Dressed up, ready for fun: New Orleans celebrates Mardi Gras

NEW ORLEANS — The streets of New Orleans were filled Tuesday with excited kids hoping to catch beads from atop ladders, revelers in fancy costumes walking through the French Quarter and Mardi Gras Indians wearing finely beaded costumes.

Tuesday marks the final day of the Mardi Gras season, which began Jan. 6.

After rainy weather affected some parades Sunday, the weather Tuesday was cold but sunny. People — some of whom came out before dawn to get a good spot along the parade route — bundled up under multiple layers. Temperatures in the New Orleans area were in the 30s and 40s Tuesday morning.

Lorenzo Bridgewater of Slidell, Louisiana, got to the parade route at about 4:30 a.m. to get a good spot.

“I doubled up my jeans, doubled up my socks. I’m wearing a sweater underneath this and underneath that a thermal with a shirt over it. So I’m pretty layered up,” he said.

The festivities kicked off early in the morning with the Northside Skull and Bone Gang walking through the Treme neighbourhood before the sun was up, wearing costumes that look like skeletons and waking people up to celebrate the day.

Another crowd favourite is Pete Fountain’s Half-Fast Walking Group. The clarinetist died in 2016 but the walking group that he led for years still meets at Commander’s Palace restaurant and walks along the parade route ahead of the parades.

Lance Pierce, of Leonardtown, Maryland, got up early ahead of the rest of his friends to make sure he saw the group.

“I enjoyed watching Pete before he passed, coming down here and playing so that’s my thing. Everyone else is kind of sleeping in, taking it easy, getting their costumes ready to go. But I like to come out here and watch the guys come by,” he said.

Then the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club parade along the city’s famed St. Charles Avenue followed by the Rex Parade. Zulu’s practice of wearing black makeup during its parade has drawn attention and criticism after news that two Virginia politicians wore blackface heightened attention nationally to the issue.

Zulu issued a statement in February saying their parade costumes bear no resemblance to those worn by “blackface” minstrel performers at the turn of the century and that their costumes are designed to honour garments worn by South African Zulu warriors.

Zulu’s custom-designed coconut throws are perennial favourites with fans who vie for the chance to get one.

Tuesday’s Rex parade is also expected to feature a stop at “The Rex House,” despite a fire that heavily damaged the historic mansion. The home along St. Charles Avenue has been an important stop along the Rex parade route since 1907, and the Rex king usually stops at the house during the parade.

A fire on Feb. 20 caused massive damage to the three-story, 150-year-old mansion whose occupants over the years include four kings and a queen of Rex.

This year’s Carnival season also has featured numerous jabs at the NFL and its commissioner Roger Goodell, over the now-infamous “no-call” that came during the Jan. 20 NFC Championship game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New Orleans Saints.

A Rams defensive back levelled a Saints receiver with a helmet-to-helmet hit at a crucial point in the final minutes of regulation time. The Rams went on to win the game and then lost to the New England Patriots in the Super Bowl.

NFL officials acknowledged after the game that flags should have been thrown. But judging by the number of Saints fans dressed up as blind referees during the Mardi Gras season — and again on Tuesday — fans here have neither forgiven nor forgotten.

One parade featured a walking group called the “Robbin Refs” who wore referee outfits and black masks. On the back of their uniforms? A photo of Goodell with a red clown nose. TheKrewe d’Etat parade featured a float called “Wilful Blindness” with a blind referee on the front holding a cane. Many parades have also featured yellow penalty flags as throws.

On Tuesday, some of city’s TV personalities got into the fun. WVUE television personalities riffed off the “no-call” theme with one of them wearing a referee outfit, another dressed as a clown with an NFL shirt on and another dressed up like a robber and holding what appeared to be the Vince Lombardi trophy.

The party officially ends at midnight, when police on horseback ride down Bourbon Street to ceremonially “clear” the street — a symbol meant to mark the end of the Carnival season. Wednesday marks the beginning of Lent, which for many Christians is a period of fasting and reflection ahead of Easter.

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