It was Super Tuesday yesterday in the rest of America, but in New Orleans it was Fat Tuesday. The day before Ash Wednesday. That meant parades, throws, krewes, Zulu and Rex. If you know NOLA, you know what I mean. Parades all day. Everything (I mean everything) closed at night, people with coolers of food and beer everywhere in the streets, parties and more parties, and then, at midnight, the police on horseback shooing away the tourists and other revelers. And lent begins.
The parades: Ken, ever the party-lovin guy, played the front line, right there as the two-storey-high floats rolled by. I could catch a glimpse of him through the crowd sometimes, shouting for beads, clapping in time to the marching bands. About 90% of the beads in the photo above are courtesy of Ken?s front-line efforts. And this picture is only a fraction of what he caught.
I?m more a second-line kinda gal. I love being in the scene from the sidelines. I like the panorama better than the close-up. I stayed pretty much out of throw-range, but loved leaning against the light post (my spot) at a nice intersection where I could watch both the main parade and the people-parade, amateurs who spent the year, it seemed, making their own costumes. My fav was ?the white guy,? a person of indeterminate race who had painted every inch of himself as white as my Mac, his gums were even white, matte white. White-Out white. He wore wings that were also griot-skeletal, angel and masque of death. Even his sunglass lenses were painted white. That?s Mardi Gras.
For the first time, maybe even the first time ever in my life, I started to understand games from these three days at Mardi Gras. I like competitive sports. A lot. But I?ve never really ?gotten? board games or card games or video games or massively multiplayer online games . . . what?s the point?
Standing on my street corner, I realized pointlessness is the point. Of games. Of accumulating a gigantic pile of worthless beads. Where else but in NOLA during Mardi Gras do you beg and whine and shout and plead for the ?good beads,? basically plastic cheapo beads that might exceed the regular plastic cheapo beads because they have plastic amulets, or weird heads, or alligators, or some other do-dad bit of nothingness that gives them value incommensurate with their material worth. Pearls of great price, so to speak.
Gilded coconuts. Those were the main attraction in the Zulu parade which, for my money, was the main attraction of Mardi Gras. The Zulu krewe hand-paints coconuts (real ones), gold and sometimes black and sometimes with decorations of one kind or another, and then pretty much hands them out or gently tosses them to front-liners on the parade route. (One tossed from a second-storey float could just about kill you so the mode seems to be the quiet hand off.) One gal in the front line had made this long contraption, a pole with little basket on top, and painted with pleading words ?Coconut, please, please!? Some people traded beer for coconuts. My favorite was the people with the truck selling street food, with their cardboard sign, ?Will Trade Chicken-on-a Stick for Coconuts.? We were near the end of the three-hour parade route. One of the krewes was pretty hungry. The Chicken-on-the-Stick guy went out with one chicken-stick in each hand and returned with two gilded coconuts, held aloft as proudly as an Olympic medal or an Oscar.
The frenzy over the gilded coconuts made me realize that a great thing about parades, as in many kinds of non-gambling games, is that there is triumph and success and skill and luck outside of normal capitalistic values. It?s not workaday work. It?s not achievement in the normal market-driven sense. It?s success without any dollar signs on the ?S??s.
How much is a gilded coconut worth? As the ad says, ?Priceless.? Although, in game world, priceless may actually be the right answer. What is the price of a few hours with pals playing Liars? Dice? (Thanks, Anne.) What is the price of many hours becoming one of the masters of World of Warcraft? (Thanks, Doug.) What is the price of a gilded coconut in the Zulu parade at Mardi Gras, 2008?
I probably won?t blog again about New Orleans so I want to end this posting with an encomium to New Orleans. It?s an amazing place and everyone, all the NOLA natives, said this Mardi Gras was beginning to feel like pre-Katrina NOLA again. Person after person (one nice thing about being a second-liner is you talk to a lot of people passing by) said that, since Katrina, the city has been bent in half, the way you bend after a sucker-punch to your solar plexus. This year, finally, people were beginning to stand tall again. Many, many, many people (some said thousands) who had been displaced out of NOLA by the devastation of Katrina were back for Mardi Gras. It was like a huge family reunion and the air was thick with joyous return. A reunion feel is like nothing else, because it isn?t now, it isn?t then, it?s the space where past and present come together, briefly and intimately, and then part again. The reunion feel was everywhere. The crowds had returned, the hotels were at 90% capacity, there was energy and sparkle. Promise. Of course the devastation of the lower Ninth remains. Unspeakably and that devastation is still palpable too. (Keep sending checks, keep volunteering! Don?t forget NOLA?our National Treasure of a city still needs all our help!) But even there, in the Ninth, amid so much tragedy, recovery is starting to happen, wants to happen.
Everywhere in the city there was, palpably, a wanting to trust and believe again.
At one messy moment in the parade, during Endymion, with a float stalled and horses getting nervous, and the crowd growing restless, the police kept a jovial, controlled, light-hearted order. Two bands were facing off, mean-faces on, the rhythm sections going at it, like in Drumline, and the police kept it fun and light and let it be a fabulous moment, inside the edge of control while still edgy. It was a display of confident force by the NOLA police quite the opposite of SWAT-team macho crowd-control over-reaction. Really impressive.
During Zulu, I said to one friend I met on my second-line street corner, ?The police do an amazing job of crowd control at Mardi Gras. It?s too bad they didn?t do as good a job during Katrina.? My new pal, a rail-thin young man in a jacket big enough for two of him, told me how his family lost everything in Katrina, but that the police and the fire department had not abandoned them. They tried to help. They lost people trying to help the endangered and drowning citizens but it was all just too much for them and, often, they just could not get to the people who needed them and many of them lost everything themselves in the storm. He said the media tried to blame the NOLA police and fire departments to divert attention away from the deplorable job FEMA did and the even worse job done by the US government as a whole. (At the airport, on the way to the restrooms, there?s a timeline of Katrina: American Airlines was flying people in and out of NOLA free three or four days before the federal government sent in the army or the national guard. Appalling.)
In any case, my street corner pal said his family is rebuilding. He has a job working in a hotel. He?s glad the tourists are returning. ?We?re coming back!? he shouted, and then he left our second-line street corner to push through the crowd to the front-line where he?d have a better chance of snagging a gilded coconut. I hope he caught one.