Mardi Gras Moments: The Societé de Sainte Anne
IT Editor Janelle Nanos has been blogging about her behind-the-scenes Mardi Gras Moments for the past few weeks, and this past weekend, she and a few other Traveler staffers went down to New Orleans to document the celebration.
After weeks of blogging about Mardi Gras, I set off to see it for myself, along with fellow Traveler staffers photo editor Krista Rossow and our business manager and resident videographer Susanne Hackett. Even though I’d done a fair share of reporting before I arrived, I still wasn’t sure what to expect when we got there. I realized this was in part because of the pre-conceived notions so many people had when we talked to them about our trip. There is a stereotypical way to go to New Orleans and experience Mardi Gras, and it involves a lot of beads and booze, so when you tell people you’re going, there is an almost knee-jerk reaction to roll eyes. But what we saw and experienced was, at the risk of sounding cliché, actually quite magical.
Perhaps it was a sign that our friend, who hosted us this weekend, has a costume closet in his basement. I’m not sure if this is a normal occurrence in other cities, but was perfectly natural in New Orleans, where the entire city seems to suspend reality and recreate itself over the course of the Carnival season. So within moments of dropping off our bags, we were whisked away to a costume party on the evening we arrived. The following day, as we stood on the sidelines of Sunday’s parades, we came to coin the term “bead greed” as we stretched our hands up at the masked krewe-members on the floats, hoping to snatch another bauble. Between breaks in the parades, we wandered to the side streets to watch a smaller gaggle of people celebrate the arrival of the krewe of Bacchus, named for the god of wine, by having their own costumed Box of Wine parade. It was a vino-spectacle. When Bacchus began to actually roll, our necks quickly grew to ache as we collected our treasures (what to do with them now is the bigger question), but by night’s end we and fellow Traveler researcher Rachael Dunlap were at Le Bon Temps Roule listening to the fantastic brass band Soul Rebels, who worked the crowd into a frenzy under the watchful gaze of an alligator portrait. One day of Mardi Gras can feel like it has chapters, and you start to forget where and when you began in the first place.
But that wasn’t even the beginning.
No event was more surreal than the Societé de Sainte Anne parade, which starts early on the morning of Mardi Gras in the Bywater neighborhood, not far from the French Quarter. I had visited the large backyard of Marcus Fraiser, where the parade unoffically begins, when I was reporting in January, but nothing had prepared me for the down-the-rabbit hole sensation of being there.
The first thing you see are the streamers. Large round circles of ribbons, easily 15 feet high, danced like spotlights against the bright blue sky, emerging from the sea of people who have already collected along Crouet Street. The horns and drummers weren’t quite organized yet, so a cacophony of notes rose from the crowd, and your eyes, still a bit weary from waking up early, start to focus on individuals who look more like storybook characters (we got up at 6 a.m., like children on Christmas, to start the day). A dragon. A king. Marie Antoinette. Chickens, bumblebees, unicorns, devils, clowns. Masks shroud faces, and you don’t know where to look, so you look everywhere. Wandering into the backyard, it seems like a stage set for Alice in Wonderland, or Venice, but there music begins to syncopate and you remember you’re in New Orleans.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
You feel as though you’re inside a bag of popcorn, as more and more people start to appear out of nowhere and jumble alongside you, until finally things begin to feel like they’re perfectly done. It’s time to march. There is no one group that organizes the parade, no whistle blown to announce its start. Suddenly, it begins to move. We moved along with it, dressed in costume of course. There are no spectators, as no respectable participant would dare stand by, because being in this parade is far more fun than watching. We followed the group as they slowly made their way to the French Quarter. At points, the entire group would get tangled in a traffic jam, and people began spilling into side streets, or wandering up on balconies, and the mass of costumed people began to seep into the city, as if spreading the magic around. We ended up only a few blocks from Bourbon Street, but it felt as though we were inhabiting another world.
Video: Susanne Hackett