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Monday, February 25, 2013

In which the Author does not get shot in Bourbon Street...New Orleans Mardi Gras Part 3

It is a standing joke in our family that my DH (darling husband) routinely tries to kill me on every holiday. In fact I am the only person I know who has to train for holidays - teach me to marry Action Man. 

So it is no surprise that on the night we went to Bourbon Street, there was a shooting. I am happy to say at the time we were half a block away from the shooting and heading away from the revelry when it happened but it still counts as one of my closer brushes with danger! More on that later...

Bourbon Street revellers

In my last post I wrote about the experience of riding a float in a Mardi Gras Parade. As you can imagine the next day was somewhat leisurely. We ate lunch at a restaurant on the levee and my friends showed us East New Orleans, where the damage from Katrina is still evident in destroyed houses and vacant blocks. I last visited New Orleans in 2001 and I have to say, in general, that from the ashes (or is that mud) of Katrina, there is a new vibrancy about New Orleans. My friends told us that the first Mardi Gras Parade after Katrina was an extraordinary experience, a tribute to a city that would not die and it is a city with a huge heart. But it has its dark side...for example residents of the beautiful Garden District, employ private firms of security guards to walk them from their cars to their front doors at night.

My friends had procured tickets for a balcony at the Royal Senestor Hotel in Bourbon Street for the Saturday night.  During Mardi Gras, hotels and other venues in Bourbon Street, rent out their balconies and suites (a bit like a corporate box at the football) so a couple of free tickets were not going to be wasted.

Ferry across the river
We caught the ferry from Algiers across the Mississippi to the French Quarter. When we arrived it was still fairly early and the crowd had just begun to build, but as we approached Bourbon Street, the energy level hefted up a notch. Bourbon Street at the best of times is not really a pleasant place populated as it is with  bars and cheap souvenir shops and an overarching smell of bad drains.

An already well lubricated crowd milled down the street clutching Hand Grenades (green plastic containers with a vile looking drink), laden with beads, some wearing masks and costumes. At each street corner, neatly dressed men  clutching bibles, placards and crosses handed out leaflets exorting the revellers to repent. Fat chance!

A balcony in Bourbon Street - Saturday night

Above us, more revellers lined the balconies, throwing beads into the crowd. Beneath our feet, broken strings of beads and muddy puddles made the going treacherous. But you find yourself drawn into the moment and there is a satisfaction in catching your first throws. Beside me, a woman peeled back her tee shirt exposing her breasts. So, the stories about the ritual flashing were true...a phenomenon first recorded in 1889 and definitely one for the tourists.

The view from the balcony
We found our suite at the Royal Senestor. The balcony was already crowded but playing the "I've come all the way from Australia" card, I managed to secure a small corner. We had a couple of bags of beads saved from the night before and I joined the others, dangling my wares over the balcony.The roof across from us was covered in badly thrown beads!

 Like the float, you needed to make eye contact and I caught the eye of a couple of young men who happily flashed their chests for me - oh well...when in Rome...

Beside me a young man waved a large, gaudy string of beads for which several women seemed keen to expose themselves. When 
Throwing beads from the balcony
DH took my place, the young man, now comfortable in the company of another male, explained that while he may offer the exotic beads,  he never threw them. Bastard!

Waving an Australian flag in an attempt to find that elusive token drunk Aussie...(oh wait, that may have been me?)... I garnered a bit of attention until the beads ran out.

By 9.30 we had enough. Our drink vouchers had run out and the suite was dangerously crowded. Below us the crowd had thickened and there seemed to be an electric element in the air that said it was not the place for the middle aged who needed their beds.

As we walked out of Royal Senestor, DH remarked that he heard fireworks. Police were running up the street towards us. It was only later on the ferry back to Algiers we heard that just half a block from the Royal Senestor there had been a shooting with 4 people badly injured. Holy, lucky escape, Batman! Of course it hit the news in New Orleans and at home. You can read about it HERE.

DH and I returned to the French Quarter on Monday, during the day. Crowds still thronged the streets but the electric atmosphere had been tempered and the feeling was just one of good will. We walked the streets, admiring the decorations and the Mask Market, listened to the music, watched the arrival of Rex on a Coast Guard boat,  ate beignets and coffee. drank a beer at Pat O'Briens  and had po boys for lunch. For all its undercurrent of violence, there is something innately loveable about New Orleans.

Mardi Gras decorations - French Quarters
Tuesday was Mardi Gras day. In the city the Krewes of Zulu and Rex were parading. We watched the parades on the television before joining our friends at a local parade for the Krewe of Grela in the Gretna Parish. Here the local fire department (yes fire trucks!), the sheriff and local councillors joined the parade, tossing throws, cups and doubloons. The King and Queen of Grela passed by and the local high school marching bands, entertained us. I stood on the side of the road, my own hand upreached... "Throw me something mister...". 

Despite the showers (and a howling cold), I drank bloody marys, ate King Cake and watched the parade sitting on the tail gate of a pick up truck. It was homespun, fun and a wonderful end to the Mardi Gras experience.

The King of Grela
High School Marching Band

And a firetruck - of course!