Nan Parati: swallowed whole by tradition at Mardi Gras

  • Nan Parati

Published: 3/4/2019 7:25:07 AM

I am in New Orleans, where I go every year, to work on the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. It’s a festival I’ve worked as the sign-writer and a stage-and-site-décor designer for since 1985 and continue to do so to this very day.

This year, I got to come down early enough to celebrate Mardi Gras, too! I am, in fact, sneaking this writing in right before I go off to watch the Endymion Parade, one of the Super-Krewes of the Mardi Gras parade world, categorized disdainfully by some as, “New Money and Christmas Lights” as, in the older days before about 20 years ago, the REAL world of Mardi Gras parade krewes were marked by old money, secrecy and tradition. We still have those krewes too, though Mardi Gras New Orleans is much, much more open to everyone who wants to do something than it used to be in the old days.

One of my favorite krewes (In New Orleans the marching/parading clubs are known as Krewes, not crews; again, it’s history) is the 610 Stompers, a group of “Ordinary Men with Extraordinary Moves.” And truly, they are a large group of middle-aged men sporting red jackets, sleeveless undershirts, blue shorts, a headband, athletic socks and sneakers, dancing in sync to disco music. Formed shortly after Hurricane Katrina, they were part of the joyous recovery of the city. Oh yes indeed! Life is still funny and something to dance to, even as you slog through the throw-out and rebuild of your house. (Those who pay attention to these kinds of things note that “Katrina” is still mentioned publically every single day in New Orleans, 14 years later. It takes a long time to get over something that big.) But the 610 Stompers were invited to march in Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade in 2011 and 15. You, too can be entertained by them on the internet at

Y’all! Endymion’s starting to roll! I’ll be back!

Endymion was big – so big! The crowd it attracts now is throngs-deep, not just throngs of people. Throngs behind throngs. The woman standing beside me told me how her husband used to ride in Endymion before he passed away, and she teared up at the memory of him, on his float, tossing beads and stuff to the crowd.

This evening I caught (besides beads,) a wire-and-fabric rose on a 3-foot long stem. It made me wonder who and why someone in China made that. (The label says it was made in China.) I was also handed, by a masked float-rider, very specifically to me, it seemed, a poster, printed double-sided on very heavy paper (what we in the graphic design business recognize as Expensive,) with, on side one, a welcome to the 53rdEndymion Ball (each Krewe celebrates with its own very expensive formal ball, which I would never in a million years be invited to) with photos of the Queen of Endymion and all of her Maids. (Anathema to New England, New Orleans still presents young women to society through the courts of the New Orleans Carnival kings. You kind of have to live here to get how that works, still, in 2019.)

The backside of the very expensive poster is an outline and line up of all 36 double-decker, two-car floats that made up the parade, with a line-drawn rendering of each float. The theme of this year’s parade was “Wonder Tales of Science Fiction from 1865 -1908.” Who in the world, besides me, is interested in this stuff? How did that guy know to hand it to me, singling me from the rest of the thousands of people jumping for throws around me?

I’m tired enough, and we’re only on Saturday. There were to be four parades Sunday, followed by Monday with two and then, Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent begins, where I, myself participate in a marching club called the Krewe of Saint Anne where we dress all in gold and parade 45 blocks from way-up in the Bywater all the way downtown to Canal Street (where we watch more parades) and then to the river where we solemnly scatter the ashes of deceased loved ones in the river, and then carry on with the rest of our Mardi Gras day, until we finally stop letting all the good times roll and all go home to sleep.

Happy Mardi Gras, from New Orleans to New England!

Nan Parati lives and works in Ashfield, where she found home and community following Hurricane Katrina. 

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