Festivities Mask Sadness in New Orleans

Tuesday marks 150th anniversary of Mardi Gras parading in New Orleans — and the six-month anniversary, almost to the day, of Hurricane Katrina. Robert Siegel and Michelle Norris report on the unusual mingling of boisterous festivities and lingering sadness in the city.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block, in Washington D.C.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

And I'm Robert Siegel. We're in New Orleans, on Canal Street, just outside the French Quarter. Today marks the 150th anniversary of Mardi Gras parading in New Orleans and the six month anniversary, almost to the day, of Katrina. So it's an unusual mingling today of boisterous festivities which masks, for a lot of the locals, a lot of lingering sadness.

NORRIS: The first post-Katrina Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent, is smaller than usual. Many didn't want it to happen at all. They wondered, should there be cavorting and frivolity along the same streets that saw so much death and destruction after the flooding? More than 1,300 people died in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. In the end, the need for normality, well, normality as experienced here in New Orleans, won out.

SIEGEL: Rex, His Majesty, King of Carnival, paid tribute to the dead with a stop at Gallier Hall, the old city hall, on St. Charles Avenue.

NORRIS: By late tonight, 28 carnival crews will have paraded through New Orleans over eight days. That's down from the usual 34 over 12 days. And more crews marched in the suburbs.

(Soundbite of Mardi Gras)

NORRIS: The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club kicked off this morning. It's an African-American contingent, black men dressed in blackface and jungle regalia. Marchers tossed out beads and sparkling, decorated coconuts.

SIEGEL: Rex, and today's other parades, steered gaudy and glittery floats along stately St. Charles Avenue from uptown to here, on Canal Street. The city is broke, and it could not staff multiple parade routes this time, but one of the most beloved Mardi Gras traditions unfolded away from the parade route. Michele caught up with some Mardi Gras Indians, who told their story.

(Soundbite of Mardi Gras drummers)

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