Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mardi Gras: Roll, Roll, Roll Your Float Gently Down the Dream...

It's not usual to be drinking at 9 in the morning. Or 10 in the morning. Or any time before your local cantina's maligned 'happy hour' special. It is usually a paradise reserved for the degenerates of our fair society. Otherwise known as our creative forward thinkers, depending on who you ask. But this time we are talking about Mardi Gras, in New Orleans. The strangest mish mash of cultural hoopla and history mixed together in a big purple, green and gold pot. Kind of like gumbo, another proud tradition in these parts. On one end of the spectrum, you have the juvenile 'girls gone wild' scene where women flash their goods and a crude barter system for plastic beads is enacted. That's been the streamlined version of Mardi Gras (and the city of New Orleans in general) for the past 30 years or so thanks to movies and well, 'girls gone wild' late night TV propaganda. I consider it my duty to inform you, the reader, that women can provide you with cheap thrills in exchange for petty gifts in any region of the world, at any time. Go ahead and try it. Your welcome.

To say that the whole scene of tourists that floods Bourbon Street, New Orlean's most infamous route, is all that is Mardi Gras is ludicrous. Which makes this all the more dumbfounding. Mardi Gras in its purest essence is just a big party before Ash Wednesday, where people of the Christian persuasion give up some bad behavior for Lent. However there's loads of other things that factor into this holiday equation. Some parts of Mardi Gras feel like a giant 4th of July cookout, where instead of fireworks there are beads and music. Parents are hoisting kids on their shoulders, families are coming together and people of all colors, from all different types of backgrounds are dancing in the street in wild celebration. Then you walk one more block and a bunch of twenty-something fellows are shotgunning cans of Natural Lite and passing out jello shots. And maybe just passing out. Trust me, I tend to find myself in this type of company. But then you drunkenly stumble through a happy family of five's cookout and realize there's a whole lot more going on. It is a weird menagerie of events all happening at the same time and yet it all makes sense in its absurdity. By every evening's end (if there is one) beads are hanging from trees like a neon canopy, flags are flying from every house and the crowds have shuffled into the thousands of local bars. Once again, you're in a whole new world.

Time and again I'd find myself in the middle of this dance, trying to piece together another haphazard plan of attack for every nightfall. After a day of watching parades charge down elegant St. Charles Avenue (while drinking) and attending dinners (while drinking) I was often being led off to another place (while drinking) and always eventually, into the heart of the beast - the French Quarter (while drinking). Every morning it certainly would catch up with me but by the same time everyday, I was back on the almost mechanized process of Mardi Gras yet again. Everything turns into a multi colored waterfall, spilling into glasses of different shapes and sizes, just before it all goes black. I'd run into faces and names I'd have not seen in years and just as easily lose them again as they disappear into the crowd. They are the people you only meet in a dream. Because that's what this really is, a dream. Fully realized and pumped into our physical world. The happiness and brotherhood that sweeps you up while your swimming through a sea of strangers is very hypnotizing. To a point where you don't realize that just mixed tequila with whiskey and wine. And that you still have work in the morning. Your blindsided by the spectacle and everything else falls away. The best part is while your nursing your hangover in the days that follow, you can count on it coming back the next year, bigger and more overblown than ever.

I know this sounds really spiritual, but consider this - I'm not really a spiritual person. Not in the slightest. I'm one of the more hardened, cynical assholes you'd find creeping around a diver bar in the most questionable of neighborhoods. All I'm saying is that if you ever wanted to make a proper argument for there being 'one united consciousness' of humanity, come down to the Mardi Gras. I'll see ya there.

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