NEW ORLEANS – Mardi Gras in the Big Easy used to be best known for three things: beads, booze and boobs.
And only six months after the devastation brought by Hurricane Katrina, Mardi Gras is still New Orleans’ biggest celebration.
In the areas of the city that weren’t damaged severely, like the Uptown neighborhood or Magazine Street, the green, purple and gold decorations are laid out liberally, and though the sidewalks are still caked with mud and dotted with piles of bricks, waterlogged housing materials and ruined appliances, the bands of partygoers and sounds of revelry are everywhere.
"Actually Mardi Gras was not what I expected it to be — it was better than what I thought it would be," said Steve Reed, a 29-year-old editor of manuals for a Houston pharmaceutical training company.
"It was the town coming out to support the city, not the Bourbon Street masses of tourists just basically making a--es of themselves — and that’s what the nation sees, Bourbon Street. And here we are standing on St. Charles with the city of New Orleans, and everybody is celebrating the city."
On Friday, the traditionally satirical parade called Le Krewe d'Etat took direct aim at the city’s tragedy and expressed the popular view here that New Orleans had temporarily been abandoned by the government and by the rest of the country.
Its mock-Olympic-themed floats included some with bitterly humorous titles such as “Bureaucratic Hurdles,” “Refrigerator Hurling,” “Nagin Backstroke,” "Insurance Adjuster Wrestling,” “Cryathlon,” “Agony of De FEMA” and “Mold Vault.”
On Sunday, the more family-friendly Krewe of Thoth wound down St. Charles Ave. in more familiarly themed floats — “Jazz Festival,” “Fishing” — with masked float riders tossing out iridescent beads, “Katrina” cups and wristbands to the thousands of locals and tourists lining the roads.
Small children climbed up stepladders specially fitted with child seats so they could get a better position for bead catching.
Below, parties of adults quaffed Bloody Marys and mimosas from thermoses. There weren’t any exposed breasts, but that might have had more to do with the rather chilly temperatures or the family-oriented nature of Thoth.
“It’s a pretty good turnout,” one middle-aged man, an out-of-towner, said. “You almost wouldn’t know anything had happened.”
“This is your first Mardi Gras, isn’t it?” a neighbor said. “Because you can tell something’s happened.”
The day before, one of the most popular parades, Endymion, had to cancel its scheduled appearance because of the threat of rain — the first time it had ever had to do so in its history of some 40 years. To make up for its no-show, it planned on running back-to-back with the also-popular Bacchus parade on Sunday afternoon.
But both, like all the parades, were running on abbreviated or altered routes. Some had to forgo their traditional paths because of inadequate police supervision, taking entirely different routes.
And for those on the floats, it was a more restrained year as well. One Thoth thrower, who usually spent some $500 on beads and other goodies to toss to parade watchers, spent about only half of that amount for his stint on another parade in the 2006 Mardi Gras.
“The crowds were kind of thinner, and we were moving at a brisker pace,” he said.
But that was fine with one child, who was nearly drowning in beads she’d been showered with during Thoth.
“They’re sparkly,” she said. “I think I like it better than Christmas.”