DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:
We close tonight's show with sounds of another American region that was slapped hard by nature. In New Orleans, four months after Hurricane Katrina, the party has started. The first event of the carnival season got under way this weekend, and NPR's Greg Allen was there.
(Soundbite of music)
GREG ALLEN reporting:
For 25 years, The Phunny Phorty Phellows--spelled with all P-H's, mind you--has been kicking off the Mardi Gras season with a raucous streetcar ride. Actually, it's more of a rolling party than a trip in search of a destination. But this year Julie Bonk said the party had to find a new streetcar.
Ms. JULIE BONK: Our traditional route is the St. Charles Street streetcar, but we couldn't do it this year because the streetcar's not running on St. Charles. So we're riding a new route this year, but we're back on the streetcar. That's what's important is that we're back on the streetcar. We're back. New Orleans is back, and we're out here to have fun. You know, everyone needs a little nonsense in their life sometimes.
ALLEN: Bonk is the queen of The Phunny Phorty Phellows, and she was dressed like one. A tiara was perched on top of her tall, white wig made from cotton balls.
Ms. BONK: And here I've got my blue tarp.
ALLEN: You've got a dress that's made out of a blue tarp that you see on top of the houses here in New Orleans and elsewhere, yes.
Ms. BONK: And all the pieces of the MRE are represented in my wig, my very lovely...
ALLEN: Oh, yeah. So these are MRE packets on your wig. Let's see what we got here. This one is the cheese tortellini, cheese tortellini, yes. OK, that's one. Cheese spread with jalapenos. Now you didn't eat these MREs, did you?
Ms. BONK: No. I have tasted them.
Ms. BONK: I have tasted some parts of the MREs. As a matter of fact, I ate one tonight in honor of tonight's celebration.
(Soundbite of laughter; popping noise)
Unidentified Man #1: Whoa!
(Soundbite of laughter)
ALLEN: This weekend's kickoff was a sure sign that New Orleans is on the way back. Instead of bedraggled evacuees waiting in line for ice and water, this crowd was in masks and costumes, and already carrying their drinks. Instead of rotting food and rank refrigerators, the smell of bourbon filled the air. Crew captain Peggy Scott Laborde says this year, Mardi Gras will do what it always does: provide an antidote to life's trials and tragedies and poke fun at everything, even Hurricane Katrina.
Ms. PEGGY SCOTT LABORDE: And the message is that we want people to know that New Orleans and the area was not wiped off the face of the Earth. OK? Even though we have a lot of sadness here, there's also joy. And we're trying to come back, and we want people to come in and spend their money and have a good time.
ALLEN: There are some in New Orleans who questioned if it really makes sense to celebrate Mardi Gras this year. None of them could be found on this streetcar.
Unidentified Woman: Here we go! Ten...
Unidentified Woman and Unidentified Man #2: (In unison) Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one! Happy Mardi Gras!
Unidentified Woman: Whoo!
Unidentified Man #2: It's carnival time!
ALLEN: Greg Allen, NPR News, New Orleans.
Unidentified Man #2: Hey, what time is it?
Unidentified Woman: It's carnival time!
Unidentified Man #3: It's carnival time!
Unidentified Man #2: It's carnival time!
Unidentified Man #3: It's a curved road!
(Soundbite of "Carnival Time")
Mr. AL JOHNSON: (Singing) The Green Room is smoking, and the plaza burning down. Throw my baby out of the window and let the joint burn down, all because it's carnival time. Whoa, it's carnival time. Oh, well, it's carnival time, and everybody's having fun. The whole street is rocking from one side to the other. The joints are jammed and packed and I'm about to (unintelligible), all because it's carnival time. Whoa, it's carnival time. Oh, well, it's carnival time and...
ELLIOTT: That's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.
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