Mardi Gras revelry, parades take over New Orleans

MARY FOSTER STACEY PLAISANCE Associated Press Published:

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- Revelers hit the streets Tuesday to celebrate Mardi Gras, lured to the French Quarter and stately oak-lined avenues by the chance to snag beads and baubles from seemingly endless parades in the final unfettered party before the somber season of Lent.

The French Quarter was full of costumed revelers. Wearing a bright orange wig, a purple mask and green shoes, New Orleans resident Charlotte Hamrick walked along Canal Street to meet friends.

"I'll be in the French Quarter all day," Hamrick said. "I don't even go to the parades. I love to take pictures of all the costumes and just be with my friends. It's so fun."

Brittany Davies of Denver was struggling through the early morning hours. Still feeling the effects of heavy drinking from the night before, her friends had her out again early Tuesday.

"They're torturing me," Davies joked. "But I'll be OK after a bloody Mary."

At the Superdome, the predominantly African-American Zulu krewe loaded their floats with their signature decorated coconuts, a parade crowd favorite. Most were in the traditional black-face makeup and afro wigs krewe members have sported for decades.

Meanwhile in the Garden District, clarinetist Pete Fountain prepared to lead his Half-Fast Walking Club on its annual march down St. Charles Avenue, the traditional start of the daylong series of parades.

After Zulu, the parade of Rex, king of Carnival, would make the trek down the avenue and to the city's business district, with hundreds of thousands of people pleading for beads and doubloons.

Fountain, 82, gave a "thumbs up" to start off and his band launched into "When The Saints Come Marching In" as they rounded the corner onto St. Charles Avenue shortly after 7 a.m. It was the 52nd time that Fountain's group has paraded for Mardi Gras. This year, the group wore bright yellow suits and matching pork pie hats for its theme, "Follow the Yellow Brick Road."

Along St. Charles, groups of people, many in costumes, breakfasted as children played in the street. Small marching groups were already on the move. The Skeleton Krewe, 25 people dressed in black skeleton outfits, were on their way to the St. Louis Cathedral.

Tom White, 46, clad in a pink tu-tu, bicycled down the avenue with his wife, Allison, on their way to the French Quarter. "I'm the pink fairy this year," said White. Allison White was not in costume. "He's disgraced the family enough," she said of her husband.

But Tom White was in the spirit of the day. "Costuming is the real fun of Mardi Gras. I'm not too creative but when you weigh 200 pounds and put on a tu-tu people still take your picture."

The stakeout for prime spots along the Mardi Gras parade route started Monday, with legions of Carnival die-hards jockeying for the best places to vie for beads thrown from floats on Fat Tuesday.

Stephanie Chapman and her family had set up in their usual spot on the St. Charles streetcar tracks. They'd arrive at 4 a.m. on Tuesday and would be staying for the duration. "This is a beautiful day and we'll be here until it's over. It won't rain on my parade, But if it does I won't pay any attention," she said.

Across the Gulf Coast, Mardi Gras was getting into full swing. In the Cajun country of southwest Louisiana, masked riders were preparing to go from town to town, making merry along the way in the Courir du Mardi Gras. And parades were scheduled elsewhere around Louisiana and on the Mississippi and Alabama coasts. The celebration arrived in Louisiana in 1682 when the explorer LaSalle and his party stopped at a place they called Bayou Mardi Gras south of New Orleans to celebrate. The site is now lost to history.

On Monday night, the Lundi Gras celebration culminated with the parade of the Krewe of Orpheus, led by entertainers Harry Connick Jr. and Hilary Swank. Rocker Bret Michaels and Grammy-winning singer Cyndi Lauper ushered in Mardi Gras with musical performances in the wee hours of the morning at the bash that followed the parade.

Festivities on Monday, or Lundi Gras, included the ceremonial meeting between the king and queen of Zulu and Rex and his queen. The event was marked with live music, dancing and revelry on the riverfront Monday. Revelers in costume danced and posed for pictures with Mardi Gras Indians wearing elaborate costumes with feathers and beads.

The end of Mardi Gras gives way to the beginning of Lent, the period of fasting and repentance before Easter Sunday.