John Howell Column

Published 12:00 am Friday, February 19, 2010

John Howell Sr.

Mardi Gras, 2010 viewed mostly from periphery

Thus far I have deferred my reply to Sherry Hopkins’ message that accompanied the column she e-mailed for today’s paper (published on the facing page).

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“Are you all dressed up and ready to parade?” she inquired, knowing that I was at our New Orleans home for Mardi Gras.

The truth is that for Mardi Gras, 2010 — this historic Mardi Gras on the steroids of a Super Bowl Championship — I was a more distant participant than in all the years before.

Maybe it was the weather. During one parade after another my wife and I — sitting in our living room as crowds streamed by on their way to the Napoleon Avenue staging area — talked each other into staying right there where it was warm.

But cool weather didn’t curb the crowds from growing to record numbers.

Maybe it was the crowds. When we took a walk on Saturday morning before the day’s parade crowds started to gather in earnest, we noticed huge areas of Napoleon Avenue neutral ground roped off and watched over by an advance guard and ostensibly off limits to late-coming trespassers.

Of course, cordoning off public property has no legal standing and determined latecomers can always elbow paths leading close enough to let them catch plenty of beads and other souvenirs.

 Yet we were quite content to view Mardi Gras, 2010 from the periphery — to watch the spectacle of parade spectators going to and from the parades, to watch the huge floats of Proteus as they eased out of the huge garage doors of the krewe den in the next block onto Bordeaux Street, then to Laurel, then to Napoleon.

One Mardi Gras — maybe 2000 or 2001 — I rode a bicycle carrying a large bag holding my medium format camera all over the streets of Mid-City New Orleans, tracking down and photographing Mardi Gras Indians as they emerged from their houses in full mask regalia. Now I’m quite content to sit back and look at those photos.

And I refuse to discuss that other difference between then and now because I know a guy who’s older than me who wrote that he had rented a condo on Chartres this year for a four-day Mardi Gras visit. “I’ve been to a lot of Mardi Gras,” he wrote, “just never stayed to the bitter end of Fat Tuesday.”

But then it could be connected to the age difference.

“This was sort of a ‘Bucket List’ thing for me,” my Mardi Gras condo friend added. “I want to do it while I’m still healthy enough to enjoy this!”

Haven’t heard his after-action report. Hope he survived.

“I’m going to work on a lot of ‘Bucket List’ things this year,” his e-mail concluded in apparent anticipation not only of survival but also eventful months ahead.