Mardi Gras Revelry: A Contribution to New Orleans

The rebuilding of New Orleans will take many years and many billions of dollars. Commentator Marion Winik, of Glen Rock, Penn., is making her own small contribution — she's going to Mardi Gras this year — and she'd like to invite more people to do the same.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The rebuilding of New Orleans will take many years and many billions of dollars. Commentator Marion Winik is making her own small contribution.

MARION WINIK reporting:

Remember how they used to call New Orleans the city that care forgot? Lately it seems like all the care that ever forgot the place has remembered, has shown up to collect its debt with a vengeance. My husband and I spent New Year's Eve with old friends who live there, and after a long night of sad stories, I knew there was something I had to do. I got online and bought plane tickets to Mardi Gras, and I hope that anyone who has ever loved New Orleans will do the same.

Fat Tuesday is February 28 this year, and I'm pretty sure there will never be another like it. Anybody who's been to Mardi Gras has a Mardi Gras story. Mine starts in 1983, when I was dragged there by friends. Instead of the giant frat party I feared, I found an all ages, all hours pageant, a sumptuous kitsch of beer and shrimp and color and light. It was an anthropologist's dream of colliding party modes, the gay, the black, the southern, the country Cajun, the old world French, the ticky-tacky shameless.

Remember the parades on St. Charles, how the gates of the mansions flew open and their balconies filled with people, how the grand boulevard abandoned itself to purple bikini underwear and helium balloons, concession trucks on every corner, bleachers on the lawns, to beer swilling citizens in green, yellow and purple polo shirts and pompom and penai (sic)? The dignitaries in convertibles tossed the first balloons. The high school bands in sequence followed behind them. The gods and goddesses in their painted barks reached between papier mache flowers to wing ropes of fake pearls into our hands.

Did you catch some beads? Did you get a cup? Did you haul it all home in a cardboard box? Like me, did you move back three months later to marry the gay bartender and live in a slave quarter apartment on Royal and Ursalines? Okay, so you didn't. But I bet you went back, back to Mardi Gras, back for jazz fests, back because you couldn't live any longer without a po boy from Weaver's or Auguzich (sic). And now it's time for all of us to go back again.

They say only 20 percent of New Orleanians are there to greet us, and they don't have many hotel rooms or many restaurants or shops outside the French Quarter. Still, I bet they will be glad to see us. Let's hear their stories and look at their pictures, and get them to boil us some crawfish. Are there still any crawfish? Let's go find out. (French spoken)

NORRIS: Marion Winik lives in Glen Rock, Pennsylvania.

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