Probably the last thing a city inundated with water and filled with human misery needs is a parade, much less a Mardi Gras.
But just a week after Hurricane Katrina unleashed its devastation, there already are signs that New Orleans is remaining loyal to its partying ways.
Over the weekend, about two dozen people in beads, hula skirts and wigs danced down Bourbon Street in a symbolic show that life must go on. A few months from now, there’s a good chance there might even be some kind of scaled-back Mardi Gras.
“I think now more than ever we need a reason to celebrate. It’s really at our core,” said Arthur Hardy, publisher of the Mardi Gras Guide. “I can’t imagine the city rolling over and playing dead and saying, ‘I surrender.”’
With thousands believed dead and authorities still unable to collect bodies floating in canals and hidden in attics, even the talk of a Mardi Gras celebration might seem disrespectful.
Fat Tuesday on Feb. 28
But New Orleans has always loved a good time, and when the two-week, pre-Lent celebration that ends with Fat Tuesday arrives on Feb. 28, floats could be parading down streets now covered in water.
“Guess what? It’s New Orleans,” French Quarter resident Maryann Davis said. “We’ll always have something to parade for.”
Mardi Gras is enormous even by this city’s standards. In 2001, more than 1,000 floats, 500 marching bands and 135,000 people paraded through the streets. One university study estimates the celebration brings in $1 billion a year to New Orleans.
Hardy, who has been publishing his guide for 30 years and is one of the foremost experts on Mardi Gras, said next year’s celebration is also important because it’s the 150th anniversary of the first formal parades in the city.
The Civil War interrupted partying for a time, and a total of 13 Fat Tuesdays have been canceled because of various conflicts. The Sept. 11 attacks and the 2002 Super Bowl delayed the 2002 parade.
“I’ve heard some people say we can’t do it,” Hardy said. “But it’s a very significant anniversary and I can’t imagine it going unmarked without some kind of parade. It’s in our soul to have Mardi Gras.”
From shelter to parade
The old feelings are already beginning to stir in the French Quarter.
On Sunday, a small group of revelers wearing outlandish costumes gathered for the city’s annual Southern Decadence festival, a gay event which normally draws thousands.
Carpenter John Lambert dressed up as a member of the Village People and carried a sign reading “Life Goes On.” He was joined in the makeshift parade by people who had taken shelter in his house.
Come February, he promised, the party will be much bigger.
“Mardi Gras is a brew, it’s a gumbo. It’s defined by what people bring to it,” Lambert said. “There will definitely be a Mardi Gras. No doubt about it.”