Time for Penance After the Mardi Gras Party in New Orleans

Just hours after police on horseback rode down Bourbon Street to clear the street of revelers and mark the official end of the Carnival season, many prepared to repent on Ash Wednesday.

Ash Wednesday is the start of the 40-day period of Lent that includes Good Friday — when Christians recall Christ's crucifixion — and ends with the celebration of Easter.

The faithful readied themselves to file into churches across the city for services where many will have their foreheads marked by clergy with ashes to symbolize penance after the raucous Carnival season that culminated on Mardi Gras.

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Clarinetist Pete Fountain unofficially kicked off Tuesday's festivities, leading 100 members of his Half-Fast Walking Club through the streets for the 47th time. Zulu, the predominantly black parade with 27 floats and 1,200 riders, followed and was one of at least 10 parades that rolled in the metro area.

In a sign that New Orleans has yet to recover fully from the hurricanes of 2005, businessman Frank Boutte, this year's King Zulu, is still living in Houston. Hurricane Katrina's floods damaged his Lakefront home and he has yet to return.

In Cajun country, costumed riders on horseback set out on their annual Courir du Mardi Gras, a town-to-town celebration. Hundreds of people registered for the event in Eunice, a bayou community 150 miles west of New Orleans. Hundreds were on horseback and scores of others rode along in pickup trucks or on flatbed trailers.

"It's just heritage. It's Louisiana. We're crazy," said Courir participant Cody Granger, 24, wearing what looked like surgical scrubs decorated with the New Orleans Saints' logo.

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Back on Bourbon Street, Douglas Barry held a huge sign that warned those around him of the danger they were in. Mardi Gras, Barry and his colleagues cautioned the fantastically costumed crowd, was the doorway to hell.

"Not everyone welcomes our message," said Barry, a member of the Bible Believers, a Christian group that travels to large gatherings to preach. "But people never need to hear it more than today."

As men in pink baby-doll pajamas, leather loincloths and feathers paraded past and women flashed glimpses of flesh for strings of beads, Barry and other Bible Believers labored to deliver God's word.

"We're pretty aggressive in our approach," said Philip Johnson, 26, of Spokane, Wash. "We've had members beaten up here before."

But for the main part they were simply ignored.

"He told me I was headed to hell, but all I'm doing is wandering around taking in the sights," said Larry Carpenter, 48, of New York. "He said that makes me a dirty old man, which is probably true, but I'm a happy one today."

With temperatures in the mid-to-high 70s, crowds that had begun staking out spots along the parade routes as early as Friday night spent Tuesday eating, drinking and collecting beads and other trinkets thrown from floats.

While this year's Mardi Gras appeared successful, there were incidents of violence in New Orleans that marred the celebration for many. At least nine people were wounded by gunshots, six of them on Saturday. Shots were fired Tuesday near a parade route, but no one was injured and a suspect was quickly arrested, police said. They had 1,100 officers, state troopers and National Guardsmen positioned along parade routes since the Carnival season began.

Some revelers say they found this year's Mardi Gras season more subdued than usual, in part because it fell early this year — too early for college students on spring break to join the party.

Kevin Kelly, who lives on the traditional uptown New Orleans parade route, said the quieter crowds were "a good thing."

"The city smells better without a bunch of drunken kids using every doorway as a toilet," he said.