Carnival is beyond a religious ceremony; for the places where its celebrations are famous, it’s an institution. Literally. In New Orleans, there is a Mardi Gras king and queen, as well as special Mardi Gras balls full of the rich and powerful of the Big Easy. (Who seem to be exclusively white despite the large number of black people in New Orleans??? Topic for another day.) Krewes can charge hundreds or thousands of dollars for membership. It is a spectacle of the highest magnitude, and the best way to experience it is… well, actually, I don’t know.
Last year I went to New Orleans for Carnival but the universe had other plans, most of which seemed to be saying “suck a dick”, or some variation thereof.
First of all, this broke-ass, Polish-currency-touter did not go for a hotel (or even hostel) in the French Quarter. (I can only imagine how much that costs during Mardi Gras season.) No, instead I stayed with an old college friend, Linda, who was a first-year med student at Tulane. She lived Uptown, on Magazine Street, which is actually a great place to watch parades but not a great place for getting to the tourist sites because public transport in New Orleans is fucking terrible. And something else no one tells you about Mardi Gras in New Orleans, because you’re probably staying in the French Quarter so you don’t care: the traffic is terrible. The streets on the parade routes are all shut down, as well as streets several blocks before and after. It’s a pain in the ass.
My first two days were great: seeing tourist-y sights after waiting forever for the unreliable street car (it’s for tourists, but unfortunately it’s not named Desire), and dressing up and enjoying parades right in front of Linda’s apartment, essentially having one big block party with all her neighbors. I was getting lots of beads and other weird things like wigs, temporary tattoos, and sparkly purple rubber duckies, and since it’s not the French Quarter, you don’t even have to show your boobs. (You do have to push kids and grannies out of the way though. They are serious about getting the best prizes off those floats.) I even saw Solange Knowles riding on a giant, glittery stiletto. Apparently she lost her engagement ring throwing something off the float. I witnessed history, y’all.
Not to mention I absolutely loved everything else about New Orleans. The food is amazing, especially since I had come in the middle of a Polish winter, where people seem to know even less about seasoning than they do in the summer. People are warm and friendly and say good morning to strangers, which is something they also don’t have in Poland. (Polish people are not mean, but they are not big on talking to strangers. This is nice sometimes because everyone has a Resting Bitch Face like me but also it’s nice to talk to people when you’re touristing alone.) Street musicians play jazz and blues on every corner. People try to convince you that “laissez les bons temps rouler” is a sentence that actually makes sense in French (it doesn’t, I asked my French friends). You can have an open container of alcohol anywhere, at any time of day. It is a den of decadence and sin. Naturally, I fit right in.
So there I was, taking a walking tour of the Garden District* and planning all the restaurants I want to hit up, when suddenly I start to feel it. A slight swell in my tonsils. A feverish sweat, hot yet cold at the same time. Oh no, I thought, I have been away for so long that my immune system has forgotten all my American antibodies and now my body is going to punish me. (I’m sure Linda, being a med student, would agree with this assessment.) I trudged home to watch Netflix and feel miserable, and watched the rest of the parades from Linda’s roommate’s balcony.
I did manage to recover enough for a very strong whiskey sour at 10 a.m. brunch on my last morning, because as my blog name suggests, neither cold nor flu will come between me and my favorite cocktail.