Mardi Gras is not for the faint of heart. It’s not a “vacation” in the sense that you will come home rested. You’ll come home tired, maybe hung-over, hoarse, sore, possibly with a cold or upper respiratory infection (we like to call that the MG Crud) and with random bumps and bruises you either can’t or won’t explain. That’s because you were having a hell of a lot of fun and forgot you were old/ill/serious/tired/a parent/a grandparent/a responsible member of society. But Mardi Gras will also try your patience.
A friend pointed out two things that need to be brought with you that I did not think to write about in “The Packing List” but they are pretty freakin’ important:
Tolerance and a sense of humor. (And a First Aid kit wouldn’t hurt either.)
When I say that Mardi Gras is Anything and Everything you’ve never even dreamed of I mean it. It will push you out of your comfort zone, which for some is exhilarating and others is exhausting. The city of New Orleans even during “normal” times is pretty weird in the most outstanding way, but Mardi Gras really cranks the weirdness up a notch or twelve. If you are travelling with uptight people, you may want to conveniently lose them in a crowd your first day so you can enjoy the sights on your own. When they find you several hours later and they are all huffy you can be like “What? I didn’t hear the phone ringing!”
There will be crowds and noise and lines and traffic and your food will take a long time to get to you. People will spill drinks on you. You will spill drinks on yourself. You’ll get squished cheek to cheek with people who look and act nothing like your quilting group in South Cakalaky. You’ll be called Sugar, Baby, Darlin’ or Honey – and if you don’t like it that’s too bad. The sooner you accept these facts the happier you will be. It’s barely controlled chaos, and you aren’t the one controlling it so stop trying. It’s nice to go with an idea of the things you might want to see or do, but don’t over schedule yourself. Go back at a different time of year if you want to do things like cemetery and swamp tours. Do the Mardi Gras stuff. Everyone’s got their own ideas of what those things are but some that are usually at the top of people’s lists include watching a parade (it’s not like your hometown holiday parade), having beignets at Café du Monde (24/7 you have to grab a table when you see people getting ready to leave), walking down Bourbon Street (try daytime first), catching some beads (from a parade or a balcony) and general people watching. There’s no better spot for people watching than this city and this time of year. Okay maybe Fantasy Fest in Key West but this is slightly more affordable.
Even people who love crowds can get worn out. Cherish quiet spots when you can find them; they are few and far between. We’ve all got our secret places. I discovered one year that Harrah’s casino is surprisingly calm when compared to the outside craziness. I’m not much of a gambler but plop me in front of the penny slots for an hour and it soothes the savage beast. A good place to chill if you don’t have a close hotel room to take a break in. If your nerves are shot, they won’t get better until you find some downtime.
Remember to eat! You can’t live on just Hand Grenades – food is everywhere if you stop and look for it. I know you’ve seen those Snickers commercials where people turn into bitchy divas when they get too hungry. Don’t do that to your travel companions and don’t let them do it to you. If you are afraid of local cuisine like gumbo and muffalettas there is always the fallback of McDonalds and Popeye’s on Canal. Plus, many of the bars you are lurking in serve actual food. The second floor of Johnny White’s on Bourbon gives you a great balcony view while you eat so you don’t feel like you are missing anything. If for no other reason than it’s a New Orleans legend, get a Lucky Dog from one of the many carts milling around.
There is no costume too inappropriate for the French Quarter. Don’t be offended by any of them – you are wasting your energy and 30 seconds later you’ll see one even more outrageous. Instead, take lots of pictures because there’s no way any of your friends back home are going to believe your descriptions without them. Don’t be afraid to wear a wig, silly hat, or something you would never wear at home. Whatever it is, I promise you someone is 100x weirder and no one is laughing at you. Well, maybe they are but I consider that a good thing. No – a GREAT thing. After all, you made someone laugh and I think that is a wonderful gift. Costumes and masks are really for Fat Tuesday, but people dress up every day – especially the weekend leading up to Tuesday. There are plenty of shops selling costume ridiculousness but I like shopping during Halloween sales and bringing stuff from home. Super fun at airport security! Some of the best costumes come out of the LGBTQ community. I’m talking Oscar quality. Embrace the awesomeness; a lot of time and money goes into many people’s costumes as they try to outdo each other (and outdo what they made for the year before).
You’ll see every kind of person at Mardi Gras. College kids, families, old people and young people, cops and con artists, gay and straight, couples, locals, tourists, sinners and those who want to save you. That last group is one that I really see trying people’s patience and another example of taking a deep breath and appreciating the diversity coming together for the season. You’ll see plenty of them – religious groups of some sort (I think they claim to be Christians but it’s sure not how I was raised) handing out pamphlets and throwing themselves in the thick of it all with bullhorns and giant signs. You’ll be told you are going to hell and that God hates you. If you read some of their signs, it’s clear they think God hates everybody including women and sports fans. Wha??? Don’t fall for it. They are trying to bait you into an argument that neither one of you will back down from. It’s a waste of breath. A better use of your time is taking a picture with them and their signage and moving on. You do your thing and don’t bother letting them poison your trip.
As my experiences grow, I come up with other thoughts that may or not be helpful/entertaining to you – I suggest reading my Random Advice next if you have time to kill.
I’ll admit that towards the end of my trip every year I get pretty fatigued, both mentally and physically. There’s a lot to take in, put up with and thoroughly enjoy. If you grow to love New Orleans you also start to feel for the city and the way it gets treated during the carnival season. You’ll be amazed at the patience of law enforcement and medical personnel. But in your love you’ll become a supporter of a unique place with amazing people and history like nowhere else. (After you recover you’ll start thinking about plans for next year…) Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler!