NEW ORLEANS – The streets of New Orleans are filled with costumed revelers, dazzling floats featuring kings and queens, and people of all ages screaming for trinkets and beads. Lots of beads.
Tuesday marks the culmination of the Carnival season, which started Jan. 6.
Mardi Gras is “the one time of year people can act like fools and get away with it,” said one reveler, Craig Channell.
Channell, his wife, Darlene Channell, and friend Dian Walsh were visiting from Tampa, Florida. Host Bill Tucker pulled a wagon holding a big cooler and four roll-up chairs. The group was among 30 or so people who took the 7 a.m. ferry Tuesday to Canal Street. The crowd included people in tutus and a half-dozen pirates.
The biggest parades take place along the St. Charles Avenue parade route, where the Krewe of Zulu kicked off the morning’s parades and then was followed by the Krewe of Rex.
Pete Fountain’s Half-Fast Walking Club strutted from the famed Commander’s Palace restaurant to the French Quarter, tossing beads and doubloons to recordings of his music. Fountain, a clarinetist, died in August of last year, but the club members – decked out from hat to shoes in nearly fluorescent spring green – were carrying on the tradition.
The sidewalk along St. Charles Avenue near Canal Street barely had room for pedestrians. People were sitting two rows of chairs deep while families had set up ladders with seats on top for their children to sit on and catch throws.
Elaine Thomson, 48, of Silver Spring, Maryland, had been there since 7 a.m. with a group of friends.
“This is my 23rd Mardi Gras. Every year they do it bigger and better,” Thomson said.
In another part of the city, people dressed in elaborate costumes were taking part in the St. Anne’s parade – an eclectic walking parade that starts in the Bywater and Marigny neighborhoods and ends in the French Quarter.
Gabrielle Begue described her costume as “shrubs, greens, topiary” although she conceded that the leaves festooned around her body were a bit unruly to be called topiary.
Begue and her husband, Erik Winkowski, were dressed as what could best be described as large bushes put together with fake ivy and: “…a whole lot of hot glue.”
Begue said with all of the year’s heated political commentary they wanted outfits that were “full whimsical.”
For others, the year’s heated politics were on full display.
Jim Segreto wore a costume inspired by President Donald Trump’s promises to build a wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
The costume consisted of blue sateen pants, an Uncle Sam hat and a cardboard box marked with black lines for cinderblocks. A label read: “Trump’s $26 billion wall. Mexico offers `nada.’ We’re stuck with the bill.”
“I had to have something that made a statement,” Segreto said.
In the Marigny, Kyle Straub and his friends were dressed as various aspects of science under attack. Straub was dressed as a glacier emblazoned with the words “Make Glaciers Great Again” in a pointed reference to those who question whether climate change is real.
His two kids were dressed as polar bears – what his wife Rebekah called “harbingers of global climate change” although she said the kids didn’t come up with the name themselves.
Members of various Mardi Gras Indian tribes – they’re African-American rather than Native American – were also out on the streets in hand-sewn, beaded and feathered outfits that they have been working on for months.
In Alabama, the port city of Mobile is transforming itself into one big parade route for Fat Tuesday.
Government offices and many businesses are closed as parades roll almost continuously through the city starting Tuesday morning. The weather is supposed to be good, and tens of thousands of people are expected to line parade routes.
At the stroke of midnight, police on horseback in New Orleans do a ceremonial clearing of revelers on Bourbon Street to mark the formal end of the Carnival season before Lent begins Wednesday. The word “carnival” comes from the Latin words meaning “farewell to flesh,” and was originally a time to revel and to use up all the fat and meat in the larder before the austerities of Lent.
This year’s Mardi Gras season was marred by a suspected drunken-driving incident that sent more than 20 people watching a parade in New Orleans to the hospital Saturday night. No one was killed.
Police say the suspect’s blood-alcohol level was nearly three times the legal limit.
On Sunday, a man fell off a float and injured himself near the end of another parade.
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