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Let the good times–and parades–roll
Published Feb 2006

“Hey, mister! Throw me something!” will ring out again throughout greater New Orleans, as the city prepares its post-hurricane Mardi Gras. Photo credit: Louisiana Office of Tourism

 


By Don Redman
Associate Editor


If you ever thought about going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras but the large crowds seemed too much to face, this carnival season may be the perfect time to finally make the trip. The crowds will be decidedly thinner and law enforcement presence will be obvious. In addition, many of the good things visitors have come to love about the Crescent City are up and running again.

After grappling whether to host carnival following Hurricane Katrina, city officials and krewes finally decided to let the parades roll through New Orleans. There was some hesitancy in the public and private sectors to celebrate Mardi Gras because people were worried about the public perception beyond New Orleans. Some argued that throwing a bash now would send the wrong message to the nation–that the disaster is over and everything is back to normal–or worse, that New Orleanians are more interested in partying than rebuilding.

Fortunately, saner heads prevailed. Never before has this city–this region–needed so desperately to celebrate. After six months of living among the ruins, we are affording ourselves the opportunity to celebrate life. Let’s dance in the streets and rid ourselves of care for one brief moment before the reconstruction begins in earnest.

For the most part, the French Quarter is humming along and frequent visitors to New Orleans may actually think everything is back to normal, especially if their visits were confined mainly to the Quarter. Tourists are slowly returning and there are a number of venues now open offering great music and food–the staples of any trip to New Orleans. The streets are busy, but not overly crowded. Most restaurants are again offering full menus, but do expect to wait to be seated.

Some tourists will want to see the city beyond the confines of the French Quarter, and tour companies are ready to oblige. This is an extremely sobering experience. Nearly 80 percent of the city was inundated with floodwaters, and while the heart of the city was spared, large swaths of residential areas were devastated. If one decides to see the destruction for one’s self, please keep in mind that these areas were people’s homes; some homeowners may take exception to gawking. And believe me, it’s impossible not to gawk.

The Gulf Coast is slowly making headway, too. Gaming opportunities are offered in Biloxi at The Palace Casino and Resort, Isle of Capri and the Imperial Palace. While contractors and adjusters are occupying many hotel rooms, there are some rooms available for walk-ins, but it is strongly advised to call ahead of time.

Signs of destruction along the coast is much more visible here. Along U.S. Highway 90 from Waveland to Biloxi, vacant cement slabs and naked pylons stare blankly out across the Gulf. But coastal residents are a hearty people and they are committed to rebuilding their communities and their lives.

And, like New Orleanians, they are ready to celebrate. The Gulf Coast also has a proud history of celebrating carnival and several parades are scheduled all along the coastal communities from now to Mardi Gras, this year Feb. 28, 2006.

I liken this year’s decision to hold Mardi Gras to the flurry of American flags raised throughout the region shortly after Katrina hit. The flags had less to do with patriotism than they were expressions of defiance. We spoke with our flags and the message was “We’re still standing!”

And so, from the Mississippi Gulf Coast to the New Orleans area, we are again expressing our resolve to rebuild and to retain our identities. We are announcing to the world that we are still standing, and we are doing this not with billboards and catchy slogans, but with baubles and doubloons. We have been celebrating Mardi Gras for more than 150 years. This is what we do. This is who we are.

To find out more about the carnival parade routes throughout the region, please check out these Web sites:

    • New Orleans: http://www.neworleansonline.com/index.html

    • Mississippi Gulf Coast: http://www.gulfcoast.org/

    • Slidell: http://www.slidell.la.us/calendar.php

    • Jefferson Parish: http://www.jeffparish.net/index.cfm

    • St. Tammany Parish: http://www.neworleansnorthshore.com/


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