#7: Dancing in the streets during Mardis Gras, New Orleans.

19-24 February, 2012

Gritty.

That’s the first word that comes to mind to describe New Orleans. It leaves you with the impression that it’s the kind of place that gives you no apologies for its nature, and you leave so intriguing that you could only want more.

Before leaving for my trip I received several warning about traveling to a city with such a deep-rooted criminal history by myself. Warning after warning, after warning.

Imagine my surprise to find a place so rich, so soulful, and so kind…that it made it hard to leave.

This year was the largest Mardis Gras (with over 1 million people) since hurricane Katrina hit. The city was packed with college kids, families, grandparents, and bucket list-ers. Let’s face it, experiencing Mardis Gras in its hometown has a large appeal…which is why it was a ‘must’ on my life list.

Picture yourself walking through the crowds, crowds littered with every age group, every race, every belief…and all filled with so much happiness and life that the feeling in the air is almost overwhelming. Families dressed in homemade costumes, friends with the same t-shirts laughing over drinks, grandparents dancing with their hands held high trying to catch beads from the parade floats. And the parades…they are no small thing. They are bright, vibrant and full of music! More colours than you can imagine, and they last for hours! The aim of course is to have fun and catch some of the loot (mostly beads) that the floats toss into the crowds. The big prize seems to be the coconuts, although truthfully I still don’t know why.

Walking down the infamous Bourbon St bring such an eclectic mix of characters that you can hardly believe your eyes. Mardis Gras after all in know for its celebrate, indulgence and debauchery prior to Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. So picture a crowded Bourbon St, again populated by families, children, students, grandparents, young adults, and businessmen (an absolute mixed bag) with alcohol that’s free flowing, strippers advertising in dark doorways, flashing Vegas style signs offering everything you can imagine, and balconies filled with people throwing beads to those you flash them…and sometimes to those that don’t. Music is everywhere. There’s dancing in the streets. Cops are posted on every block. The streets are littered with beads. Musicians and street performers play for money. Insistent Christians preach the bible trying to save our souls. The smell of Creole and Cajun foods fill the air.

Incredible right?

Once the celebrations are over, and the masses have gone to church for Ash Wednesday…all I’m left with in New Orleans, just as she is. I discovered a city so rich with history, cultures and strength that listening to her stories alone is intoxicating, most times sounding like something of which movies are made of.

Sitting back listening to the smooth sounds of jazz on Frenchmen St, you can’t help but lose yourself in the music. It’s alive, soothing and fulfilling.

It’s real, in these dingy bars with sketchy crowds. Tables that wobble, drinks that are cheap, and everyone having a great time. It’s real, and alive, and one of the best experiences I’ve enjoyed so far.

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