Thursday, February 27, 2014

Carnival 1981: New Orleans

This is the second part of an 8-part series about Carnival 

Dateline: NEW ORLEANS, March 3, 1981

In the United States, mention "Mardi Gras," and the first city that pops to mind is New Orleans. Fittingly, my personal story of Carnival also begins in this fabled town. Bourbon Street revelry. Parades down St Charles Ave. Hurricane daiquiris at Pat O'Brien's. Chicory coffee and beignets at Cafe du Monde. And beads. And doubloons. Lots and lots of beads and doubloons. What people will do to earn these trinkets is the stuff of legend.

Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday of course begins the solemn, 40-day long season of Lent culminating in remembering Christ's crucifixion and celebrating his resurrection on Easter. (Well actually, it's 46 days, but how one counts the days of Lent is the subject of a different post.)

A float is seen in the parade down St. Charles Avenue

I first experienced Mardi Gras as a cadet in the Army ROTC Drill Team in 1981. By day, we competed against other schools' drill teams, put on demonstrations for the public, and marched in parades like Endymion, Isis, and Apollo. By night, we attempted to pack as much of the intoxicating sights and sounds as possible, before curfew--complete with bed check.

Scene on Bourbon Street during Mardi Gras


I was out of the country in 1982, but I did return with the Notre Dame Army ROTC Drill Team to Mardi Gras in 1983. I've also been back for the Sugar Bowl to watch Notre Dame disappoint Steve Spurrier's  favored Gators on New Year's Eve, 1991. But I digress... My point: Pictures do not do this city or its beguiling scenery justice! The French Quarter of New Orleans is spectacular year round, but is not to be missed during Mardi Gras!

Carnival originated as a pagan ritual of spring, but it was co-opted by the early Christian church and incorporated into the liturgical calendar as a precursor to season of Lent. As the Church grew and spread her influence, the traditions of Carnival spread as well. Today, Carnival is celebrated around the world, particularly in Catholic areas which were, at one time, under the influence of the Holy Roman Empire.

New Orleans is synonymous with Mardi Gras in part because it was settled by French Catholics. (More information about the history of Louisiana and New Orleans available HERE.) In the next installments of our Carnival series, we'll call out similar Roman Catholic roots and notice local differences in how Carnival is observed in Venice, Mainz, Rio de Janeiro, Daytona Beach (?), and my home in Alexandria.

Let the Good Times Roll! Or, as we say in Nawlins, Laissez les bons temps rouler!