The blog on my previous website, RRontheroad.com, was primarily a log of travel stories—and my warmest thanks to all of you who followed my travels for years while I lived abroad. It’s a good way to start this one.
My son, Adam, does ocean research and has been stationed for two or three years in various interesting small cities along the United States coasts. Planning my first visit to see him and Kristin, his partner, at his new post on the Mississippi gulf, we talked about what there is to do there. Mardi Gras! We dipped our toes into three festivals: Ocean Springs, Mississippi; the historic Mobile, Alabama version (first in the U.S.); and, of course, classic New Orleans. Everyone in the area had a four-day weekend; it’s the biggest holiday of the year.
Celebrations of imagination, creation, color, teamwork, and song! At each fete, trucks pulled floats, structures manned with bead and trinket throwers, alternating with uniformed marching bands and costumed dancers. The simplest, in Ocean Springs, on Friday evening, was a nod to the local: decorated and painted vehicles blaring popular music along the short street lined with hip shops. A rowdy group of young men waved two huge declarations of their identity and affiliation, a confederate flag and a Trump flag, our only brush with pointed politics in the parades.
Mobile on Saturday turned out to be a good choice. Sunday’s festival in Mobile was themed in honor of the originator of Mardi Gras, Joe Cain, who dressed to ridicule Native Americans and honor Confederates, we learned. But Mobile was a welcoming city—downtown Dauphin Street with its sidewalk tables and bars, friendly fellow parade-watching families, and the best of the floats we saw all weekend. The parades started at noon and lasted into the dark of night. Our destination “krewe,” the Mystics of Time, included fantastical dragons, Dr Who’s Tardis, Father Time, and more characters and constructions than I could identify.
While driving to New Orleans, Kristin observed that Louisiana is shaped like a boot.
“That’s because it’s got soul,” Adam quipped.
New Orleans, on Sunday, was, for us, more of an exploration of the city neighborhoods than just parade watching. Artists in the park, boats and bridges along the mighty Mississippi River, luscious oysters and creamy cheesy creole dishes, flashy boa-ed outfits and painted faces, brassy jazz bands on the march, shiny beads hurled from ornate wrought-iron balconies, the frenzy of the French Quarter and Bourbon Street, and a mass of crowds to wade through on the parade routes. A woman was crushed the day before when she tripped trying to cross between tethered floats; a high school trumpeter stumbled on a barricade in front of us and Adam saw him careen head-first into the metal fence. (He was unconscious for a short time; a nurse appeared from the crowd and a policeman was summoned; and then he appeared to recover and was escorted off the road by emergency medical attendants.)
Back in Biloxi, laden with piles of beads, we waited out the Monday rains. Kristin announced she would bring beads to the community college where she teaches to give to students. On Mardi, the actual Tuesday, we skipped the festivities, hiking instead winding trails at the Mississippi Sand Hill Crane Reserve. The endangered birds, a variation of the long-migrating cranes, live in the wild open lands of the reserve year-round.
Mardi Gras in the U.S. is very different from the Caribbean and South American Carnival. In 2006, Adam and I were invited to join Carnival in Trinidad, reputedly second only to Rio, by a New York couple, a cousin of mine whose girlfriend was from Port of Spain, the capital. That time we were active participants. Soca music, derived from soul and calypso, is to Trinidad as reggae is to Jamaica, and its dance beat permeated the three-day festival. Instead of being dominated by floats, each “band” had its own costumes each day and danced, “chipping” to soca, in the streets across the city. A steel drum competition with 100-person ensembles kicked off the first night. We were the chocolate band before sunrise the first morning, painted with watery cocoa, as bands threw colors on roaming groups. On the last day, our costume looked Las Vegas showgirl-y, and no, I don’t have a picture of myself in that getup. Fantastic, colorful and imaginative, fanciful or fearful kings and queens of the Carnival appeared as flamboyant peacocks displaying their finery. Two hours of sleep each night, glugging caffeine from cola trucks that rolled by every few hours. Legs sore, sunburned, but wonderful!
More photos for Mardi Gras