So my parents want to come visit for the girl’s first birthday. That’s cool. Her first birthday falls on Samedi Gras — the Saturday before Mardi Gras. That’s a special day for us, as it’s the only day when Carnival comes to our Mid-City neighborhood any more. We usually have a party on that day, a big blowout with a keg of good beer and live music, and this year it will be extra fun because it will also be the girl’s first birthday party. Super cool. Come on down, Mom & Dad! They can even do some volunteer work at Camp Restore.
But, of course, as long as they’re here, they really ought to stay for Mardi Gras. Everybody should experience Mardi Gras in New Orleans at least once in their lifetime.
And that’s where things get a tad complicated.
In a recent e-mail, Mom says:
Now I have to convince your father that we should do this. He doesn’t want to be part of any debauchery, I guess.
And that cracked me up: the image of my respectable, somewhat conservative, slightly puritanical Midwestern father trying to enjoy Mardi Gras while avoiding debauchery. It’s a funny thought, and I mean that in the most loving and sympathetic way possible.
Of course, locals know Mardi Gras really is a family-friendly event. But an air of cheerful debauchery does prevail. That’s one of the things I love about it. Mardi Gras wouldn’t feel complete to me without venturing to the Quarter. One definitely will glimpse some debauchery there. But I wouldn’t be afraid to take my one-year-old daughter, or my parents — if they can get in the right frame of mind.
Masking is essential. Mardi Gras is so much more fun if you’re dressed up in costume. It doesn’t have to be salacious — though that certainly helps. The main thing is to don something truly outlandish, such as you’d never wear in ordinary life.
I guess I really need to get on the horn and talk to the folks about this, but I dropped my phone while replacing some boards on the deck this morning, and apparently I’ve killed it. And since we no longer have a landline, that means I’m vox incommunicado.
So, since I know they’ll read this:
Dad, think of it as an athletic experience. We’ll rise early, breakfast at a friend’s house in the Bywater (hopefully) then walk through the Marigny, colliding with the Societé de Sainte Anne if we’re lucky, then through the Quarter. We’ll take a gander at one of the big parades on Canal Street, then retreat back to the Quarter, get some lunch, visit the river, and then we’ll slowly make our way back to the Bywater. And we do it all in costume, with an infant, while drinking a few beers along the way. No, we won’t get drunk, but we’ll see some people at various levels of intoxication. We’ll see a few rowdies and a few risque costumes. We might catch a whiff of a funny-smelling cigarette or see someone just plain acting a fool. But mostly we will see all manner of folk — all ages, races, classes, nationalities — having a great time at a great party and dancing to great music while decked out in the most eye-popping, hilarious, beautiful outfits you’ve ever seen in your whole life. It will be fun, and an unforgettable experience. I can guarantee you that. And as you might note from that itinerary, it will tax our stamina. We’re usually back home, exhausted, by early afternoon. But with the added challenge of bringing the girl along, we’ll need all the help we can get.
Those who think I’m discouraging my parents don’t know them. They are world class athletes, in much better shape than Xy and I. The athletic angle might be just the ticket to transforming Mardi Gras from frightening debauchery into fun sport in the eyes of ole Grandpa Ray.
I should note too that our friends in Tuscaloosa, Herb & Jenny, will be joining us for Mardi Gras, and might be bringing their bairns too. At least I hope so. More is merrier.
Of course, if Dad doesn’t really don’t want to come, if what I’ve described above doesn’t sound like a good time, that’s OK too. No pressure. Forced merriment is the worst thing in the world. There are plenty of locals here who flee the city at Carnival time, to escape the crowds and the madness. So come at Christmas or Easter instead, or anytime.
Dad, I hope you’ll feel free to post comments here. Mom too. And anyone else for that matter. Let’s hash this out, address any concerns you might have. If you’d rather discuss privately, that’s fine too. But I think right here in the open might be more fun, and that, after all, is the spirit of Carnival.