Tessina Williams lives in Texas now, but she has never missed a Mardi Gras weekend at home in New Orleans. Well, she missed one, but she doesn't like to talk about that.
"I love Lundi Gras," the New Orleans native said Monday as she laughed and played with her niece and nephew in Woldenberg Riverfront Park during the Zulu Lundi Gras Fest. "Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras are both the same."
The Monday before Mardi Gras, long considered a quiet day before Tuesday's blowout, has turned in recent years into another day of celebrating that offers almost no respite for the party-weary.
Monday night now features two major parades: Proteus, the city's oldest parading krewe except for Rex, and Orpheus, the superkrewe started in the 1990s by singer Harry Connick Jr. With its 38 floats, Orpheus rivals Endymion and Bacchus.
Away from the parades, Lundi Gras also looks much like Mardi Gras. On Bourbon Street, throngs moved up and down the street Monday, many carrying large drinks and bargaining with balcony-dwellers for beads. Those bargains included the traditional beads-for-skin swap, despite temperatures that dipped sharply after the weekend's warm and wet conditions. Monday was overcast with a chilly wind blowing, keeping many revelers bundled up.
Tom Amoss, dressed as a mounted policeman, surveyed the crowd from a Bourbon Street sidewalk. For Amoss, Lundi Gras is a good chance to trot out his "B"-costumes. Monday's included a policeman's uniform with a plush-style horse around his midsection. The ensemble was completed by a hat and a pair of mirrored shades.
"When we were growing up, my mom always made us dress up," he said. Amoss grew up Uptown, and every year, the family would watch the parades from there.
Amoss refused to divulge his planned Tuesday getup, but he noted that in the past, he and his wife, Colleen, who coordinate their Tuesday garb, had gone as a pothole and a road worker one year and as Donald Trump and Sarah Palin another time.
For most of the throngs celebrating Lundi Gras, the day was a completely informal affair. But in select spots across the city, events took on a more regal air.
Monday morning, twin white limousine caravans carried the royal courts of Zulu and Jefferson Parish's Krewe of Argus to Kenner's Rivertown, where the two courts greeted each other before King Argus XXXIV, Michael Maenza, and Queen Alexis Hartline escorted Zulu Queen Troye Madison Washington and King Brent D. Washington Sr. inside the city's Heritage Hall for a brief presentation.
From there, the two courts and various officials second-lined up Williams Boulevard to the Rivertown stage, where they were toasted by Kenner Mayor Ben Zahn.
The meeting of New Orleans' black krewe and Jefferson Parish's premier Mardi Gras parade has been going on for 20 years, and both kings said they were delighted to keep it going.
Later Monday evening, the Zulu royalty greeted Rex, King of Carnival, along the Mississippi River in New Orleans, where Mayor Mitch Landrieu issued proclamations and symbolically turned the city over to the two kings for the remainder of Carnival.
Royal ceremony mattered little to Les Hill, a 67-year-old irrigation consultant from Houston who was dressed as Merlin as he strolled the French Quarter.
"I have two costumes, Merlin for when it's cold and a buccaneer for when it's warm," he said. Monday required the Merlin costume.
Hill said he has been coming for Mardi Gras weekend for about eight years, but it's not the pageantry of the krewes that draws him.
"We don't do parades much," he said. Instead, he and his wife, who dresses as a gypsy, like to hang out in the Quarter and watch the people. His favorites, he said, are the walking krewes like the Krewe of Fools and Third Line.
Even in the eight years he's been coming to Mardi Gras, he said, he's noticed that Lundi Gras has grown.
"Eight years ago, you didn't have one-third this many people" on Monday, he said.
As for Tessina Williams, who now lives in Dallas, she wouldn't miss the celebration. She battled sluggish traffic as she drove from her home on Friday, she said, getting in too late to catch the Zulu Ball, which she sometimes attends. But by Saturday, she was ready to eat and drink in the sights, sounds and tastes of her hometown.
"Everything that I miss is here," she said, mentioning the food, drink and family.
After some talking, she admitted the one year she missed was due to not being able to get off work. Her family called her from downtown New Orleans, tormenting her with the sounds of Carnival.
"I don't plan on missing again," she said, before turning back to the party.