10 Things I Know After My First Mardi Gras

Big Freedia 2020.

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In search of next year’s plane ticket.

I recently returned home from my first Mardi Gras. I am 36 years old. I know, it seems like an affront of some kind, like those people who have gone their whole lives without seeing The Godfather. But I did it, with the help of my best friend and two bottles of Gem-Tac, I came, I saw, I saw more, I Mardi Gras’d.

Mardi Gras in New Orleans isn’t what you think it is. It’s not constant flashings on Bourbon Street or an entire city of shitfaced tourists. That’s the misleading myth that makes us get it all wrong, and perhaps keeps us away from the greatest party on earth. At least that’s my theory.

Now that I’m back, I feel more educated in the ways of Fat Tuesday, and given that there was so little information available to me in my initial research, I’d like to share my learnings here. Quick hint, start next year’s costumes right now.

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A small sampling.

Costumes. You need them.

New Orleans is probably the only place in the country where you can dress up in any configuration of sequined clothing and accessories in your possession and no one will ever, ever ask you in a condescending mean girl tone, “what are you supposed to be?” The answer at Mardi Gras is always simple, always the same, and always unnecessary. I’m at Mardi Gras, that’s what I am.

I myself created a white blazer with iridescent fringe shoulder epaulets and ended up wearing it all four days I was in New Orleans for reasons you’ll read about in a minute. I also purchased multiple styles of sequin pants and affixed chunky silver glitter to an old pair of lenseless glasses because I found traditional masks limited my vision. My two year old adidas Stan Smiths were sacrificed on the alter of good times, covered in sequins and rhinestones, worn for four days, then tossed out with so many stale king cakes.

The costumes during Mardi Gras are fabulous. This is an example of what I mean by fabulous. People take time, care, and astounding amounts of creativity to construct wardrobes we only wear in our dreams. I am so glad I was awake, and properly dressed, for this.

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Just a simple gathering, really.

Pacing is key.

Another way to say this is simply don’t get drunk. Locate a lovely buzz, perhaps an edible or two, but all your drunken stupor is actually doing is taking you out of the action for goodness knows how long. I just partied for four days in a row. I haven’t done that since spring break when Bush was President. You think I’d have been able to partake in all that merriment if my hangover was something a quick Alka Seltzer couldn’t fix? Pshaw, my friend. Pshaw!

I arrived in New Orleans the Saturday before Mardi Gras Day and left that Wednesday. I found that timing to be quite on point, though since I will never again travel at 5am on a Saturday morning because Saturday morning on the subway to JFK still looks like Friday night, I’ll head into town one day earlier next time. Mardi Gras festivities however last essentially an entire month, and you can go any enjoy any time you like. Download the parade tracker app to get a sense of what’s going on and follow a few locals on Instagram. You’ll get the hang of it.

Comfortable shoes are also key.

Per the above mentioned adidas, wear shoes that bring absolutely zero question or stress to mind. You’ll do a lot of walking, mingling, parading, and just generally standing up at Mardi Gras. The very last thing you want to take you out of the game is a left boot that’s rubbing your heel funny. Opt for tennis shoes, for fucks sake bedazzle them, and carry on with carrying on.

Weather is an unforgiving mistress.

It was 75 degrees when I landed in New Orleans. Three days later, it was 35 degrees Fahrenheit when I woke up on Mardi Gras Day. It poured rain in between. My planned outfit for the main event (Tuesday) could best have been described as a gold sequin ace bandage with shoulder pads. Needless to say, adjustments were made.

Witch-tit cold weather certainly had its effect on Mardi Gras, but the good thing was, it affected everybody. We froze together, we mourned our costumes together. Many of us had to scrap carefully constructed ensembles in favor of wearing half of our suitcases for warmth. After that it wasn’t anything dancing down a street with a plastic cup of champagne couldn’t fix.

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Big Freedia!

Big Freedia is EVERYTHING.

If you have never seen Big Freedia (perish the thought), if you have never heard of Big Freedia (you poor thing) get your actual life together. Big Freedia is unlike anything your eyes have ever beheld before. They need to behold this.

It’s best not to review one’s Amazon history.

I had to order something normal on Amazon yesterday and made the mistake of reviewing both the cost and contents of my Amazon history. In sum, if you put it all in a pile, you could see it from space and buy a used Prius with it. Best not revisit one’s sins.

Pee when you can.

One of my biggest concerns in going to meander the streets of New Orleans clad in a sparkly jumpsuit was naturally what the hell was I going to do when nature calls? It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good, either. Use the restroom where and when you can. Example: My best friend and hostess held a party the morning of Mardi Gras itself, an open-door come & go breakfast event on the corner of right now and ooooh look at that. A woman came up to the house at one point and said, “I peed here last year, can I come in?” Of course you can.

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Gotta catch ’em all.

Parade all you can.

I have never had so much fun catching plastic crap in all my life. Go to the parades. As many as possible. Dance and cheer for marching bands and hope and pray the flag and baton twirling girls are warm enough in those outfits. The things you catch will make the best souvenirs, and the memories will be joyous ones, I promise you.

Mardi Gras Day starts early.

Fun fact I didn’t know before a few days ago: You get up at the ass crack of dawn on Mardi Gras. To prep a house party, to costume yourself, and to welcome guests and parade passersby starting no later than 8AM. You have never seen a city party this raucously, this early, in all your life. It’s really fun. It’s also really convenient because you’ll be in bed by 8PM and you’ll feel fine on your flight the next morning.

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This is just on the WAY to the parade.

It’s about a good time.

Mardi Gras isn’t about getting drunk, belligerent, exposing oneself for trinkets, none of that. It’s about creativity, celebration, joy, and just generally the absorbing of les bon temps. It is the more the merrier, and that goes for anything from human beings to flavors of King Cake.

You leave Mardi Gras a little worn out, yes, but with your soul full of genuine fun. As adults I don’t think we feel that way about our experiences nearly often enough. Not bad for a Tuesday. Not bad at all.

Written by

NPR once called me a humor essayist, let’s go with that. Host of A Single Serving Podcast. shanisilver[at]gmail

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