (see below) who reflected the Anglo-Saxon society of the beautiful neighborhoods. But it did not take long for the carnival to rediscover the derision contained in the very essence of Mardi Gras. The excessive and provocative aspect will last year after year to become, today, a multicultural celebration.
The Krewes, masters of parades
It is the Krewes who organize the parades and financially bear the costs. What is it ? These are Mardi Gras clubs - exclusively for men - whose membership has been passed down from generation to generation (since 1857!). The Krewes derive, for the most part, their name from mythology, history (Endymion, Venus, Cleopatra…) or from districts of the city. The parades do not all have the same composition, the best develop different themes from one float to another: children's stories, mythological characters, celebrities ... Among the most famous and the most typical of the parades, let us quote Bacchus, Endymion and Rex who are called “superkrewes” because of the beauty and size of their chariots, the large number of bands and the presence of “celebrity grand Marshals” (disguised personalities). In some years celebrities such as the American comedian Bob Hope came to New Orleans to reign there as royal celebrities.
Three colors for a party
During Shrove Tuesday, the day and night parades are the main activity. There are important differences between those during the day and those at night. Daytime parades attract fewer people, they are more relaxed and longer. Well seated, you can spend the day watching them (picnic support)! The night gives way to torchbearers who illuminate the street in their path and engage in acrobatics. If you are coming to Louisiana for the first time, and a fortiori to the carnival, you may have some surprises. The parades are far from being a passive event and turn more to the sport of contact when the tanks pass. It is from there that colored necklaces, doubloons and colored goblets are launched in purple, green and gold, the official colors of the carnival. These colors are omnipresent, draping the balconies of the Vieux Carré or coloring the necklaces, shirts, costumes, hats, caps and even the “king cake”, a circular cake covered in sugar made for the occasion. Convinced? So, to your costumes!
A few parades (among about sixty):
- Saturday February 9: Endymion will parade at 16:15 p.m. (Mid-city)
- Sunday February 10: Bacchus will parade at 17:15 p.m. (Uptown)
- Monday February 11: Zeus at 18 p.m. (Metairie)
- Tuesday February 12: Rex at 10 a.m. (Uptown)
- Canal Street and Saint Charles Avenue are compulsory passage points for the main parades. Day or night, if you find yourself on this route, you won't miss any of the essentials.
- The Gallier house (545, Saint Charles avenue), former town hall, is a brief stopping point for parades passing by and the place where the mayor and other officials drink a toast.
How to dress ?
- In the public, few people wear a mask except on Shrove Tuesday. If you want to buy one, a mask market is held at the French Market, the weekend just before Shrove Tuesday. There are also second-hand shops (Decatur street) for costumes.
- Remember to take comfortable shoes. Useful if you walk a lot (especially in the middle of litter) or if you dance. Also remember to take a blanket to get comfortable on the lawn.
Or sleep ?
It is impossible to stay cheap in the Vieux Carré, especially during Shrove Tuesday. In this period, prices happily double. The prices that we indicate are therefore to be considered as indicative for a "normal" period.
- Saint Peter Guesthouse, 1005 Josephine Street. Phone. 9232. Double rooms around US $ 50. One of the few affordable addresses in the French Quarter is this set of gallery buildings, built at the start of the XNUMXth century. Professional welcome, several types of rooms, all charming. Do not hesitate to see several, because they have all their advantages. Successful breakfast.
Where to eat ?
- Café Maspero, 601 Decatur Street. Phone. 6250. Open every day from 11 am to 23 pm. Sandwiches around 5 US $ and plates around 10 Orléans, where everyone gets together with family or friends. Large typically American room (solid wood tables and ketchup…). Despite the perpetual influx of customers, bosses and waiters keep calm and smile. Delicious salads and a large choice of sandwiches (mufulettas). Seafood specialties as well (a little too fried perhaps). Accepts traveler's checks, but not credit cards.
- Gumbo Shop, 630 Peter Street. Phone. 1486. Open every day from 11 am to 23 pm. Main courses between 10 and 20 US $. Pretty house with elegant surroundings and a small courtyard decorated with green plants. All the classics are there: jambalaya, gumbo… You could believe in a tourist trap, and yet you come out happy and not feathered.
Where to listen to jazz?
- Preservation Hall, 726 Saint Peter Street. Concert every evening from 20:30 p.m. to midnight. 5 US $ entry. A real institution. The orchestra changes every day, so you never get bored. Inside, a few benches, otherwise you are standing, a tiny room, no drinks served and no smoking, but beware you will hear jazz, real jazz, the best jazz. Something big!
Photo credits: © France - Louisiane Franco - Américanie