Published February 21, 2012
NEW ORLEANS – From the family-friendly avenues of the Garden District to raunchy displays in the French Quarter, New Orleans let loose with a Fat Tuesday party as parades rolled and revelers frolicked amid showers of beads, trinkets and music.
The French Quarter began to fill with costumed revelers soon after dawn. Some people hadn't stopped drinking since Monday's Lundi Gras prequel to Mardi Gras.
Wearing a bright orange wig, a purple mask and green shoes, New Orleans resident Charlotte Hamrick walked along Canal Street to meet friends.
"I'll be in the French Quarter all day," Hamrick said. "I don't even go to the parades. I love to take pictures of all the costumes and just be with my friends. It's so fun."
Across the globe, people dressed up in elaborate costumes and partied the day away. In Rio de Janeiro, an estimated 850,000 tourists joined the city's massive five-day blowout. Meanwhile, the Portuguese, who have suffered deeply in Europe's debt crisis, defied a government appeal to keep working.
In New Orleans, Brittany Davies was struggling through the early morning hours. Still feeling the effects of heavy drinking from the night before, her friends had her out again on Tuesday.
"They're torturing me," the Denver woman joked. "But I'll be OK after a bloody mary."
The predominantly African-American Zulu krewe was the first major parade to hit the streets, shortly after 8 a.m. Most krewe members were in the traditional black-face makeup and the Afro wigs Zulu riders have sported for decades.
In the oak-lined Garden District, clarinetist Pete Fountain prepared to lead his Half-Fast Walking Club on its annual march down St. Charles Avenue.
Fountain, 82, gave a thumbs up to start off and his band launched into "When The Saints Come Marching In" as they rounded the corner onto St. Charles Avenue shortly after 7 a.m. It was the 52nd time that Fountain's group has paraded for Mardi Gras. This year, the group wore bright yellow suits and matching pork pie hats for its theme, "Follow the Yellow Brick Road."
In the Quarter, Joshua Westbrook of Alabama had been on Bourbon Street drinking since Monday afternoon. His eyes were tired Tuesday morning but he was determined to see Mardi Gras through.
"I'm struggling, but I'm going to push through it," he said.
Costumes were the order of the day, ranging from the predictable to the bizarre.
Wearing a purple wig, New Orleans resident Juli Shipley carried a gallon of booze down Bourbon Street and filled her friends' cups when they got low. "We're going to wander all day and people-watch," Shipley said. "That's the best part of Mardi Gras -- the costumes. They're amazing."
Partygoers were dressed as Wizard of Oz characters Dorothy and the Wicked Witch, bags of popcorn, pirates, super heroes, clowns, jesters, princesses and lots of homemade costumes with the traditional Mardi Gras colors of purple, green and gold.
Martin Delaureal, a New Orleans investment banker, and his toddler sons Tripp and Ashton were dressed as chefs, in tall hats and white aprons. Delaureal's hat was labeled Chef Menteur -- a local highway named after an Indian chief. Delaureal said his wife made the costumes, planning to come as Bun in the Oven. She had to miss the parades -- baby Liam was born Monday.
Retirees Julie and Mike Keating of Colorado were in a group of four dressed as birds and other characters from the Angry Birds online game.
At New Orleans' antebellum former city hall, Mayor Mitch Landrieu toasted Zulu's make-believe royalty and celebrities. Among them was New Orleans native and former U.S. Ambassador Andrew Young.
"It's good to be home," Young said. And saluting the good weather of the day, he added, "God always smiles on New Orleans when it needs it."
After Zulu, the parade of Rex, king of Carnival, would make the trek down St. Charles Avenue and to the city's business district, with hundreds of thousands of people pleading for beads and colorful aluminum coins, known as doubloons.
Along St. Charles, groups of people, many in costumes, ate breakfast as children played in the street. Small groups were already on the move. The Skeleton Krewe, 25 people dressed in black skeleton outfits, were on their way to the St. Louis Cathedral.
Tom White, 46, clad in a pink tutu, bicycled down the avenue with his wife, Allison, on their way to the French Quarter. "I'm the pink fairy this year," he said. "Costuming is the real fun of Mardi Gras. I'm not too creative but when you weigh 200 pounds (90 kilograms) and put on a tutu people still take your picture."
His wife was not in costume. "He's disgraced the family enough," she said.
The stakeout for prime spots along the Mardi Gras parade route started Monday, with legions of Carnival die-hards jockeying for the best places to vie for beads thrown from floats on Fat Tuesday.
Stephanie Chapman and her family had set up in their usual spot on the St. Charles streetcar tracks. They arrived at 4 a.m. Tuesday and would be staying for the duration.
"This is a beautiful day and we'll be here until it's over. It won't rain on my parade, but if it does I won't pay any attention," she said.
It was partly cloudy, but rain was not in the forecast. Temperatures were in the 70s (20s Celsius). And as the day wore on, the warm weather was expected to encourage flesh-flashing and other raunchy acts in the French Quarter.
Across the Gulf Coast, Mardi Gras was getting into full swing. In the Cajun country of southwest Louisiana, masked riders were preparing to go from town to town, making merry along the way in the Courir du Mardi Gras. And parades were scheduled elsewhere around Louisiana and on the Mississippi and Alabama coasts. The celebration arrived in Louisiana in 1682 when the explorer LaSalle and his party stopped at a place they called Bayou Mardi Gras south of New Orleans to celebrate. The site is now lost to history.
The end of Mardi Gras gives way to the beginning of Lent, the period of fasting and repentance before Easter Sunday.