In the early days of 2006, many of the global media had opened temporary bureaus in New Orleans to report on the lingering death of one of the world’s most beloved cities. According to some reports, many of the city’s streets were still flooded even four months after the levees broke in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. Businesses were closed, citizens had evacuated, and even nature had turned its back as the lush green foliage turned gray.
New Orleans was on life support. The global press kept a vigil of its demise. But then something jarring happened. Instead of staging a funeral, New Orleans exploded with a Mardi Gras. There were parades – some with floats that had blue roofs. Several krewes with water-logged floats combined with others. Rex faced an unusual problem. Many of its floats are built on the wooden spoked wheels of old sanitation wagons. Some of the wheels had been warped by the water. A blacksmith was urgently needed. None could be found locally; however, a guy was located in Texas who came in to do the job.
School bands were in disarray; so, combination groups were formed. The urban pulse was still beating.
By Feb. 28 of that year, Mardi Gras Day, the world was getting a different message, New Orleans was not only surviving but apparently rockin’. The streets thought to be flooded sparkled with seas of wayward beads. Even the once lifeless trees along the parade routes snared throws from the floats.
There had been other times when the city faced troubles as the Carnival season approached only to be super-charged by the festivity; but never as dramatically as the Carnival 0f 2006, which I consider to be the “Most Important Mardi Gras Ever.”
Now, there is Carnival of 2022, which followed a year left paradeless by a pandemic. The tragedies were different; the coronavirus was worldwide, Katrina was local. COVID-19 left little physical damage; Katrina was a bulldozer. Yet both were interruptions that questioned the city’s ability to rebound.
But we did it; proving our resilience not only to the world but to ourselves.
Carnival 2006 remains, perhaps forever, unchallenged as the most important Carnival ever; but a strong case could be made for 2022 being in second place, at least in modern times.
And if there is anything that cities, with their mix of social tensions and cultural splendor, need it is self-confidence.
There are Carnival celebrations held throughout the world; but the three that are most famous are in Venice; Rio de Janeiro and New Orleans.
Few countries faced so much devastation from the virus in its early days as did Italy; thus, the Venetian Carnival was shut down the last two years. This season it returned in full glory with stylish masking along the canals and at St. Mark’s square. Rio, which is most famous for its dancing and barely-there costuming, did not do so well. Early on, its 2022 Carnival was postponed because of COVID to April 20-30. (In a twist of the Gregorian calendar it will follow rather than be the prelude to Easter, April 17.)
Ah, but New Orleans, which only had one Carnival diminished by COVID and has proven its full strength, is on track as if should be.
Having been duly tested for perseverance, this city reigns as the kingdom of all Carnivals.
Have something to add to this story, or want to send a comment to Errol? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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BOOK ANNOUNCEMENT: Errol’s Laborde’s books, “New Orleans: The First 300 Years” and “Mardi Gras: Chronicles of the New Orleans Carnival” (Pelican Publishing Company, 2017 and 2013), are available at local bookstores and at book websites.
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