I just returned from New Orleans with a ton of Mardi Gras beads. Did I have to flash my boobs to get them?
You might think so. It's common knowledge that women routinely show their boobs along Bourbon Street, in exchange for plastic Mardi Gras beads. Everyone knows Mardi Gras celebrates indulgent and bawdy behavior: whether drinking to excess or losing your inhibitions and flashing some boob flesh.
That's what I thought, too, before attending the annual party. But I found a very different city than the one reported on in news stories or on the Internet. The New Orleans I visited was full of friendly people who exhibited a genuine and authentic sense of community.
Here's what I found:
1) Dedication: In the weeks leading up to Mardi Gras, there are dozens of parades held throughout the city. Families meet up and watch the festivities together. The "Krewes" that put on each spectacle create imaginative and complex floats and costumes, and talented bands of students march with them through the streets. For many people, it's the culmination of a year-long labor of love.The French Quarter
2) Creativity: Balconies in the French Quarter were decorated in flags and bright colors, and street musicians were everywhere. On Mardi Gras day, teams of people dressed in elaborate costumes. This wasn't Halloween, though. In one two block area, I saw a group decked out as the complete cast of Alice in Wonderland; another dozen dressed as little green, toy plastic Army men on fake tanks with bazookas; and a troupe of Elvis impersonators.Beads strung across balconies
3) Cleanliness: After each full day of parades, street cleaning crews came out and hauled away all the day's garbage, together with a ton of broken beads. Each morning, tourists woke up to a clean and pristine city.
There were party-goers who drank too much, and some in my group reported seeing a few women flash their breasts. But these incidents were the exception, and not the rule at Mardi Gras.
So how did I get all those beads? Revelers threw them off balconies in the French Quarter. Costumed volunteers on parade floats tossed them to screaming spectators. You could pick them up off the streets. Not all Mardi Gras beads looked alike; some were made of glass, unique colors, or crazy combinations of bead sizes. I envied the more unusual and creative designs. And men were as weighed down with the strands, as women.
Snagging a ton of Mardi Gras beads is simple and easy, and doesn't involve any heavy shirt lifting. No one asks you to do anything but enjoy the festival and take home a few trinkets as souvenirs. Eating delicious New Orleans food, listening to amazing music, or drinking to excess, is optional.
What about you? Have you ever been to New Orleans for Mardi Gras? Did you bring home any Mardi Gras beads?