My high holy moment each Carnival season is around 2 p.m. on the afternoon of Mardi Gras Day. The altar is the promenade between Jackson Square and St. Louis Cathedral. By that hour all of the festival’s parades are finished as Rex prepares to change into his ball costume. The weekenders are heading home. The over-imbibers are over and out. The streets of the French Quarter, by Mardi Gras afternoon, are left to the spirits. They appear in all sorts of wardrobes – some with barely any wardrobes at all. Nearby, the sounds of various bands echo off the old buildings. Many of the revelers had started their day early in Marigny and Bywater, then walked along with the costumed confederacy known as the Society of St. Anne. Many are freelance marchers and groups that wander through the streets. At some point everyone passes, and frequently stops to mambo, between God and General Jackson, the latter routinely doffing his hat at the spectacle. Conga drums, seemingly from out of nowhere, give the moment a sensual pulse. Here at this moment, at this site, the spirit of Mardi Gras flourishes before flitting way toward Ash Wednesday.
At the right place and at the right time, New Orleans radiates to an urban experience that’s impossible to imitate anywhere else.
It must have been around 11:30 Mardi Gras morning last year when I made my first of what are usually several stops in front of the cathedral. I knew instantly that that would be my last of the day. Because Mardi Gras was late last year, March 4, there was speculation that the date would be warmer and dryer than usual. The speculation was wrong to the point of being cruel. The weather betrayed the spirit. There have been some Carnival days that have been cold; some that have been wet; seldom have they been both. There was no music; no dancing. Drenched maskers looked like their costumes had been hosed to their body. Stalwarts in the language of Carnival including Mondo Kayo, the Ducks of Dixieland and Cosmic Debris all retired early, seeking refuge from the day.
Now another season approaches. If there’s any justice in the cosmos, the weather for Mardi Gras day will be beautiful for 100 years in succession. That has to happen. There are too many spirits waiting to soar.