“That’s weird” was the response of a friend when I told her that there is Mardi Gras, even full-blown Carnival seasons, in other states. I guess she forgot about the 2001 Seattle fiasco – rioting, vandalism, injuries; Seattle would like to, too. More recently, a California city stopped its celebration because, as the spokesperson candidly admitted, “We had problems controlling the crowds last year.” The ultimate stateside Carnival winner is New Orleans, but if you’d like to see other interpretations of Mardi Gras, here are a couple suggestions.
Does “Yankee Doodle Dandy” put you in the Carnival spirit? Well, let’s hope so, because that’s the tune you hear when you click on www.mardigrasgalveston.com. It must have something to do with the fact that the theme for Galveston’s 2005 event is “Mardi Gras! Galveston: Red, White, and Blue.” How does it stack up? The event attracts half a million people and claims to be the largest celebration in Texas – we’ll take their word for it. Eighteen krewes contribute, with household names such as Barkus, Meoux and Momus. The Knights of Momus holds the biggest parade during Carnival: All krewes participate, as do the Philadelphia Mummers, a troupe of performers with early origins. Carnival activities take place in the Strand Historic District. The vine says the place to stay is the Tremont House, where there is an annual parade-viewing party.
Galveston celebrated its first Carnival season in 1867, but islanders took a long hiatus after World War II, not starting again until 1984.
Tagged the “Modern American Family Mardi Gras,” Carnival in Mobile, Ala., is, shall we say, a keep-your-clothes-on kind of event. “The fun in Mobile is emphasized as being family fun,” a spokesperson for the event told me. “We take Grandma, Grandpa and the kids.” Activity is centered downtown on Government Street, and the event reads a lot like a children’s bedtime story. In the parking lots, there are food vendors (funnel cakes, cotton candy, popcorn, candied apples and “soda pop”) and rides (Ferris wheels and merry-go-rounds). Floats are color coordinated: Day-parade floats are decorated in silver leaf, so the silver glints in the sun; and night floats use gold leaf, so it shimmers in the dark. Popular parades include the Infant Mystics, Mystic Stripers (that’s Stripers, not strippers) and Mystics of Time. The Order of Athena kicks off Mardi Gras, followed by the Comic Cowboys and the Knights of Revelry. I’ve been told hotels sell out a year in advance. But if you want to bring the family to Mobile, try Radisson Admiral Semmes Hotel.
Mobile has the oldest celebration in the United States, even older than New Orleans’, starting in 1703. It stopped briefly during wartime. The city’s Mardi Gras Museum, which showcases 300 years of Mobile Carnival history, is slated to open Feb. 8, Mardi Gras Day. It’s located on Government Street. www.mobilecarnivalmuseum.org.
San Diego will be celebrating its 11th Mardi Gras this year. It is a one-day-only event on Fat Tuesday, and it attracts 50,000 to 60,000 partyers. It is held within the city’s historic district, known as the Gaslamp Quarter, of which the main strip is Fifth Avenue. Hotels convenient to the party are the Hilton San Diego/Gaslamp Quarter, the Prava Hotel and the Horton Grand Hotel.
The Gaslamp Quarter Association, the nonprofit that organizes the event, has Carnival control down to an eerie science: It’s a ticketed 21-and-older fete that starts at 5 p.m. and ends at midnight. There are five performance stages and one parade. When I talked to an association spokesperson about Mardi Gras, she used words like “cone of vision,” “footprint,” “design elements,” “glass-and-weapons check,” and “drum units” – I think that means marching bands. She wasn’t a cop, nor was she ever a cop. The city, she told me, can only have one drum unit. There are no other “walking units” allowed. Also, the 40 “vehicle units” that make up the parade aren’t allowed to throw anything but beads. The city says no to Moon Pies, doubloons, fuzzy animals and cups. There are Southern Comfort Hurricanes and Budweiser Clydesdales. I’m sure San Diego is a fun city, but doesn’t it seem like city officials need to loosen up a bit? Or maybe they shouldn’t. We’ve all heard about the violence that ensues when Mardi Gras revelries take place in other cities. That’s why this year, if you decide to stay in New Orleans, remember to tip your hat to the New Orleans Police Department. Without them, we might not be able to have any walking units. www.gaslamp.org/mardigras.php. •