I get to New Orleans at the end of January. Around this time of year there’s normally something happening, but I can’t remember what.
More on that in a minute, because I first have to tell you one of the coolest parts of New Orleans: how I got there (bear with me).
I drove over Lake Pontchartrain on this bridge:
At 23.85 miles, the Pontchartrain Causeway is one of the longest bridges in the world (but go fight with Guinness if you want to know more). As you’re driving across it, you soon lose sight of the land behind you, with no sign of land in front of you. It’s like you’re driving out into the ocean.
When I eventually reach dry land I make my way to New Orleans proper, where I’m staying just off Canal St, next to the French Quarter. Mardi Gras isn’t quite in full swing yet, there are a few parades happening, but the main events don’t kick off for another week or so. There’s an incredible amount of activity, though, for something else. I pass a couple of guys discussing their plans for the Soup-a-Bowl (which I think is their version of Cup-a-Soup). They seemed pretty excited.
Yes, so I accidentally scheduled myself to be in New Orleans while it simultaneously hosted the US’ biggest sporting event and one of the biggest festivals of the year. It was obvious that the week was going to turn into one all-out bacchanalia of boozing, [foot]balling, and—so I ended up in a Catholic church.
The square outside the church had been commandeered by ESPN to … talk to ghosts, I guess and avid football fans clung to the railings while less avid tourists milled around drinking in the middle of the day, like they were in Dublin in the middle of the day. Since the main festivities haven’t quite kicked off yet, however, there is one theme linking New Orleans: construction work.
They are delicious if ridiculously sweet and despite my best efforts not to make a mess, I leave the plate looking like I’m an ‘80s banker. This isn’t helped by the strong wind that puffs sugary clouds around the place.
That night I’m walking back by Café du Monde and a heavy mist is rolling off the coast. And by rolling, I mean, rocketing. It’s astonishing to see the mist go by with such apparent strength, but for it to feel so mild.
Speaking of weather, Hurricane Katrina (how’s that for a segue?). The Presbytere section of the Louisiana State Museum has an extensive exhibit on Louisiana’s hurricanes. Visitors are greeted by the remains of Fats Domino’s piano as it was found after the storm. The exhibit itself offers something for most people: starting with a history of natural disasters which have struck the coastal city, there are exhibits examining the causes of hurricanes, the affects of wetland loss, survivor extracts, including the walls of a house that had been turned into a diary in the days before and after the hurricane struck. It’s filled with fascinating small insights, both human and institutional, such as an explanation of FEMA’s marking system:
The best way to understand Mardi Gras is to experience it, so I head off to a bar to listen to some blues and have a few drinks. I head back via the (in)famous Bourbon street. There are revellers and hand grenades everywhere.
These guys, the city hasn’t suddenly gone Syrian-rebel or anything
There is live music pouring out of every open door, covering the spectrum from blues, jazz and rock to, er, a Journey cover band. Even if you’re not in the dancing mood, you can’t help but skip along the street, darting left and right, but that’s mainly to avoid the shite from the police horses. Anyway, time to catch a parade:
I approach the parades with a slightly detached air. I’m attending one of the, ehm, child-friendly parades, so the Girls Gone Wild notion of Mardi Gras is thoroughly gone, replaced by high school bands marching and families having a nice night out. Plenty of beads do get thrown, but not for doing anything untoward. Before the parade starts I run into a Dutch couple, Matti and Eline, who are on a six-month driving tour of the US, so Bertie and I aren’t alone.
Tonight’s parade is by the Krewe of Excalibur, so we’re treated to floats featuring heroes of Arthurian legend, like Arthur himself:
As Lucille Ball rolls past I realise the theme of the krewes is slightly loose (though there is a wonderfully named Krewe of Chewbacchus out there). The far more important thing I realise, however, is that I love beads. What follows is four hours screaming and shouting for precious, precious beads.
Bertie gets a bit carried away during the activity and ditches me to join one of the floats:
The theme we decipher is broadly the Good, the Bad and the Lovely.
There’s a certain extent to which, as the night went on, I became unable to lift my camera from under the weight of all the beads. So here’s a few pictures from earlier on, including the love of Bertie’s life:
Bertie and I say goodbye to Matti and Eline as best as our hoarse voices will allow
And now to end the evening with a quick drive towards the Texas border. In the meantime, here are a few more shots: