When I moved to New Orleans back in 1999 I didn’t really know what to expect. Certainly I didn’t anticipate that at age 32 I’d discover a whole new holiday. And not just a new holiday, but an entire holiday season.
I’m talking about Carnival, of course, and Mardi Gras, and it’s not really new at all. In fact, tomorrow will be the 150th Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans.
But it was new to me. Mardi Gras was in a cultural blind spot. I really had no idea what it was all about.
I still don’t. That’s part of the charm. It’s too big and too weird to grasp fully. Like any major holiday, it is many things to many people.
And make no mistake, Mardi Gras is a major holiday here. They say it defines this city, and I believe it.
I just got this poem (via e-mail) from Cristophe, the magistrate of the Krewe of Clouet, which evokes the spirit of the day:
CALL TO CARNIVAL
Hear Yee, Hear Yee revelers all!
It is once again time to heed the call
Of the pantomine and ribald of carnival.
Be a king or a queen and wear a crown,
A jester, a muse, a siren or a clown.
The day is marked for fantasy and mirth,
A day set aside by our mother earth,
Who in her wisdom conjures the spirits of jest,
For her children one grand day to fest
And invoke the heros of myths and odes
To raise joyous toasts as mysticism unfolds.
Join with the masks, the capes, and the plumes.
Don the cloak of a thousand costumes.
Be led by the music and move with the dance
For the day starts early and well in advance.
Thus informed partake with your friends
And celebrate the magical distant ends
Of Mardi Gras and all that it lends!
And today is Lundi Gras. We’ve got friends from out of town staying with us, and more friends coming over to visit soon. My toenails are painted bright green and my costume is coming together. It’s the most weirdly wonderful, wonderfully weird time of the year.
Happy Carnival, y’all.