Throw me an ocho Sistah
Published on El Firulete's March 2001 issue. Copyright (c) 2001 Planet Tango, all rights Reserved
|The year was 1718, the occasion a one way cruise; the skipper was Pierre Le Moyne, Sieur de Iberville, his mate, brother Jean-Baptiste, Sieur of Bienville. The passengers included French and Canadian immigrants; whores, beggars, Indian slaves, thieves and cutthroats on leave from Parisian jails. The destination, a below sea level collection of swamps in a miserable steamy, sticky and suffocating heated bend of the Mississippi river. Starvation and deadly disease were a threat. Bienville pulled into the quay, unloaded the passengers, threw their belongings overboard and proclaimed: Welcome to the Crescent City, enjoy the Mardi Gras!|
This is a city where the smell of crawfish boil turns more people on than Chanel #5, and where waitresses at the local sandwich shop tell customers that a fried oyster po-boy "dressed" is healthier than a Caesar salad. The major topics of conversation when you go out to eat are: restaurant meals you have had in the past, and restaurant meals you plan to have in the future. People don't learn until high school that Mardi Gras is not a national holiday.
The super krewes and the big parades now roll through the streets of surrounding neighborhoods, continuing a tradition that began just before the Civil War, when a secret aristocratic society of well bred white supremacist founded the Mistick Krewe of Comus for the purpose of saving the spirit of Mardi Gras, which they felt had been condemned to extinction by the idle and feckless Creole of colonial and Catholic heritage. The old line formula has not changed a lot: a host of black men lead the parade with propane gas tanks on their backs waving flambeaux; high school marching bands; masked horseback riders and police squad cars march in between tractor pulled floats overflowing with lights. They sport giant theme figures, from mythology to Star Trek, to political satire. They are manned by masked riders wearing elaborate customs and donning titles such as kings, queens, captains, pages, marshals and throwers.
For a first time participant, as a parade slowly rolls through streets lined with enraptured spectators, who seem capable of pushing little old ladies out of the way to catch Mardi Gras throws, one wonders if some will leave the parade with footprints on their hands. In reality, one quickly learns how to avoid catching beads with the nose, how to befriend fellow catchers, and how to go home with the booty of trinkets caught from the floats hanging around the neck.
Although the plastic beads from Taiwan, which have long replaced the original glass beads from Czechoslovakia, have no other value than that charged at the French Market or other stores along Royal and Bourbon Streets, the whole unjustifiable idea is to run beside the floats, waving hands, jumping up and down, yelling throw me something, mistah, and catching the colored beads before they hit the ground.
On Bourbon Street, after midnight and a couple of cocktails with names like hand grenades, hurricanes and goodies, young All American coeds bare their breasts in exchange for fake jewelry to the chants of go, go, go descending from the festooned balconies of the Vieux Carre. The lenses of video cameras propped high above heads and shoulders catch a glimpse of flesh.
Anticipating a dry season for Tango dancing while everybody else was having fun, a meeting was called at a secret location somewhere in the Warehouse District on Tchoupitoulas St. for a purpose soon evident by the release of the following proclamation:
Photos by Cheryl Credio and Gerry Miller
Second line: An informal parade performing impromptu dances that follows the brass bands and floats.
Crawfish: One of the year's four seasons. The rest are, Shrimp, Crab and King Cake.
Tchopitulas: A word New Orleanians can pronounce, but can't spell.
Po-boy: A sandwich judged by the number of napkins used.