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Final Words on MG 2006, Arthur Hardy
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Posted: Mar 12 2006, 08:29 PM

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Congratulations, New Orleans. We won. Not that there was ever any serious doubt. In the Big Easy, we seldom take the easy way out. We knew that we would make Mardi Gras happen and that it would be terrific-just the kind of group therapy we needed when we chose to celebrate rather than surrender. Mardi Gras, especially this year, was for us; a time to enjoy our unique and diverse cultural heritage. The bare-breasted spring break crowd stayed away and families came out in record numbers. To a nation that still thinks parts of New Orleans are under water, we replaced images of refugees in boats with revelers on floats.
In the end, most of the national and international media got it.

But it was a battle as they repeated ad nauseam the same old misguided story line that we were insensitive to stage Mardi Gras and that it would cost the city money better spent on housing. Never mind that the celebration will actually help fund the recovery. Most reporters ignored what the latest numbers indicate: Mardi Gras normally generates more than one billion dollars in total revenue. The city spends less than $5 million on services and receives more than $21 million in taxes.
A canceled Carnival would have announced that New Orleans was closed for business. Some hotels might not have survived. The additional flights into New Orleans, driven wholly by the demand created by Mardi Gras, would not have been scheduled. Harrah's, Canal Place and the Morial Convention Center would not have reopened when they did?all on the first day of parades. Conventions and leisure travelers considering New Orleans would have had second thoughts if we had failed to present our signature event in the very year it was celebrating its 150th anniversary.

City government always has the power to cancel the parades, but it does not make them happen. The citizens, the parade-riding krewe members and their leaders, made Mardi Gras happen. They knew how essential it was that Mardi Gras go on. Sacrifices were made: seven krewes chose not to parade; some Carnival balls were canceled or changed venues; some royalty were held over to 2007; many parades were smaller; all traveled a shorter, more standardized route; and we enjoyed eight days of parades instead of eleven. The police did their usual masterful job.

The parading people of New Orleans did not forget Katrina.

Unprecedented philanthropic activity accompanied Carnival, from the volunteer cleanup Katrina Krewe to the donations made by the clubs themselves-$370,000 from Muses, Bacchus, Rex and Chaos, plus donations from many other clubs not yet made public. The charter school initiative started by Rex will benefit school children for years to come.

Official and unofficial acts of compassion were to be found everywhere: Zulu's memorial service for victims of the storm, including ten of its members who died; the moment of silence offered by Rex at Gallier Hall; the many floats that carried first responders and other heroes of the storm; the outpouring of charity as more fortunate krewe members helped finance the rides of their displaced colleagues. But, in the true spirit of Mardi Gras, we also remembered to laugh at ourselves with satirical themes, floats and costumed maskers that poked fun at mother nature, FEMA and our favorite targets-politicians.

Some will measure the success of Mardi Gras 2006 by the number of hotel rooms that were booked, by the full flights into Louis Armstrong International Airport, by crowd size. I choose to measure it by the joy that was spread. That, after all, is the true purpose of the celebration. And everywhere I looked, I saw joy. On the faces of young and old, black and white. I saw unity as Zulu and Rex hugged on Lundi Gras and as the mayor and governor stood side-by-side at Gallier Hall on Fat Tuesday.
It's too early to make predictions for Mardi Gras 2007. Will the canceled krewes reappear? Will minimum requirements for parades be reinstated? Will public school marching bands return? Will the NOPD again piggyback parades rather than stage them over several days? And what about parade routes? Or corporate sponsorship?

We have time to sort it out. Meanwhile, let's enjoy the memory of this most significant Carnival season.

Posted: Mar 14 2006, 01:09 PM

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My Mardi Gras
Carnival in their own words
Thursday, February 23, 2006

"I still can't believe that it has been six months since the mother of all hurricanes ripped and forever changed New Orleans, Bay St. Louis and Waveland. Since I was a child, every Mardi Gras season I'd watch these fill with pageantry and song. The masks went up, the beads came out and the jazz flowed like syrup from the speakers.

"If I close my eyes, I can transport myself back to New Orleans to see the sights and sounds of the season. I can smell my neighbor Mrs. Dailey's gumbo and fried okra. The breeze of our partially opened kitchen window allowed the aromas from her kitchen to sneak through. I can also hear Mr. Dailey singing everything from "Please Hand Me the Salt My Love" to "The Saints Go Marching In" and the sound will forever be etched in my soul.

"As a child, I can remember the excitement of king cake day at school. Everyone would wait an anticipation to see who got the baby each week. Just thinking about the sprinklings of purple, green and gold icing over the delicious pastry makes my mouth water. But my favorite of all the Mardi Gras activities were the endless parades throughout the region.

"Whether in New Orleans, Metairie, Waveland or Pass Christian, there was always a parade, each one slightly different in theme but all with amazing pageantry. The sounds of music were everywhere, from the bands on floats to the street musicians playing famous New Orleans jazz. Sometimes if I sit very still I can hear the sounds of past Mardi Gras. The saxophones and trombones were so distinctive to the region -- so unique to New Orleans.

"These are the images I want to remember of my home town. Not the ones I saw when I traveled to my home shortly after the storm, or the images that people are still living with day to day. I want to remember Mardi Gras 2005, when my husband, son and I spent Lundi Gras in the thick of festivities in the French Quarter. We traveled from the base housing on the West Bank via the ferry from Algiers that landed on the east bank at the Riverwalk. It's amazing how much changes in such a short amount of time.

"We've missed Mardi Gras before and always managed to somehow celebrate. It just would be nice to be home for this year's festivities, but with my husband just getting home from Iraq we'll be here in Florida for Mardi Gras this year. You know, though, I am glad they're still having Mardi Gras -- it's what the New Orleans spirit is all about. Hurricane Katrina can't keep that spirit down. New Orleans will always keep going."

. . . . . . .

"My Mardi Gras" is excerpted from interviews by staff writer Maria Montoya. She can be reached at (504) 826-3446 or

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