Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Mardi Gras

I've never been to Mardi Gras in New Orleans, but I've been to Carnivale in Venice. I went with my husband, dressed in homemade costumes representing (in my case) "Spring" and (in his case) "The Old Man of the Woods." His was made of a duvet cover with a giant tree applique made from an old Army blanket on the back. Mine was made of flannel sheets and an old, gauzy flowered curtain. I bought all the stuff for about $1.50 at the post thrift store in Vicenza. We had a great time wandering around among the dressed-up people, and everyone wanted to take a picture with Joe. I often think about all the people in other countries who have my husband in their photo albums.

He wore his backpack underneath his costume so he had a humpback. French people kept rubbing it, which nearly got the first few of them clobbered with the crooked stick he carried as part of his costume. But finally, one who spoke English explained to him that it was good luck to rub the hump of a humpback. Who knew?

I'm sad I never went to Mardi Gras. I lived in south Mississippi, barely an hour from New Orleans, but I could never convince anyone to go with me. The people there weren't big fans of New Orleans for the most part, considering it a wild, dirty, dangerous place, and even worse on Mardi Gras because of all the drunken visitors. I wasn't about to go to Mardi Gras alone because that's a good way to disappear off the face of the earth, which would be selfish.

I did go to some small coast parades, though, and I had such a good time. I was never in Mississippi for Mardi Gras before Hurricane Katrina, but the year after, I found myself there, finishing my doctoral coursework in the spring semester. Joe was on his way from Italy to Oklahoma, where we would be stationed next, so he stayed with me for that week. Unbelievably, I convinced him to come down to some of the Coast parades. I'd been going for weeks at that point and had loved dancing and singing and wearing sparkly beads among the rubble with everyone else.

I'd asked to go to New Orleans, but he'd recently returned from Afghanistan and had no desire to enter a city he considered even more dangerous than the one he'd just left. So I asked for Mobile, but he'd just gotten off a plane from Italy, and the drive was far with jet lag. So I asked for the Coast, and he said yes.

We had such a good time that I wrote a detailed essay about it for my creative dissertation, and I don't want to rehash it here. I just want to tell you about this part: That morning, in the costumes I'd once again made for us, we ate at Cracker Barrel to celebrate the "Fat" part of Fat Tuesday. Bacon, eggs, biscuits, gravy, sausage...the word was "abundance." It was the first good time we'd had in ages, after the hurricane, the hard deployment, and a year of losing people and places we loved. We ate like kings, we danced like lords, we pulled coins out of the air and came home laden with jewels.

I'm in the North Country this Mardi Gras, and nobody here seems to realize what day it is. They are all weary with dirty snow and in no mood for celebrating. I think they feel like Lent is upon them from the first blizzard until spring. Joe is in Afghanistan again, but the cook at his camp used to be a chef at Belagio. He said the food is so good he doesn't even need me to send canned ravioli to sustain him.

So there is no parade for me, nor dancing unless I parade dancing down the street myself...which I may yet do. There is Cracker Barrel, though, and I'm going. I know some will say this food would be better if I made it myself, but I want no consequences -- no dishes, no leftovers, nothing but a plate appearing like magic before laden with pork and butter and all other things that break your heart for goodness. Tomorrow I'll miss them until Easter, and by then, maybe the sun will start coming out more regularly and the people up here will dance with me.

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