Mardi Gras coincides with Bourbon Street project construction

Mardi Gras coincides with Bourbon Street project construction

My brother and sister-in-law, Rupert and Rita, paid us a visit on Laurel Street last weekend — their first trip to New Orleans during Mardi Gras. That always makes the festival more interesting, to hear the observations of people seeing it for themselves the first time.
The route for many of New Orleans’ Carnival season parades begins in our Uptown neighborhood, follows a Magazine Street to Napoleon Avenue to St. Charles, then down St. Charles to Canal Street where revelry on steroids overflows into the French Quarter. Most reporting from outside media focuses on what happens in or near the Quarter.
Last week, civic officials held a press conference in the French Quarter to celebrate and publicize completion of construction on Bourbon Street that had been reported, as it overran completion and cost projections, disruptive to pedestrian traffic. It was an affair not unlike the ribbon-cutting, for instance, held when Batesville and Panola County celebrated the opening of the connector road that extended House-Carlson Drive to Pine Lodge Road.
Except that the timing of the New Orleans event coincided with a recent law enforcement crackdown on Bourbon Street strip clubs, shutting them down temporarily and leaving a bunch of unemployed or underemployed strippers very unhappy. You can probably guess who showed en masse at the Bourbon Street civic event, chanting in unison about getting their jobs back as the local potentates were each trying to get their minute before the microphone. Only in the Quarter where, a few days later, there was also celebration for the annual greasing of the poles that support balconies overlooking the narrow streets. Grease keeps overstimulated street level revelers from climbing the poles to reach balcony level revelers who teasingly encourage their futile, slippery attempts.
But along the parade route through these Uptown neighborhoods, Mardi Gras parades are family affairs.
We joined near neighbor Rachel and her family along Magazine at Upperline. With them was Rachel’s five-month-old son Wes, experiencing his first Mardi Gras along with his cousin, two-month-old Nelson. Family Mardi Gras traditions are imprinted in early life on natives.
Rita’s goal was to catch enough beads, trinkets and throws to outfit the Mardi Gras party planned today for her mother and other residents at Providence Assisted Living in Batesville. She was overwhelmingly successful. It is always fascinating how the value of plastic rises when floats pass spewing out those beads and trinkets.
The whole affair turns into a street party that extends for miles along the route. Rupert compared it to Grove celebrations at Ole Miss, but here “everybody’s on the same team.” The party spills into the street between parades. Kids of all ages throw Frisbees and footballs caught from passing floats. People bring ice chests filled with food and drink. Lawn chairs line the route; picnic tents were often added to shelter from the occasional showers that started and stopped without much warning.
The Carnival season that began 12 days after Christmas culminates today with the Rex, Zulu and truck parades. It is a season like no other in a city like no other. Happy Mardi Gras!

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