Before I begin, I will state a few things. I am well aware that Mardi Gras doesn't just occur in New Orleans. It happens in other areas of Louisiana and Mississippi. I also am educated enough to know that Mardi Gras did not originate in the New Orleans or in America at large. I couldn't tell you how long it has been celebrated in New Orleans, but I'm sure it was at least a few hundred years or more.

Now I have just survived Mardi Gras here in New Orleans just the last week, and as a first hand observer of the holiday for the last 5 years, I've seen my share of freaky shit. But when I went to work this morning, my friend and co-worker Sandi told me of some horrifying accounts of Mardi Gras celebrations that went awry in other cities. For information on this, one site I found was this: http://www.msnbc.com/msn/537048.asp. I won't bother to cut and paste the details; you can read them at your own leisure. The main point I want to make is that for all the violence and hooplah from these other cities and what the participants therein went through, whoever decided to do it should not have been allowed to do it.

I have no issues with anyone who wants to throw a party in the streets and make asses of themselves. But Mardi Gras is something that, in my opinion, should be left to the pros. Now, we in New Orleans are far from safe when it comes to our merrymaking, but we also have almost two weeks to get it all out of our systems. New Orleans has known how to deal with the flux of people and knows what to expect.

Let me give you an example. Byzantine and I went out onto Bourbon two times yesterday, simply to walk around and see all the craziness. Mardi Gras day is the day the locals come out and show their creativity with over-the-top costumes and revelry. The tourists come from all over the country just to see them, just to be in the mix. Bourbon's pavement was littered with beads, garbage, mud, and God knows what else. It stank to high heaven. And yet, we were out there, tromping over piles of refuse, hand in hand, to see it all. We came back to the house and went back out after it got dark. Bourbon was so packed that you wove in and out, pressed by the crowds around you. Most people by Mardi Gras day are so fried and frazzled that they can barely move, talk or function. Most are so encumbered by beads that they can't turn their heads. And yet, with all those people, with women on balconies lifting their shirts with fat grins on their faces as spotlights shown from below, with all the garbage and mess, all I heard coming from people was Happy Mardi Gras. No fights. No arrests. No riots. No violence that I could see. Just a bunch of people having a good time.

I'm sure that's what the people in other cities desired, but for one reason or another their desire was flouted with problems. And now I read about it on the news. I hear about videos of a woman getting punched in the face, her head crashing into the plate glass window behind her. And then I read: What has become of Mardi Gras?.

I am incensed. You simply cannot create a tradition as longstanding and as deeply rooted into a city's culture and take it on as your own, expecting nothing will go wrong, or that a series of slightly bad things will escalate into a horrible experience. I'm sorry, but people down here know how to pull this sort of thing off. We are a 24 hour town whose bars are often 24 hours as well. Mardi Gras isn't just a one time a year thing, it's a blown up version of what every weekend of the year is like. Sure, we have violent breakouts, crime, cops all over the place. But we managed to have a million people cross the bounderies of the French Quarter this season and I've yet to hear of one account as disturbing as the handful I've read in other cities, celebrations I'm sure did not expect to last a fifth of the time New Orleans spends partying its brains out before Lent.

During the last few weeks, on the front page of every issue of the Times Picayune, the local newspaper, you saw blown up photographs of crowds teeming with up thrown hands, reaching for throws being tossed from passing floats. You saw whole families camped out with their ladders, beer coolers and umbrellas, having a blast the way they've been having it for generations. I did not see one account of violence of the nature I read about from other cities.

The next time anyone thinks to do this (and to be honest this was the first year I even heard of such a thing), they should seriously consider coming down here for one Mardi Gras season. Come here and see how it's supposed to be done.

To those of you who may have witnessed these events in other areas, if I am speaking out of turn here, please let me know. I don't want to offend any one person or group of people but at the idea that is at the root of the whole occurance. Just like any city with something special it wants to see preserved, New Orleans deserves a little more respect that this. As city that should have never survived due to its poorly planned location and one whose speedy demise has been predicted during almost every hurricane season, New Orleans is not going anywhere. And neither is Mardi Gras, by the look of it.

Unfortunately, I live in one of those cities. On the weekend preceding Mardi Gras, as the bars began to close in Seattle, Pioneer Square was filled with idiot drunks. The ladies did the lift their shirts for beads thing, and the guys milled about causing fights. Eventually the police had to come in and break the crowd up, causing a whole lot more problems. The worst night was the night before (and continuing into) Ash Wednesday, when the biggest crowd piled into Pioneer Square. Police blocked off the streets surrounding the crowd and stayed the hell out. Fights broke out constantly over prime viewing spots, and people generally behaved like drunken morons.

Which is what this holiday is all about in cities like mine. It's one of those "excuse to get drunk" holidays, like St. Patrick's Day and Cinco de Mayo. They have an importance elsewhere, but for 90% of the population, the holidays are merely an excuse to act the fool. It isn't about creating the atmosphere of Mardi Gras, or doing what the celebration is really about (going nuts before Lent). The bars get to make some money with beads or green beer or Dos Equis, and people get to think their near-rioting is okay because it's a holiday.

Here's my observation--

Philly's erupted in rioting. Unfortunately, South Street turned pretty ugly, thanks to drunken teenagers from the suburbs. Don't believe me? Check the police reports. The majority of the disturbances and lootings were done by teens--people too young to legally drink. The owner of the local Fat Tuesdays didn't really care, however, nor did any of the other bars. Six stores were looted, 200 people arrested. Among the crimes overlooked by police, however, was the sexual assult of a woman who had her clothes torn off her while police looked on from twenty feet away. (This was reported by ABCNews.com)

City of Brotherly Love, eh? I almost went, too, but decided to hang around campus instead.

Being a native New Orleanian, an avid alcoholic, and a current resident of New York, I have often sought a cultural explanation for the absence of violence and antipathy which accompanies the celebration of Mardi Gras in my hometown, which contrasts so sharply with similar public parties in the North. Incidents such as those at the Puerto Rican Day parade are rare, if not unknown, during Carnival in New Orleans, which is astoundingly inclusive, racially, sexually, politically, and demographically.

The severe difficulties which several cities experienced this year when holding their own Mardi Gras festivities demonstrated this phenomenon even more dramatically. What socio-cultural distinction between New Orleans and other American cities results in the pleasant, happily-depraved celebratory atmosphere of the former and the hostile, destructive qualities of the latter?

I think Templeton's explanation is quite accurate, but I would also cite the city's historical relationship with debauchery as an addendum. Louisiana only recently changed the legal drinking age to 21, and then only under brutal pressure from the federal government. New Orleans lacks an open container law, is not terribly concerned with underage drinking, and even has two drive-through daiquiri shops.

A laissez-faire approach to the regulation of social behavior and an indifference to efficiency characterize the local government, and the culture of New Orleans, being a peculiar synthesis of French, Spanish, and Caribbean sources, is more European than American. As a result, the inexplicable, and thoroughly American, tendency to correlate debauchery and violence, partying and destruction, fun and sociopathy is not very prevalent. (Compare Woodstock ’99 and Jazzfest).

Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a sublimely affirmative experience: to hang out with on-duty police officers while drinking a beer when 17-years old, to move through a crowd the racial components of which are entirely intermingled, to easily and sincerely meet strangers from all over the world without anxiety, and to run howling through the streets of a beautiful, major city and witness no violence is as close to urban bliss as one can come.

(I hope that my love of New Orleans and Mardi Gras is not construed as criticism of any other city, or the North, in which I also have great times.)

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