Masquerade! Burning glances, turning heads… Masquerade! Stop and stare At the sea of smiles around you! Masquerade! Grinning yellows, spinning reds… Masquerade! Take your fill- Let the spectacle astound you!I’ve had the blessed fortune of going to Carnivale in Italy and now Mardi Gras here in the states. The two are comparable, right down to the bright costumes, feathery head décor and eye masks disguise the common face. The pageantry is spectacular. The floats are surreal. Some slither like dragons, winding down the street, swaying to and fro, breathing smoke into the cool night air while children of all ages delight in its passing. Others advertise satirical banners with over the top cartoon characters portraying the backside of modern political circumstances. The crowd is hungry with shock, horror and disgust, but cries loudly for more. A Joker dances around a pole and bashing large golden balls against the float, tries to thwart of death for another year. The balls are suspended by a short rope and eventually fall into the crowd, who eagerly converge to consume these precious gifts. Masked men and women become as revered as Santa Claus and the tooth fairy as they toss treasures and trinkets to the masses.
As a stander-by I too delighted in the experience of raising my arms high in anticipation and feeling the blanketed satisfaction that came when treats fell from the sky and landed in my outreached fingers. The beat of drums kept the pulse of the parade on high. The blare of the horns infused a lightness into the air, while the shimmer of beads flying through the air became as mesmerizing as fireworks on the Fourth of July. Every color in the rainbow, every sound in the world, all in one moment, all in this party.
It’s overwhelming to say the least. One parade would have your senses buzzing for hours. We did it in pro fashion. Twenty parades. No joke. They are a seemingly endless trail of music and mayhem, one quickly followed by the next. Sure there were several themes, but ask me if I could tell the difference. . It culminates on Fat Tuesday (the literal translation of Mardi Gras), the day before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the season of Lent. The tradition of Carnivale, or Mardi Gras as it is known in this country, is as ancient as the Catholic religion it was founded in. It is the last unrestricted hurrah before religious devotees forgo something of significant value for 40 days until Easter. We learned that the entire Gulf coast shuts down businesses and schools for days to accommodate this annual festival. In other words it is a church sanctioned, government approved party to shed inhibitions and partake in mass gluttony. I never knew such a thing existed with such flare and (seemingly) moral support in this country.
I was astounded, by several facets of the experience. First, and most impressive is my husband’s rejuvenation and stamina for eagerly dragging me back to parade after parade. Without his persistence I would have given up the goal way before the finish line. But we finished, tired and bruised, but remarkably we finished. Second, if you believe there is an economic crisis or national slump…come to Mardi Gras; the sheer quantity of STUFF is enough to sink a small island in the Pacific. Third, the pleasantry of southern hospitality is a current that flows through Mobile; people are courteous and there is always enough food and drink to go around, so long as you don’t mind the wait.
We have all heard Mardi Gras stories of women showing boobs for beads and mass chaos exploding in the crowd as some yahoo brandishes a weapon, so I was expecting to be confronted with these scenes. But surprisingly, I wasn’t. It is actually a $500 fine to expose the ya-ya sisters for beads, not that a few guys didn’t try. And the motorcycle cops and sheriff’s mounted posse kept the crowds from getting too out of control. I could not even begin to count the number of law enforcement officials present. Their lights preceded every parade and made the streets flash like rays from a disco ball. Parades lasted 16 long days and nights. SIXTEEN. They don’t take this stuff lightly. Over the years the party has morphed some and each little neighborhood or association has their own spin on it. We saw elegant men and women dressed like Lord and Ladies in white tuxedos and hats that stretched the length of the block. We saw kids parades with little children fiercely throwing candy that barely made it off the edge of the float.