I think I used my weather app as much as my camera app this carnival season.
It seemed that every parade leading up to Lundi Gras was threatened to be a washout, but almost all dodged a bullet. There were downpours before and after, leaving wet beads, soggy feathers, and puddles along the avenue. Sometimes rain droplets plopped on our heads from pre-party spot to parade spot and other times, we got downright soaked in a quick downpour. But all the while, from forecast to puddles, we splashed about and danced in the rain. Carnival went forward, wet, dry, and ultimately frigid, and we carried on to the beat right along with it.
Of all the mysteries of Mardi Gras, its greatest allure, in my opinion, is its ability to pull you in, no matter the weather, the effort, or the time. Carnival, to me, is like a sexy, savvy booty call. We can’t say no. We can’t resist the temptation. Because we know it’ll be a good time.
We’d ordinarily never go to even the grocery store in the rain, yet we pack the umbrella and wear the boots to Mardi Gras. We forego tidiness for two weeks when our homes look like they’ve been robbed by a combined band of drag queens, frat boys, and preschoolers. Wigs, eyelashes, and boas land where they land. Beer cans and solo cups spill out of every trash can. Heaps of beads and stuffies pile up in each room. And a fine layer of unexplainable goo covers our floors and surfaces. Time is thought out backwards and planned accordingly: “Okay, if the parade rolls at 6 p.m., then I need to be at the spot by 5, parked by 4:30, pack the ice chest at 4, ...” And this is just the spectator side. Carnival takes COMMITMENT.
So why do we do it?
Because carnival is a renewal of the human spirit, a reminder of what’s inside us and a reminder that we’re more resilient than we think.
Mardi Gras transitions us from one season to the next: Ordinary Time to Lent, costuming season to not-so-costumed season, debutante social season to planning months. Such is life--a series of transitions from one extreme to the next. Seasons come and go and even sometimes circle back to meet us again. We’re not guaranteed blue skies at the start, but we are free--free to react to the pop-ups and changes transitions spring upon us. We often scream, yell, and pull our hair out in retaliation over what we can't control. And just as often, we forget that we don’t have to. We can dance in the rain. We are just as free to splash through life’s puddles willy-nilly and come what may. And, carnival--silly, whimsical, clever carnival--reminds us that deep down in the depths of our tired bodies, a child hides, just waiting to be loosened from authority’s grip to jump in a big, messy, muddy puddle.
I’m transitioning right now from Daddy’s girl to no Daddy’s girl, mother’s daughter to caretaker, casual freelancer to full steam ahead. It’s pouring right now, a constant shower above my head like in a cartoon. It’s sloshy, icky, and the forecast looks bleak. I am free to stay put, to pout, yell at the top of my lungs, and wait for better weather.
And I did for some time.
Then last Thursday I took my little girl, Fiona, to Muses in spite of the dark clouds looming. I’ve taken her, just the two of us, ever since she stopped needing a ladder, a Girls Night Out she looks forward to every year. We glittered our eyes, grabbed umbrellas, and sang “They All Axed for You” the whole way there. At a pre-party off the route, I laughed with friends, made new friends, drank champagne, ate fried chicken and beans, and tasted a nectar king cake for the first time. My little girl did much of the same with people her size. The dampness outside had no influence on the merriment inside. On our way to St. Charles Avenue, it began to drizzle. In reaction, Fiona popped open her umbrella and began to alternate twirling it with placing it upside down on the concrete and dancing around it, all the way to our parade spot. She knew something good was coming and a little drizzle didn’t dissuade her. It seemed the rain was less of a nuisance and more of a means to an end that she might as well embrace if she wanted to catch a glittery shoe and experience a magical night. I needed the reminder.
And a magical night it was for my girl and me. Another Mardi Gras memory in the books. Another celebration with friends and family where the tiny square of street on which we stand represents a temporary sense of home where the doors are always open, where we share laughs, throws, beads and even dances in the rain. It was another moment to pinch myself that I belong to a city of showmen who do it all, all of it, for someone else. And, it was another opportunity to pass down to the next generation that the carnival spirit is always the perfect tonic for any ailment.
I know enough to know that even a little rain can’t wash away the possibility that something better will come along for you, me, and all of us in transition. Good times are right down the street, just trying to make the turn. And when it arrives to the place where we stand, it will be all lit up and sparkling--that sexy, savvy superstar we can’t resist. Mardi Gras reminds us of this each year and renews our vows to stick with it, no matter the forecast, because we are made of thicker skin. Our glitter won’t run off, our costumes will adjust, and our effort and time will have been worth it. In the end, the floats will appear through the fog, the bands will play, and the party will go on as planned.
So though our houses be a filthy shelter for loose feathers, random trinkets, and copious empty bottles of bubbly, though I can’t remember the last time my children took a bath or I washed my hair, though the time and effort be exhausting, and though storms may hover, I will commit anyway. I don’t have to. I am free to stay home. But, I will go--go to the Mardi Gras and wait for the magic I know is coming.
Good times are ahead, and in the meantime, I will dance in the rain.
Originally published in New Orleans Magazine online.