Lundi Gras Revives New Orleans' Cheer

It's been six months since Hurricane Katrina swept ashore. Tourists have returned to New Orleans and some have discovered that Lundi Gras, or Fat Monday, can be as much fun as Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

Six months after Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans, tourists have returned for Mardi gras. Most people focus on Fat Tuesday, but NPR's Audie Cornish reports on Lundi gras, or Fat Monday, a defining event for New Orleans' carnival.

AUDIE CORNISH reporting: Part pep rally, part spiritual revival, Lundi gras was not just the day before Fat Tuesday. Down by the River Walk, the city's most prominent cruise, or social clubs, hailed their kings or shook hands with Mayor Nagin.

Mayor RAY NAGIN (New Orleans, Louisiana): We want to raise our glass in memory of the people that died during Katrina. We lost ten Zulu Brothers, so we raise our glass in salute of them. We want to raise our glass in saluting the City of New Orleans that is going to come back to be bigger and better.

CORNISH: Ten members of the Zulu Krewe died as a result of Hurricane Katrina, and many of its members lived in areas of the city still struggling to rebuild. Their decision to participate reflected a citywide gut check about whether to hold the celebration. Gaye Fulton(ph) was at the Zulu merchandise tent, and says it's been a mixed blessing.

Ms. GAYE FULTON (Resident, New Orleans): We wouldn't miss this opportunity to help rebuild New Orleans. Our crowd is low but the festivities are enjoyable. The weather is beautiful. And we look forward to a bigger and better turnout on next year.

CORNISH: In the end, the City of New Orleans decided it could not do without Mardi gras. Thousands of people called out for Rex, King of Carnival. His identity remains a secret until Fat Tuesday, but wearing a mask, he addressed the crowd yesterday.

REX, KING OF CARNIVAL: It is hereby ordained and decreed, that during the celebration, all commercial endeavors be suspended, and pleasure rule both day and night.

(Sound bite of cheering)

Unidentified Man (singer): In Grey Town where the cats all meet, there's a Mardi gras mambo, feel the beat. Jolly chief was the Zulu King. And truck on down to the mambo swing. Mardi Gras mambo, mambo, mambo. Mardi Gras mambo, mambo, mambo. Mardi Gras mambo, mambo, mambo.

CORNISH: So with the final proclamation from the mayor, the city succumbed to Mardi gras. But this afternoon, church bells will ring throughout the city for the victims of last year's hurricanes and those New Orleanians far from home.

Audie Cornish, NPR News, New Orleans.

MONTAGNE: You'll find a daily blog about the recovery efforts in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast at npr.org.

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