Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Fat Tuesday

Three years ago, my sister and I decided that if we were ever going to see the real Mardi Gras, we just had to do it. What a fabulous trip -- all the parades, where we screamed like crazy people desperate for beads, and ended up lugging sackfuls of them home. Zulu coconuts, Rex crowns, Bacchus cups, Orpheus medallions, doubloons and coins, umbrellas, panties, we collected everything we could get our hands on. Fond memories of our super special night at Michaud's with the gut-busting buffet, open bar, private bleachers to watch the Krew of Bacchus parade through the Garden District. And our night time gala at the Convention Center, the event of the season, watching the Orpheus parade end up at its final destination, with a private concert with Harry Connick Jr and friends, the same building we would see on tv and weep over six months ago.

The food! Swoon! Delectable brunches at Commander's Palace and Brennan's. Lunches of po'boys and gumbo. Hurricanes and Gin Fizzes. Oooh, that luscious King Cake we got everywhere! There is no place on earth that does food like New Orleans. I still dream about it.

When Hurricane Katrina hit, and then the levees broke and flooded that city, we watched on tv stunned and numb. It was incomprehensible. It still is. What was once the most spirited and unique city in our country, is now a wasteland. A small slice of the French Quarter, Bourbon Street and some parts of the Garden District thrive. The airport is open. But the rest is gone. Still.

The people have relocated. The cleanup is happnening in fits and starts. The major services are hit and miss. But today there were parades and celebrations for Fat Tuesday. People came to eat and drink, throw beads, and celebrate life. The spirit of New Orleans is still alive. Small, a tiny ember compared to flame it once was, but it is not gone. I am in mourning for the loss. All this time later, I still cannot understand how that could have happened.

We dragged out all our Mardi Gras loot. We decorated the house with coconuts and masks and doubloons. I lugged up my sack of beads and have spent days pulling them out -- "remember this parade?" "remember when you got hit in the head with these?" "OMG, I forgot about these beads -- didn't you trade these with that crazy drunk guy?" We had so much fun. And I've been wearing beads all week long, in my own private tribute to the very spirit of that city. Listening to jazz and realizing that it is never really going to go away. But still devastated that we lost so much. Tears mixed with Laughter. That's life.