Mardi Gras Adjusts to Post-Katrina New Orleans

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Donna Manwaring calls for beads at a parade in New Orleans. Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images. i

Donna Manwaring calls for beads at the entrance to Bourbon St., as the Endymion parade rolls through downtown New Orleans during Mardi Gras festivities on Feb. 26, 2006. Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images
Donna Manwaring calls for beads at a parade in New Orleans. Credit: Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images.

Donna Manwaring calls for beads at the entrance to Bourbon St., as the Endymion parade rolls through downtown New Orleans during Mardi Gras festivities on Feb. 26, 2006.

Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images

Six months after Hurricane Katrina, New Orleans is celebrating Mardi Gras. The celebration this year is as lively as ever, but smaller. There are four fewer days, six fewer carnival krewes and every parade has to use the same route.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Mardi Gras appears as festive as ever this year in the streets of New Orleans, though it's a smaller celebration in the wake of Katrina.

There are four fewer days, six fewer carnival krewes, and every parade has to use the same route. And, as NPR's John Burnett reports, hurricane destruction is close at hand.

JOHN BURNETT reporting:

The mighty oak lands felled by the hurricane have long since been hauled away, and by all appearances, it was a classic Mardi Gras night on St. Charles Avenue. Revelers were excited that two perennial favorites, the so-called Super Krewes of Bacchus and Endymion were parading back-to-back last night. From elaborate lighted floats, masked riders tossed strings of beads to outstretched hands.

(Soundbite of trumpet playing)

BURNETT: Casey Dean Roberson(ph), a 28-year-old floor installer, brought out his trumpet to celebrate what he considers the best Mardi Gras ever.

Mr. CASEY DEAN ROBERSON: It feels just better. I mean, it's the same as every other year, except everybody's brought together and pulled together more for, it's like everything in New Orleans, everybody always comes together for the good cause. It hasn't lost a beat to me.

BURNETT: But the trauma of the Katrina flood was omnipresent, just below the surface of merriment. Three women were interviewed, one after another. When asked how they were doing, each of their smiles faded as though they were changing the Mardi Gras mask of comedy to tragedy.

Sharon Ortiz sat in a folding chair watching the floats, trying not to think about her destroyed home in Saint Bernard Parish.

Ms. SHARON ORTIZ: It's fun, I'm still enjoying it. We're still celebrating it. You know, you have to go on. But life has changed, you know, its changed totally since that day. We have kids we had to put in other schools, and you know, all their friends are scattered everywhere, our friends are everywhere, so it's a lot different.

BURNETT: Angel Pierre(ph) lost her home in the Ninth Ward, and everything inside it. She normally rides a float with the Krewe of Orpheus, which parades today, but she told her float captain she had to cancel this year.

Ms. ANGEL PIERRE: I lost everything in the flood; all my clothes, everything, in the flood. He asked me to still ride, but I told him next year, not this year.

BURNETT: Rhonda Ducette(ph) is moving to Houston, because her house near Pontchartrain Park is a ruin, and she says she needs to get on with her life. Will she return for Mardi Gras?

Ms. RHONDA DUCETTE: Could be my last. Yep. Could be my last. But all good things come to an end, they say, eh?

BURNETT: None of this means to say that Mardi Gras is a downer this year. Parade watchers say Katrina inspired the Kings of Chaos, the Krewe of Muses, and the Krewe d'etat to new heights of satire. They skewered no-show insurance agents, media babblers, looters who hauled off designer clothes, the mayor, the governor, and former FEMA Chief Michael Brown, whose mammoth head appeared on one float over a seal for the Department of Homeland Insecurity.

As one parade watcher said, “We gotta laugh to keep from crying.”

(Soundbite of man yelling)

John Burnett, NPR News.

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