The Passing Carnivals
Our readers reminisce
We asked our readers to share their memories of the New Orleans Mardi Gras experience. We also gave them the option to reveal their favorite parades, places to watch parades and Carnival song. We got responses that were local and from afar but, judging from the number of expatriates, Mardi Gras memories travel well.
Watching from the MB Building
As a child, one of my fondest memories of Mardi Gras was being taken to night parades Uptown – a rare treat when I was young and a rite of passage to go alone when I entered Jesuit. I love the night parades because the colors on the floats seem brighter – especially when illuminated by the flambeaux – the bands sound better in the night air and I think the people are friendlier. Only in New Orleans do people look forward to seeing the lights of approaching emergency vehicles!
My other fondest memories are of Mardi Gras day itself. My father, Dr. Francis Huete, had a dental office on the eighth floor of the Maison Blanche building, and we would load up the station wagon (I have five brothers and a mother who’s a saint) early Mardi Gras morning and spend the day in his office. He would cook hot dogs in his sterilizer and we would lean perilously far out the window to watch the crowds and the parades. There was a constant stream of family coming into the office and going down to Canal Street. When we boys got bored, we would play ice hockey in the halls by the freight elevator or sneak up the stairwell to the old WSMB studio. I now work in the Pentagon and I swear that the stairwells smell just like those of the old Maison Blanche.
I am not able to return to New Orleans every Mardi Gras, but my favorite place to watch parades now is the corner of Napoleon and St. Charles avenues for night parades and Mardi Gras morning, because a brother lives nearby. From there we can watch the parades form up and look for the various celebrities (I got a picture of Sean Astin kissing my mother when his car dropped him off right in front of my brother’s house, and I got to see Sean Payton and Tiffany at Tipitina’s after the Super Bowl win). Early Mardi Gras morning we hand out water (or beer) to the Buzzards and other marching groups on Napoleon Avenue, then walk up and down St. Charles Avenue looking at the costumes. After Rex has passed, I like to take the bus downtown and watch the parade again on Canal Street, which is (in my opinion) the best place in the world to be on that day. Late Mardi Gras night I go to the Camellia Grill and watch the Rex ball participants stop by afterwards.
My favorite parade music is: “If Ever I Cease to Love;” I whistle (or sing) it constantly during the Carnival season.
Michael C. Huete
Riding with Zulu
For my 40th birthday I was invited to ride in the Zulu parade. Though it was the coldest day of the year, it was a great ride. I have been in many parades, but this one outshines them all – even though my house smelled like coconuts for weeks!
Learning from Dad
My Mardi Gras memories all relate back to the man who taught me to love Carnival: my father. The son of a French-German 9th Ward family, he imparted an appreciation for Carnival that has continued to grow over the years. Whether it was celebrating Twelfth Night with a parade through our house, or always being in costume on Mardi Gras Day, I began to understand that, for him, Carnival held an importance and a meaning that transcended the season.
The stories from his childhood were often Carnival-themed, among them one about sneaking out with his grandmother and his brothers to see a parade without their mother’s permission, and another about being caught in the crossfire of a shootout between rival Mardi Gras Indians.
In many ways, Carnival was his profession as well. When I was young, he worked as the assistant manager for one of the old-line organizations. When he left in the morning, he didn’t go to “work” or to the “office” – he went to the Club. As our family grew, he stopped working for the Club, but his love for Carnival remained.
To fill the Carnival niche, we began riding as a family in Elks. That provided a new perspective on Mardi Gras Day. Being the provider instead of the recipient had transformed my ideas surrounding Carnival. Though we certainly weren’t Rex, Pro Bono Publico now meant much more to me than just the motto on his doubloons.
Instead of retiring to draw Social Security, my father left his business and returned, after 20 years, to the Club. Our adult conversations made me realize that Carnival was in his DNA. Never mundane discussions of staff or administrative matters, they focused instead on the creativity, the talent and the generosity of those who had continued to make Thursday night a Carnival spectacle for over a century. He died on a March afternoon, at the Club, preparing for another Carnival season.
Now, every Friday before Mardi Gras, I gather downtown and costume with my krewe. On the ride Uptown to the parade start, I think of the man who implicitly instilled in me the love for this often-misunderstood tradition. Then, the route commences while the deafening crowd implores for cups and blinkies. Later my float passes a spot near Jackson Avenue where, perched on his shoulders, I had once yearned to catch Bacchus beads or a gold coconut. I pause my throwing and silently let him know that I love Carnival, too.
Favorite Place to Watch a Parade: Napoleon Avenue to watch Rex. One can appreciate the artistry of the floats amidst smaller crowds.
Favorite Parade Song: “Mardi Gras Mambo” (Thank You, Lou Welch).
Favorite Parade: The one that I ride in.
Stafford R. Maheu Jr.
Working on Mid-City Floats
One of my favorite Carnival memories was when I was able to ride in the Mid-City parade. As an 11-year-old Boy Scout (along with other scouts), we rode inside the float and moved the float props. Our float was “Birthday Party Games,” and we made a cake spin and a donkey (for pinning the tail) move around.
What I remember most was the crowd noises. When you watch a parade from the street (or neutral ground side), you hear the crowd scream when the float passes. When you are in or on the float, the crowd is always screaming.
I just joined a Carnival krewe this year and can’t wait to hear that non-stop noise!
Favorite place to watch a parade: St. Charles Avenue and Conery Street (we can walk to Commander’s Palace for a pre-parade cocktail.
Favorite Parade Song: “Hey Pocky A-Way.”
Favorite Parade: Knights of Babylon (and any krewe still using naptha-burning flambeaux).
Rene J. Navarre
Chatting With the Stars
As a patron of Bacchus for over 25 years, I have great memories of the wonderful Bacchus balls I have attended. Nicolas Cage coming down from the float to take pictures with us and chat, as well as Steven Segal, so gracious to allow us several pictures with him and also a nice long visit during the ball, and no bodyguards around him. Well, he didn’t need them! Both spoke of the true Southern hospitality of New Orleans and all its people. And, of course, when the New Orleans Saints all arrived inside the Convention Center for Bacchus after winning the Super Bowl that year, what a thrill for everyone and all of the city that year.
A favorite place to watch the parades on Mardi Gras Day is Canal Street, which is full of merriment and happy parade-goers, and we always feel so safe with the New Orleans Police Department in full force keeping an eye on everything. Families line Canal Street, and you feel the true spirit of Mardi Gras.
Phyllis Jean Bruscato