Ellen Byron

Mardi Gras Memories

I went to school in New Orleans for a couple of reasons. One, I was a huge  Tennessee Williams fan. And two, well… it was New Orleans. Beautiful, atmospheric, a culture unto itself. And a big part of that culture revolves around Mardi Gras.

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My first Mardi Gras was memorable mostly because a guy friend from SUNY Binghamton, which I’d left only a month before, flew down to NOLA to party and wound up in the hospital after stepping on broken glass littering Bourbon Street. That year, I also learned the holiday comes to a very abrupt end. Police officers shout “Mardi Gras is now over!” on megaphones as street sweepers descend on the French Quarter, and if you don’t get out of the way, you run the risk of being swept up with the empty beer bottles and drink cups.

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img_8704By junior year, I’d joined a sorority – KKG eternally! – so my “sisters” and I dressed in costume and hit the parades as the floats tooled up St. Charles Avenue. That Mardi Gras was also exciting because one of my best friends was a New Orleans debutante.

In NOLA, Mardi Gras and debutantes have a symbiotic relationship. The young women who are maids and queens in the courts of traditional Carnival krewes – the private social clubs that sponsor Mardi Gras parades and balls – are from the deb coterie.During Mardi Gras season, the social scene is an absolute whirlwind of coming-out parties.  (A dear friend whose daughter was a 2016 debutante had so many party invitations, she took to clipping them to the light fixture in her kitchen and pulling them down as their dates came up.) Krewes make court calls in December to inform  debs whether they will be queen of a particular ball or a maid in the court.

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(Photo of the absolutely lovely 2016 Proteus queen and her proud parents – posted by their proud friend, moi!)

 My  debutante friend Carla was queen of Proteus and a maid in the court of Rex, so I had the unique experience of attending both balls. Held in the Municipal Auditorium until Hurricane Katrina decimated it, these balls were an odd affair for us non-natives. Our tickets entitled us to sit in the balcony and watch other people dance and have fun. If you got lucky, a masked Krewe member handed you a “call-out card,” which was an invitation to join them on the dance floor. My sexy friend Pam received one. I, alas, did not. (That’s a photo of me dressed up for the Rex ball, and not my sexy friend, Pam. But you probably already figured that out.)

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is an exciting, seductive experience. Christine Gentes, of the mapyourmystery.com blog, is such a fan that she turns the beads she catches into fantastic works of art.

I’ve worked up a Louisiana Bucket List, and one of the items on it is “Go back to NOLA for Mardi Gras.” Until then, I’ll live vicariously through this Paradecam that my friend the Proteus Queen shared with me. (Yes, I know two Proteus queens.) Laissez les bon temps rouler!

Readers, have you ever had a Mardi Gras experience?

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15 thoughts on “Mardi Gras Memories

  1. I loved reading about Mardi Gras from your perspective. You are so lucky you got to attend two balls as a local – what an experience! Great photos too. I went to Mardi Gras in my 20s and it was wild and overwhelming (and that was back when I didn’t mind crowds like I do now). Even though I’m glad I did it, once is enough for me! Fun post, Ellen!

    Liked by 1 person

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