08 March 2011

laissez les bons temps rouler

It's Mardi Gras, which means two things:
  1. {Technically, it means "fat Tuesday." I thought I should say that since I used the phrase "which means," as if I were going to give a definition, when in reality what I meant was "which is significant to me in these ways." What, should I not be so self-centered, to even talk about holidays (of sorts) as they relate to only me? This is my blog, after all. I can talk about whatever I want. I don't know why I'm arguing with you; you probably had no qualms with me to begin with but you may now. Now I've said I was going to tell you two things, but I've thrown in this parenthetical third thing.}
  2. Lent is coming! Lent is coming! Is it wrong to use exclamation points with Lent? That most somber time of the Christian year? {And are you thinking in your head, too, "The British are coming! The British are coming!"? Good. That's what I was going for.}
  3. I'm reflecting on my time in New Orleans around Mardi Gras a few years ago.

Yes. Me. In New Orleans during the Mardi Gras season. It wasn't the actual Mardi Gras day, but did you know that Mardi Gras is this multi-day event in New Orleans?

I didn't, but I learned it thanks to the US Air Force. I will explain.

My sister, who is in the Air Force, was told she had to move from Florida to California during a certain eight-day period in February 2009. I volunteered to drive across the country with Oesa and her husband and their little pug, and plotting out the driving days put us in New Orleans not on Mardi Gras, but in the week before.

Perfect, I thought. We'll miss the craziness. I was in charge of hotel reservations all the way across the country, and I learned of this Mardi Gras season on every phone call I made to a New Orleans hotel.

The call inevitably went like this:
Me: Hi, I'd like to book a room for one night for this day in February that is so not Mardi Gras, so I'm sure it won't be a problem.
Hotel Reception Lady: Oh, honey. Honey, honey, honey. We're booked up. It's the season.
Me: Do you mean spring? Wow, up here in Chicago it's most definitely winter. Or do you mean "the season" like people in Jane Austen used to refer to that time that everyone had to spend in London? Because that just doesn't make sense.
Lady: No, darlin'. {I love Southern women, and I will let them use all their terms of endearment on me.} It's Mardi Gras, of course.
Me: Lady, I go to a liturgical church. I know when Ash Wednesday is. And I took French in high school, so I learned that Mardi Gras is the day before Ash Wednesday. We're not coming on those days. That'd be crazy.
Lady: {Sighing at my sheer Northerness and lack of understanding.} No, honey. In New Orleans, we celebrate Mardi Gras for days, darlin', days. You should've called months ago to get a hotel room. Bye now, sweetheart.
Me: Oh. I suppose this is an unhelpful time to mention that we also need a pug-friendly room. You don't have any rooms. Let alone ones that like pugs.

So. The Air Force, which sent my sister across the country from one warm climate to another, basically handed me this Mardi Gras lesson: make hotel reservations months in advance.

I was imagining us, baby pug included, sleeping on a Mardi Gras float, beads draped over us to hide us from the crazy party people and the police.

I thought of camping out on the Mississippi River, something my sister and I were experienced in, having grown up on the river, but this was a different part of the river and I didn't know where all the good sandbars were, let alone how we'd get there in our non-aquatic Hondas.

I called 23 hotels. And 23 kind Southern ladies reminded me in their gentle accents that I should've done a better job of planning.

But then I called Hotel Number 24 {not its real name}. And that lady said, "Well, of course we have a room for you and your little pug! And we're just a block away from the French Quarter, so convenient for you!"

And that's how I ended up in New Orleans during the Mardi Gras season of 2009.

Here's a picture of me with some beads I got during the parade we watched. I don't know why I'm covering my face like that. New Orleans makes you do out-of-character things.

Did you know that you don't have to flash anyone to get those beads? Turns out they just throw them from the floats.

This was both disappointing and reassuring to me. {Oh! Not because I wanted to flash anyone. Heavens, no. But because it made me think: what other stories do we all believe to be true but are really just told for the tourists?}

All you have to do to get beads in New Orleans during Mardi Gras is remember all the skills you learned as a kid at 4th of July parades. Elbows out, and don't forget to look on the ground when the other kids are busy jumping up to try to catch candy.

This is true, this non-flashing thing. I'm not saying it to cover up some sort of shameful, wild New Orleans night. In fact, you can read all about our night in New Orleans here, on the blog we kept on our way across the country.

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