On the morning after Mardi Gras, the streets in the Quarter, particularly those closest to Canal Street, have a crunch to them. City workers with shovels and brooms are busy pushing the debris left from the day before into piles. At first glance the miscellaneous clumps of broken beads, torn costume parts, errant plastic cups and chicken bones are a gooey mess as gushes of water and pine oil are sprayed onto them, but there is also something spiritual in the cleansing.
Ash Wednesday’s message of dust to dust certainly seems appropriate as remnants of yesterday’s celebration deteriorate into grime on the curbs. A pair of sparkling beads for which many hands grabbed as it flew from a float was quickly reduced to a broken string of bouncing pellets. A plastic cup took several spins before crashing to the street.
A story is told that on Mardi Gras 1960 the police who were assigned to Gallier Hall, where the day’s formal toasts are held, got word that there was disorder down the parade route. Spectators were pushing each other, leaping and diving to the ground because Rex’s float riders were reportedly throwing silver dollars. That was the day that doubloons were first introduced to Carnival. They would bounce and roll after reaching the ground as though seeking security in a storm drain. Doubloons introduced a new day in the era of debris accumulation—there was more mess to sweep away, plus it glittered.
For Ash Wednesday to have meaning there must be a period of feasting that precedes it. In the metaphoric sense there has been no feasting in the Carnival of 2021. Fate has mandated instead a different type of mask. There are many rules in place, but rules are contrary to the liberated spirit of Carnival. There has been no debris crunch in the street; instead, we have limped our way through the puddles of a season denied.
If Mardi Gras is a prelude to Ash Wednesday, perhaps a season of Ash Wednesdays can be a prelude to better days.
We will know the moment has arrived when we can again drive down St. Charles Avenue and see beads dangling from oak trees like a new growth of moss. Life will be back to the way that nature intended it.