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The Wife’s Life: Mardi Gras Mambo

Muses

**Rosa Parks Muses Shoe by Stacy Dobbins-Deitelzweig**

By Elizabeth Beller

Tom and I left Manhattan in 2008. We loved the city, especially our street in the West Village, lined with callery pear trees whose spring petals were like white pieces of confetti. But then reality set in. Or at least our reality. We are writers. Who wanted to have kids. Time to move.

But I had just managed, after fifteen years, to get New York City legs under me! Some people were even beginning to think of me as a fellow Manhattanite! And now Tom was interviewing for a teaching position all over the place, including some godforsaken, boxy, flyover states covered in snow (yeah, I said it. Snow.)

When he got the offer from Tulane, we were simultaneously seized with joy and terror. A very fitting combination for our prospective city. It’s a magical, dangerous place. Stunning beauty belies mysterious undercurrents that rule the land. Nothing epitomizes these dichotomies like the city’s unparalleled celebration of Mardi Gras. Unlike Manhattan, the locals are more than pleased to welcome new blood. It is a warm place in several senses of the word. I asked a lifetime Orleanean recently when they consider a rube a local: “When they cross the Louisiana state line.”

There is supposedly no direct French translation for Laissez les bons temps rouler, but we know it means ‘Let the good times roll.’ Incongruity is to be expected in New Orleans.

This is especially true of the Muses parade, our favorite, which rolled Thursday night. A woman decked out in a green tinsel wig walked up to our group on the porch. She was on her phone. “He’s not on parole”, she said, and then offered the lot of us jello shots. The public defenders know how to celebrate. I was nonplussed for exactly NOT ONE MOMENT before I had to rush at float number nine, bearing friends of ours, to yell for them to throw glittered shoes. A sure sign we’ve been localized. Though it should be said that another sure sign of being a local, in New Orleans, is getting the hell out of town. Often to go skiing.

But honestly, after our five years here, I still feel like I have no idea what’s going on: so much happens, but on a quieter, behind-pulled-curtains scale. It’s like Alice in Wonderland, where things get curiouser and curiouser, but it all somehow makes sense. Mardi Gras is Nola’s way of bringing the mystery to the surface, like fun house smoke and mirrors that suddenly reveal their source.

It’s also the one event about which a relatively new resident could share little-known facts.

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  • IT’S FOR THE BABES 1 of 10
    IT'S FOR THE BABES
    Many think of Mardi Gras as lascivious drunks on Bourbon Street trying to get loose women to lift their tops for beads. It is, but that's only half the story. Travel a few miles toward Uptown and it's Kid Central. Families line the street, and a cute toddler on dad's shoulders gets tons more ‘booty' than a Kardashian wannabe with her shirt up to her neck.

    Photo Credit: iStock
  • LADDERS 2 of 10
    LADDERS
    They look like a lesson in what not to do in a Bob the Builder episode, but these ingenious ladders with custom painted wooden boxes at the top, seatbelt included, are the best perch in the world for a kid to get a full view. It sounds dangerous, and probably is, which is why parents drink their anxiety away on the streets along with the rest of the revelers. The ladders line the streets of uptown, with people coming at the crack of dawn to the parade route to put their painted ladder in place. Photo Credit: Elizabeth Beller
  • FAT TUESDAY BLUES 3 of 10
    FAT TUESDAY BLUES
    Many come to New Orleans the day before or even on Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras day, hoping for the peak of the action. Mardi Gras actually can begin weeks before Lent (especially if you stick a Super Bowl in the middle of the fray). Mardi Gras Day only has a few parades early in the morning, many of the best parades are at the beginning of the bunch.

    Photo Credit: iStock
  • KODACHROME 4 of 10
    KODACHROME
    Mardi Gras has official colors, and those colors have specific meaning. Purple for justice, gold for power, and green for faith. These colors were chosen By the Grand Duke of Russia in 1857. I don't know who he was or who named him the Karl Lagerfeld of the Revolution, but Nola has been swathed in these vivid colors for a long, loooonnng, time.

    Photo Credit: iStock
  • SCHOOLS OUT 5 of 10
    SCHOOLS OUT
    1857 is also when Louisiana officially made Mardi Gras a legal holiday. School is out, and libraries, government offices and many shops close. It's like a second Christmas season, with all the requisite fun and subsequent drain of every last ounce of energy. Photo Credit: Amanda Smithson
  • LET THEM EAT CAKE 6 of 10
    LET THEM EAT CAKE
    The official sweet of the season, King Cake, is a wreath-shaped purple, green and gold cake eaten throughout the season. There is a Baby Jesus figurine baked into the cake, and whoever gets the piece with the toy in it is believed to have good luck for the year. You may get fat, but combining superstition with Baby Jesus probably qualifies you to take communion now.

    Photo Credit: iStock
  • KREWE YOU 7 of 10
    KREWE YOU
    Mardi Gras balls, parades and floats are sponsored by krewes who ride the floats. Fees for the parades and balls can range from $20 per year to thousands. Membership to different krewes vary widely- many are private, invitation only social clubs, while others only require the membership fee. Lower priced krewes build their own floats and make their own costumes, while the fancy blue chips hire professionals. Some support charities and public services. When they're on their floats in costume, throwing things at you, they're wonderful and not just a little scary.

    Photo Credit: iStock
  • SIGNATURE THROWS 8 of 10
    SIGNATURE THROWS
    Each krewe has a signature throw each year, and if you can find out what it is before the parade and ask/scream for it, you exponentially increase your chances of coming away with something more valuable than cheap beads your kids will lose interest in before the Lent.

    Photo Credit: iStock
  • BEADS 9 of 10
    BEADS
    Throws began in Renaissance Europe, and some historians think it began as a pagan ritual where those who survived the brutal winter tossed seeds into the fields in gratitude to the gods that had allowed them to survive. Then for a while it was sugar coated almonds, or even flour and dirt. Throwing beads began in the 1880's, and I'd say the riders today are less motivated by gratitude than the aforementioned jello shots. But when a hard projectile is headed straight for your head, you're just grateful you see it coming.

    Photo Credit: iStock
  • INDIAN SUMMER 10 of 10
    INDIAN SUMMER
    The Mardi Gras Indians are not just a story line invented on HBO's Treme. They are comprised of mostly African American communities in the inner city. Slavery and racism were the cause of cultural separations that caused them to feel they couldn't participate in the traditional Mardi Gras. They developed their own style, a breathtaking, fierce dance, and named themselves after the native Indians who helped them escape slavery. They don't have a set route or scheduled time; their parade, the procession is loose, and up to the Big Chief. Honestly, it's the most stunning part of the celebration.

    Photo Credit: iStock

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