When I walked outside this morning, I exhaled, leaving a little cloud of my breath to be whisked away by the New England wind.
Since I moved to Boston for college, this was my first year away from my family for Mardi Gras, and naturally, they were more than excited to ship a king cake to their newly expatriated daughter. So when it got here, I gathered my friends, New Yorkers and Californians and Missourians and more, served up the cake and put on some good old south Louisiana Mardi Gras music. But folks don’t get it up here. That New Orleanian casual air is nowhere to be found, and worst of all, these people don’t know how to do parades.
They’re very traditional, like military reviews. Everybody keeps in line and stands in their designated spots on the floats or in their marching lines. They do wave or play instruments or hold banners, but nobody seems to breathe.
There is plenty of fanfare, and people get excited for these parades, but for what? Where’s the soul? I can see they’re marching, but how am I supposed to tell if they feel it?
At home, the parade krewes threw solemnity to the wind years ago. Except maybe Rex. They seem to take that “royalty” thing seriously. For most everybody else, irreverence is the name of the game.
Plastic beads fly in every direction and into the ever-creeping branches of the live oak trees, half-crushed MoonPies litter the streets, plastic go-cups lazily roll around on the pavement. And everything is a beautiful, decadent mess.
I remember a few years ago when the 610 Stompers were invited to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade. Milling about the living room, we watched the parade go by on the TV and laughed at the rigidity of the procession and its participants. Those on floats smiled and waved passively, and the bands never broke formation.
But then came the Stompers. Our mustachioed heroes swaggered in front of the cameras at the Official Viewing Area and flaunted their dance moves as if they were traipsing down St. Charles Avenue. When they finished, everybody broke formation and scattered to give high-fives and fist bumps to one another and to confused but delighted folks in the crowd. This must have been new to them, but they had to learn sometime: Audience participation is what a good parade is all about.
As for St. Patrick’s Day, I’ve been telling people about the set of edible throws the New Orleanian parades offer: bags of carrots, onions, garlic, lemons, two kinds of potatoes and plenty of cabbages, which together can be used to make cabbage soup. Nobody in my neighborhood ever made the soup, so we kids would collect vegetables and place them strategically in the road so that the next float would squash them. I digress, but that’s a piece of the soul to true parades: catching ridiculous things from ridiculous people in the ridiculous heat of south Louisiana.
I’m looking forward to the St. Patrick’s Day parades that barrel through the city in March, but I’m not expecting beads or cabbages or irreverence.
I love it up here, but I wish that the next time my family ships me a king cake, they could ship some of that New Orleans soul with it and show Boston a thing or two.
— Thomassie is from New Orleans
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