Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Bons temps!

Today is Mardi Gras and our 14th wedding anniversary. Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, and my 44th birthday (which in good Lutheran fashion will be "transferred" likely to next Sunday, which is not actually part of Lent). Yesterday was Lundi Gras, and we've been living it up in preparation for the beginning of six weeks of the penitential season of Lent.

The weather the past two days has been beautiful - about 80 degrees in the day, and still balmy at night.

Lundi Gras

On Lundi Gras, the Hollywoods headed to the Algiers Point ferry station and rode the Thomas Jefferson across Old Man River en route to the Audubon Aquarium. The ferry was packed with pedestrians - locals and tourists alike. On the shore, we saw four pelicans, one up high and three arrayed below - matching the four on our state flag flapping on the front of the ferry. They seemed to be joining in the Carnival frolic.

On the other side of the river, the crowds were huge, music filled the air, and the smells - oh my goodness - scrumptious food was everywhere! We passed a nice time at the aquarium looking at sharks and stingrays - to the great pleasure of Lion Boy - many of whose best friends live there in the tanks.

We then headed for a stroll through the French Quarter. Everyone should do this at least once - especially during Carnival. People of every age, shape, and size wandered around smiling, with no place in particular to go. Many wore garish costumes, some had wigs, others were dressed "to the nines." Some carried plastic "hand grenade" pitchers and oversized margarita glasses. There were people in masks, wearing huge feathers, most covered in beads, all grinning - except for those who were too inebriated to curl up the edges of the mouth.

People drifted in and out of the hustling, bustling bars, antique shops, souvenir stores, art galleries, etc. We wandered by the Napoleon House cafe - said to have been bought for the exiled emperor to live in. He never made it.

We wandered over to Bourbon Street. The crowds were more intense both in number and in, er, intensity. Bead throwers taunted and teased the crowds from their balconies wrought with ironwork. Leo, Grace, and I were showered with beads - which calls for alertness lest one get clobbered.

We met some people who were covered with large boas. Not the feathers, but the snakes. Lion Boy fearlessly petted the reptiles, and even waved and said "bye bye" as we moved on. His friends in the animal world are not limited to the aquatic variety.

In spite of the seedy reputation of Bourbon Street, we saw very little by way of "indecent exposure." Most of it was in the form of photographs on the front of the strip joints. Frankly, I've seen more skin at La Leche League meetings. But in fairness, we were there during the day, and not on Mardi Gras itself. I am quite certain that things are a little different in a nocturnal setting.

After having our fill of Rue Bourbon, we strolled alongside the St. Louis Cathedral down Pirate's Alley - a historic brick road where buccaneers and swindlers made shady deals in ages past. We walked by the house in which William Faulkner wrote his first novel. We emerged in front of the cathedral to the usual crowd of artists and palm readers. At some point, Lion Boy's head began to wobble, as he heroically tried to remain awake.

We continued our promenade away from the Quarter, heading over to the River Walk, where we were looking to have coffee and beignets, and to visit a shop to buy Mrs. Hollywood her anniversary gift.

At this point, I have to sing the praises of a man named Sidney Torres. I have never met him, but he has become a folk hero in New Orleans. His waste removal company has made the Quarter sparkle. No more putrid vomit smell, no more flies, no more empty bottles lining the streets. Everywhere you look, you see SDT men with the latest equipment scouring the place. The Quarter isn't just clean, it is immaculate - even at the peak of Mardi Gras! Torres is the man!

Anyway, we strolled over to the River Walk, enjoyed some seafood gumbo, crab etoufee, and a daiquiri (made with 190 proof grain alcohol and served in a styrofoam go cup with a straw so you can walk - hopefully - around the mall) before having dessert at the Cafe du Monde. We then went to a little boutique to buy Mrs. Hollywood's gift - a pair of elegant "wraps" to wear when the weather gets a little chilly. It does happen here - even though Spring has really begun by this time of year (the lone flower on our Japanese magnolia in the front yard is proof). At this point, it was beginning to get dark, and the fireworks were about to begin. We walked along the boardwalk just as the pyrotechnics began from a barge in the river.

At first, Leo protested that they were scary. He was converted in about three minutes, though, as celestial blasts of purple, green, and gold shimmered in the clear sky over the river amid the booms that echoed off of the downtown skyscrapers.

We saw a U.S. Coast Guard ship flying the Mardi Gras flag - the purple, green, and gold banner with a crown in the middle. I imagine this violates some kind of federal or maritime law, but this is Mardi Gras, cher!

By this time the crowds were pressing in every direction amid music and celebration. The stage at the Spanish Plaza was filled with Mardi Gras pageantry. Rex, the robed, sceptered, and masked King of Carnival greeted the King of the Krewe of Zulu (if you're not familiar with New Orleans, this has nothing to do with bad science fiction). We then wandered back over to the ferry terminal.

Getting his second wind, Lion Boy wanted to go to "the bookstore" (Barnes & Noble's). That we did, and closed the evening with a couple of chais and a hot chocolate as Lion Boy looked at books about sharks and played with Thomas the Tank Engine.

Upon retiring, we asked Leo if he had a good time. "Yeah" was his reply before drifting off.

Mardi Gras

Today is Fat Tuesday, and we celebrated in style close to home. This morning, we picked up some sandwiches (including a roast beef po boy that melted in the mouth) from Common Grounds. We headed over to the church to get a front row seat for the West Bank's Grella parade.

One of my students was kind enough to leave his lunch kit in lost and found for me to borrow to keep a couple of Heinekins cold. I'm glad to see that his Latin book was not in lost and found. And I did make sure I didn't leave anything beer-related in his lunch kit. Had I forgotten and left a can inside, there would be a sixth grader with some explaining to do.

The parade was lavish! We received more beads than ever. Lion Boy scored a spear (a real treasure), a large sword, and a turtle (the latter from Salem teacher and Sassy Kat high-stepper Miss Kitty). He also played with lots of kids in the Salem parking lot.

A parishioner shared mimosas with us. Other parishioners shared drinks with Lion Boy. I saw several Salem students who were playing and enjoying the beautiful weather.

After closing out the festivities, we commenced to celebrate our anniversary - provided by that noted caterer - Winn Dixie. We feasted on an eclectic celebratory meal of cocktail shrimp, buffalo wings, boiled peanuts, and egg rolls.

Lion Boy crashed, as we heard the party continue through our open windows (even well after dark, it's still in the seventies). A block and a half away, the partying, music, and les bons temps continue.

It will all come to an abrupt end at midnight - as even the hardy partiers of New Orleans remember that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.

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