Having lived in New Orleans my entire life, I have discovered two very important things about our city and its citizens. We love to party. And we are resilient beyond all expectations. Like the old Air Supply song, we New Orleanians know about “Making Love Out of Nothing At All.” So when the COVID threat forced parades, balls and parties to shut down completely during Mardi Gras, we did what we do best, PIVOT and PARTY (socially distanced,of course).
Having lived through the Katrina experience, which seems like a lifetime ago, I know the hardships of a disaster and crises, but I have to admit nothing prepared me (or the world) for this situation. Mardi Gras is the one time of the year that is all ours. We proudly own it. We ready ourselves all year to celebrate the greatest free party on Earth. But this year is different. No parades. No Mardi Gras balls (gay or straight) No parties. Hell the bars aren’t even open. But not surprisingly, New Orleanians have found special ways to celebrate the holiday. Mardi Gras is happening, albeit a uniquely different version of it. I believe, however, that the things we are doing this year will create new traditions for years to come.
So how have we pivoted this year to fight the challenges that COVID has brought us? The first way is via the Krewe of House Floats or “Yardi Gras”. Whatever you want to call it, this was a brilliant idea and I wager a new tradition for years to come. People all over New Orleans plus Jefferson, St. Bernard and St. Tammany Parishes have decorated their homes, yards and businesses as festive Mardi Gras floats. And our citizens and visitors are all about it. People have been making outings with family and friends choosing a different area of the city to drive by and enjoy the creativity and wonder.
The response to this new Mardi Gras phenomenon has been overwhelming. Whether you used your own creativity and decorated yourself or hired an unemployed artisan to create your masterpiece, we appreciate it. I recently rented an open air trolley bus with some friends, donned a costume and did our own House Float tour. We went down the Avenue (St. Charles) and were amazed by the Jurassic Park, Masquerade and Circus homes. The Mid-City and Bayou St. John neighborhoods have a plethora of memorable ones with my favorites stretch being on Bell Street with the Belles of the Bayou complete with Leah Chase cooking gumbo, Marie Laveau conjuring up spells and the Baroness Pontalba looking very regal.
My own Marigny neighborhood did not disappoint with a Llama, Peter Pan, Undersea and Mandellorian themed House Floats. My friend Laura Tennyson got in on the fun doing a decor celebrating Buddha while my friend Valerie Landry’s home in Esplanade Ridge was a recreation of Jazzfest complete with schedule, food vendors and the Miller Lite Tent. Her house even got lots of local and national publicity with bands coming out and performing in her front yard. Southern Decadence Grand Marshal Adikus Sulpizi created a Drag Siren House Float. We also created our own drive-by parade at the Drag Siren House. A few of us got dressed in costume and invited friends to come on a certain day and time; we then handed out specialty throws we created ourselves for them. It turned out to be a socially distanced party that injected a little taste of normalcy and celebration back into our lives. I am thinking this may catch on in the future. If people want to host a MG party and not have people in their house, just have them drive past and give them a treat; they take a few pictures and are on their way. Brilliant and no mess to clean up afterwards.
In addition to the house floats, City Park brought Floats in the Oaks to life allowing people to drive through the Park and pass some of the various parading krewes well-recognized floats. It helped bring money to the krewes and City Park. With the bars being closed, restaurants have taken up the slack over Mardi Gras weekend by hosting specialty Mardi Gras costumed dinners and lunches, where diners can enjoy the holiday safely. I attended one such amazing luncheon at Copper Vine on the Friday before Mardi Gras. It was entitled Revel and included a delectable five course meal paired with wine and live music.
I have always said this, Mardi Gras is more than a holiday or celebration, it is a state of mind. It is an opportunity to take a break from life, throw on a costume, have some cocktails, hang out with friends and family, eat too much and be someone totally different for one day. It is a freeing experience like none other. And weather, politicians and even a virus can’t stop Mardi Gras, because it lives inside every New Orleanian. So this year, make yourself a cocktail at home, dress in costume, eat king cake and cold fried chicken and do whatever the hell you want, because it is Mardi Gras and you earned it!