Journalist Urges New Orleans to Truly Celebrate Mardi Gras

February 17, 2006 at 12:00 AM EDT

CHRIS ROSE: New Orleans is used to getting lots of attention, but as the sights and sounds of carnival descend upon the city this year, “scrutiny” might be a better word for it. And the question of the hour seems to be: Why are they having Mardi Gras?

Isn’t New Orleans still a debris-strewn wasteland with hundreds of thousands of residents still living in exile? And aren’t the cops who would provide security stressed-out and dog-tired? Is it appropriate to have Mardi Gras at all, considering? The answer to all those questions is yes.

MAN SINGING: Sweet home New Orleans.

CHRIS ROSE: It’s very dark here, literally and emotionally. More than five months after the disaster that ripped the bones and soul out of America’s most interesting city, it’s just about the saddest place you ever saw. This is unnatural.

SPOKESMAN: Mardi Gras for 1954. Before you, you see a sight you’d see nowhere, I don’t believe, in the United States.

CHRIS ROSE: New Orleans is historically the most free-wheeling, social and tolerant city in the country. That is our essence, our identity– and this part’s important– our economy.

SINGING: Everybody get upon floor and enjoy yourself —

CHRIS ROSE: Truthfully, every day around here is Mardi Gras on some small scale, so full of music, food, dance and celebration. It’s just that, for a couple of weeks in late winter, we make it official and invite the rest of the country to join us.

SINGING: Well, I’m going to New Orleans I want to see the Mardi Gras

CHRIS ROSE: Some would suggest that to hold this bacchanalian festival this year is distasteful at best, disrespectful at worst. But we celebrated Thanksgiving here and Christmas and Hanukah and Kwanzaa and New Year’s Eve and nobody called us out. How could we not observe our single most defining cultural event, the holiday that draws together our music, food, attitude, character, our artistic expression and love of satire, this year of all years?

The simple view of Mardi Gras is that it’s a big drunk, a lot of nudity, and common sense on holiday. Well, yeah. That’s one viewpoint.


To locals, Mardi Gras is so richly layered and generations-deep tradition that it defies categorization. And it’s so much more than parades and plastic beads. It’s high-society balls and spectacular drag-queen runway shows; it’s the raucous and nearly mystical Mardi Gras Indian war games in the streets; all-night piano jams in the nightclubs; it’s back-of-town, front stoop crawfish boils and a half dozen events featuring pets in costumes. Where do you begin to tell the strange story?

SPOKESMAN: Here come the Nevil brothers —

SINGING: — be there for the Mardi Gras

CHRIS ROSE: It’s inconceivable that residents and businesses– again, those that are here– wouldn’t decorate their buildings in purple, green and gold bunting to mark the season, to mark our resilience, all to the accompaniment of radio stations drowning the airwaves with seasonal songs by Dr. John, Professor Longhair and the Neville Brothers, all of it to say, “hey, we’re still here, and we’re still New Orleans!” And it’s not just the city, but the whole region, all of it impacted by Katrina and Rita.

There are shrimp boat parades down on the bayous and trail rides on painted horses out on the prairies of Cajun country and even a push lawnmower parade in the Baton Rouge.

The suburbs, the exurbs, all the way up to the state capital and from Galveston to Mobile, it is what it is and it is who we are.

Mardi Gras is the consummate expression of community and the joy of living. We do all this for the kids, sure, but we do it for us, too, for our sheer will to live.

All this is just emotional reasoning, of course. There’s another compelling purpose to Mardi Gras this year, one that trumps the revival of our spirits.

Simply put, Mardi Gras means millions of dollars here. It doesn’t take Ross Perot to understand it’s the economy. And if you want to talk about a place that needs currency way beyond plastic beads, this is it.

SINGING: Mardi Gras and a second line —

CHRIS ROSE: So we’re going to let the good times roll as best we can in battered and beleaguered New Orleans this year, every year, for as long as we’re still here.

SINGING: Sweet home, sweet home, sweet home New Orleans

CHRIS ROSE: I’m Chris Rose.