What is about to unfold here over the next seven weeks is mind-boggling, except that we’ve done it before many times. Every year is better, more elaborate, grander and in some cases unstoppable, until the following year.
The Carnival Season in New Orleans, which began this past Monday, Jan. 6, Twelfth Night, and will keep on rolling until Mardi Gras Day, Feb. 25, is an annual homage to creativity, history and unbridled community love. Many other towns and organizations have looked at what happens here, asked why they can’t do this, started the process, then failed.
It’s not just an event, but rather something in the psyche of this place. Something embedded in the DNA. You can’t just go to another town (see: Seattle, Ft. Worth), make plans for a massive street festival, and then pull it off like New Orleans can.
All manner of cooperation has to come together. The merchants and the police department have to be on board. The fire department must support the celebration. Public transportation and City Hall need to “buy in.” Most importantly, the citizens have to put themselves in the proper frame of mind to celebrate at a time when celebration is not usually done, namely in the middle of the cold season.
Toss into the mix a few intangibles, such as public drinking, changes in parking regulations, street closures and school holidays. All done with little or no expense to the local government, and all paid for by private citizens. You won’t believe, unless you have lived in other places, how difficult all this becomes in other communities. If you have lived in other places, then you know how far-fetched all of these conditions being met really are.
The celebration itself is chaos. Some folks choose to ride on a float and throw trinkets to parade-watchers who themselves are in costume. Some folks will hang at adult watering holes while others will bring coolers to public streets. There will be jostling for a prized spot from which to watch the parade and there will be a minimum of altercations. Did I mention traffic, already challenging, becomes a snail’s race to an imaginary finish line?
Many visitors ask why not have a Carnival/Mardi Gras celebration in their hometown? Go back and read the preceding three paragraphs.
We, either through many years of family gatherings or from personal good experience, know where to be, what to bring, how to get there, how to leave, where to park the car and where to take a pee. We also know what to bring to eat, what to bring to drink, and how to keep both food and beverages in good condition, ready to serve whenever someone says, “How about another piece of chicken?” Or “Pass me another beer.” Or, “Who was in charge of bringing the King Cake this time?”
I was going to insert a suggestion of drinks perfect for Carnival. Here again, you know what works for you. Wine, beer, mixed drinks, all from red plastic go-cups.
We’ve got this down, New Orleans. Stone cold and done. Lots of advance plans are not needed. Just go and do it.
Yes, it does indeed look like chaos, but the organization for how you spend Carnival and then Mardi Gras often goes back generations. It’s who we are and what we must do. Do not try this anyplace else. Carnival and Mardi Gras are not portable.
Read Happy Hour here on www.myneworleans.com on Thursdays, and listen to The Dine, Wine and Spirits Show, hosted by Tim, every weekday, 4:00 – 5:00 p.m. on WGSO 990AM and streamed, as well as stored (podcast), at www.wgso.com. Also, check out Last Call, Tim’s photo-feature about cocktails every month in New Orleans Magazine.