Where we live in New Orleans is referred to as the Mardi Gras Box. That means we are boxed in by the Uptown parade staging area and the parade route that have been very active for the past ten days. The mode of transportation that works best is a bicycle. Although I enjoy the season a lot, by a couple of days ago I was pretty much Mardi Gras’d out and look forward to a quiet Lenten season beginning this Wednesday. This year is the first time since the mid-1970s I have been in New Orleans for the entire Mardi Gras season. Like the Christmas season that extends well into the pre-Thanksgiving period, the same is true for Mardi Gras parades.
Yesterday I had a revealing reflection on Mardi Gras Past and Present.
I took a geographic cure out of New Orleans in the fall of 1975. I remember a couple of distinct events from that year’s Mardi Gras. I had been suicidal from the absolute depths of depression but had kept from effectively acting on same. On Mardi Gras day as the parades ended, I remember running as fast as I could down Tchoupitoulas Street because I was afraid if I stopped running my brain would leave my head and I would never be able to get it back – demonstrating my ability to hallucinate from alcohol consumption beyond the imaginary cockroaches and tremors when I tried to detox on my own. I don’t remember much else from that day, except I was apparently responsible for “borrowing” a neighbors car without their knowledge, and woke up on the river levee sometime later. After leaving New Orleans in 1975 I still had another nine years of drinking left before I got sober.
Mardi Gras in 2017 is quite a bit different. This past Thursday I was volunteering at the port-o-potties that my church sets-up as a youth fundraiser on the St. Charles Avenue parade route. My church, Rayne Memorial, is also located within “the box” and just a 10-minute walk from our house. During my five shifts of directing folks to an open unit or in administering the post-use squirt of hand-sanitizer, I experienced friendly convivial festival folks, mostly families – the antithesis of my drunken state over 40 years ago. At our church service on Sunday, the spirit was one of celebration. Tomorrow, is Mardi Gras and my wife and I will join another couple and take a slow walk along the St. Charles Avenue parade route to the French Quarter, watch parades along the way, have lunch, and then with any luck get a taxi back uptown, or walk if need be. I will be sporting my “coat of many colors” that my wife made for me, and will dye my hair and beard blue. I will remember it all and expect to have a thoroughly enjoyable day.
My wife and I will wake up the next morning to the peace and quiet that only Ash Wednesday brings to New Orleans. I will start transplanting the germinated cucumbers, okra, basil, and other herbs and vegetables I started a couple of weeks ago. There are sunflowers, purple cone, and bunches of other stuff to get going as well. We still have several raised beds that we want to build this year near our citrus trees.
I remain eternally grateful for the opportunity to return and live in my favorite city in North America and experience a Mardi Gras of celebration, knowing fully that I am one drink away from the hallucinations and insanity of the past.