Day Four: Onto NOLA

We actually got to sleep in a little this morning – our drive to New Orleans would take less than two hours.  On our way, we passed the exit for Gillsburg, Miss., which is on the border with Louisiana.  Gillsburg is where the plane carrying Lynyrd Skynyrd crashed in 1977 killing three members of the band and three others.  The crash site is now on private property, so we didn’t stop but we saluted the band as we drove by.  Just past the Louisiana border is Kentwood, the home of Britney Spears.  We did not stop or salute.

By 11 a.m. we were checked into our hotel in the French Quarter.  It’s a lovely hotel, typical of what you see when you see pictures of the French Quarter.  Hotel St. Marie sits on a corner with beautiful wrought iron balconies wrapping around the sides of the two streets it faces; one of those balconies is ours.  Gas lamps flickering with flames grace the entrance and provide guests with a warm welcome.  Although it was too early to actually get into our room, we were able to park our car and drop off our luggage.  By 1 p.m., we were on Bourbon Street.  It doesn’t take long to get swept up in the Mardi Gras atmosphere!   About two dozen beads later, we heard wonderful blues music coming from The Famous Door, the entrance of which is marked by the names of dozens of famous people who have passed through the entry.  We entered to hear a fantastic band and stayed there for several hours before heading back to our hotel to change for the evening parade. 

The author wearing Mardi Gras beads

The culmination of the first day at Mardi Gras, NOT including the parade!

The Endymion parade is one of the biggest of the Mardi Gras “super” krewes.  It was undoubtedly unlike anything I’ve ever seen and any description I offer will undoubtedly be unworthy.  Because it is an evening parade, pictures weren’t possible (at least not with my camera).  There was a captain, who I assume “steers” the parade, a king, a queen, and princesses, all of whom were in extravagant costumes of sequins and feathers.  New Orleans Saints owner Tom Benson served as grand marshall.  The floats resembled two-story ships, many of them with themes revolving around Greek mythology.  The carnival atmosphere is accentuated with the tossing of beads, stuffed animals, cups, bags, flying discs, etc.  Trust me when I say sometimes it’s safe to not try to catch the “throws” and duck instead.  Linda got hit several times in the head by high velocity throws (one of the people next to us remarked that that the krewes have mean streaks and may need anger management!).  We estimate that between us, we carried 50 pounds of throws back to the hotel.

Something I found very interesting were the flambeaux, or the keepers of the light.  These groups of people walk in between the floats carrying aluminum sheets atop poles that reflect light from torches lit by some sort of gas tanks they carry on their backs.  I was close enough to the front of the line to ask one of the carriers about them and he told me of the tradition that started when the parades were held before there were street lights and the flambeaux were needed to light the way so people could see the floats.  I love tradition and thought this was a great example of how the action is still being performed today.  It got very cold and I wasn’t really dressed for the drop in temperature, so I wore out two-thirds into the parade.  However, we couldn’t cross the police line to get on the other side of the street that would lead to our hotel, so we waited it out.

We finally made it back to our hotel around 11 p.m. and promptly hit the sack.   Because of our street balcony room, the night was interrupted with sirens, drunken yelling and laughter, and multiple shouts of “Who Dat.”  But it was OK; we knew it would be noisy, but wanted the balcony room as part of the Mardi Gras experience.  At one time I thought I heard the police announcing it was 3 a.m. and time to clear the streets so that the street cleaners could remove the ankle-high trash that had accumulated from the parades and partying.    By 8 a.m., day five was about to begin.


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