Katrina ruin Mardi Gras? Fat chance
NEW ORLEANS – Where’s FEMA when you need it?Walking along St. Charles Avenue, Canal Street and the legendary Bourbon Street on Tuesday night, it looked like New Orleans had suffered another disaster.Six months after Hurricane Katrina hit, the city really looked like it could use federal aid. If Louisiana’s landfills aren’t already bulging from the debris of mud-caked homes and wind-damaged buildings, they will be from mounds of garbage. Discarded daiquiri cups, half-eaten pizza crusts and beads – thousands and thousands of strings of beads – littered the Big Easy on Fat Tuesday, the end of Mardi Gras festivities.
The amount of garbage Mardi Gras generated cannot be exaggerated. It was difficult to walk on sidewalks without stumbling on trash – and that was before we started drinking. Heaps of the colorful beads that symbolize Mardi Gras coated the streets, filled the gutters, cluttered the sidewalks and even filled tree limbs outside our hotel (billed as three-star but actually third-rate).When we pulled onto St. Charles Avenue at 5 p.m., about a half-hour after the last big parade passed by, the broken or forsaken beads were so thick on the street that it sounded like we were driving over beer bottles – pop, pop, pop.Had Hollywood needed a location to simulate a big disaster, New Orleans could have provided it. The city’s residents and thousands of visitors partied with a vengeance, and it showed.”This is the excess of America right here,” said a man from northern Alabama, in town for the celebration, who identified himself only as Jeff.
He should know. He was walking among abandoned grandstands along St. Charles Avenue salvaging strings of beads. He said he wanted to pass them out in the wee hours on Bourbon Street when women were more likely to trade their shirts for strings of beads.It probably wouldn’t take much convincing. Women of all ages were strutting their stuff on Bourbon Street, dressed in such revealing costumes as bumblebees and devils complete with horns and barbed tails. Even at 7 p.m., an occasional lassie would strut by with a T-shirt painted on her bare top.Women weren’t alone in soaking in the revelry. Henry Duchmann and John Andrews, both of the New Orleans area, were dressed as 5-foot-high penises, circumcised and strategically pierced.And, of course, everywhere there were reminders of Katrina. One disheveled-looking elderly man, beer in hand, wore a shirt that said, “Pardon My Stink. Actual shirt, shoes and hat worn at the Superdome.”
A woman with blue hair and a skimpy outfit wore a shirt that said, “Stuck inside a trailer with the New Orleans blues again,” a play off a Bob Dylan lyric.But New Orleans wasn’t wallowing in misery. This was a time to party – and celebrate survival. Canal Street resembled Aspen on the best of Halloweens; the crowd was large but manageable. Bourbon Street was a different scene: wall-to-wall people. Drunks who rented balcony space on the second story of buildings for about $250 per hour were tossing beads to even drunker people in the streets below. The people in the streets performed like trained seals to get some of the more elaborate strings of beads.It was American excess indeed. And just what New Orleans needed.Scott Condon’s e-mail address is email@example.com
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