My first Mardi Gras experience was completely amazing. There was so much going on: marching bands, dance troupes of beautifully dressed women and girls in all shapes and sizes, dance troupes of older men dressed like Richard Simmons (google it) complete with boomboxes on shoulders, bubbles, confetti, floats, crowds of people, glitter, wigs, costumes... I now understand why no wants wants it to rain on their parade, and I understand what it means to get things rolling. Those floats were huge!
Although I easily collected over 100 strands of beads in three days of parading, I learned very quickly that it’s simply not about the beds.
As we stood in line waiting for the floats, I made friends with the people next to us. During the course of the parade we traded things that we caught, and we gave beads and throws (think Mardi Gras swag) to the children around us.
“Oh my goodness,“ someone next to me said. “I have never in my whole life seen a signature bead like that.“ Without thinking twice, I took it off my neck and I put it around his. It was a very cool bead, but the act of friendship was far more significant and impactful than taking the strand of beads home.
Sometimes the world feels really big and it is hard to know how to make a difference when you are just one person. But at Mardi Gras, where beads are quite literally flying through the air, it’s easy to take a strand of beads off of your neck and hand it to someone else in order to make that person smile. It is a simple, easy act of generosity that anyone on the parade route can participate in. Friendship and community, not beads, are the essence of carnival.
2. Just do you.
When we went out to the parades I wore a rainbow wig, face glitter, super bright lipstick, Fleur 'de Lis leggings, and a rainbow sequin jacket. I did not stand out. In fact, you could have made the case that I was underdressed.
Truth be told, I wore most of this outfit into CVS to pick up bottled water and markers. No one looked at me funny. Half the store was dressed the same way. When I got to the checkout counter, the cashier smiled and said “Happy Carnival.“ She was happy to see me dressed up Mardi Gras style. At home in Michigan, people would look at me like I was some kind of freak show.
I think Michigan should take notes from New Orleans. We really don’t have to be judgmental about what other people wear and about the ways they choose to express who they are. Just do you. It’s a whole lot of fun, and I now I know that you can never sparkle too much.
3. Debauchery is not required.
We were “uptown” near the beginning of the parade route. There were a lot of families and kids. The streets were lined with people for miles and miles and everyone was happy and laughing.
At one point I was standing next to a little girl that was 6 or 7. She was wearing a headband with cat ears on it. She looked up at me and smiled and said, "Meow-y Mardi Gras." I responded warmly, "Happy Mardi Gras to you too." Without missing a beat she said back, "I actually said 'Meow-y Mardi Gras’ because I'm a cat."
What's not to love?
Despite repeated warning from well meaning friends back home, the whole thing was pretty much PG rated. I had so many Michigan people warn me that my trip would be filled with debauchery, danger, and complete drunkenness. I was even warned that drunk people might fall on me and crush me to death. I wasn't sure that I wanted to go. In fact, when my NOLA friends asked me if I wanted to come out, I actually told them no. Thankfully some sort of rainbow glitter sparkled inside of me, and I trusted instincts and my bought my plane ticket anyway.
I was wrong about Mardi Gras, but I never would have understand how wrong I was without experiencing it firsthand. By the end of each parade, my neck hurt because I was basically wearing my body weight in beads. In case you are wondering, no shirt lifting was required.
If you are looking for debauchery, I am sure you can find it, but when you know that’s not what you’re looking for, you can choose a different adventure. It really goes back to lesson #2- Just Do You, but don't say no to the adventure.
I left New Orleans with a full heart and an excitement to dance through life (even when there aren’t beads). I’m so blessed to have spent my time with amazing people that inviting me to experience the true meaning of carnival. (They also fed me the most amazing King Cake you can imagine!)
I left New Orleans filled with inspiration and overflowing with friendships that I did not have when I arrived. Thank you NOLA. I don’t care what they say about you, I love you.
This summer I will be in Glen Arbor (Sleeping Bear Dunes) and I might hit the Michigan shore line in other places as well. There are talks of a return trip to Florida or a possible adventure out to the Rocky Mountains. I do schedule portrait sessions during my travels. If you are interested in my travel schedule, or if you want information on setting up a travel adventure to your location, send me a note and let me know! Thank you for reaching out.