Dinner is a rushed affair of sloppy joes and not enough vegetables. Shoes are sensible and closed-toed for the streets will get messy. Downtown is more packed than the kids have ever seen but we manage to squeeze into a parking spot not far from Royal Street. As soon as we get out of the truck, jazz music swells up in our toes and it’s impossible not to walk in rhythm to the horns.
We find a spot against a barricade and the crowd swells. Both kids gasp. My three year old grabs my hand in his.
A train, the Conde Express, massive, gloriously green, purple, and gold steams toward us.
“Hands in the air!” I instruct the kids as beads and stuffed animals and moonpies rain down.
“Hey Mister! Throw something to me!” My daughter, at six, is a pro at this now.
A mermaid, as tall as the oaks, swims by shortly. Then Darth Vader. Gorgon Medusa. By the end of Carnival season, the kids will see a smoke-billowing dragon slither down streets that look normal in the daytime. But at night, and on Fat Tuesday, something magical happens that allows one to see the world a little differently. The fantastical comes to life.
Mobile, AL is the birthplace of Mardi Gras. New Orleans may do it louder, bigger, and raunchier, but the magical event that is Mardi Gras was born right here in 1703 when Mobile was the first capital of French Louisiana.
Even just being present, being part of a tradition that’s been around for centuries is magic unto itself though, for the most part, the two-tiered, gilded floats have come a long way from the very first parade: sixteen men of the Boeuf Gras Society pushing a cart with a papier-mâché cow head.
The secrecy of the masks and mystic societies make ordinary people seem larger than themselves. An anything-is-possible thrum in the air that connects us, that makes adults beg for plastic beads and cups, but then hand everything over once the parade passes to little children with wide-eyes and chocolate-smeared mouths.
And all that will remain once Lent arrives are beads draped like Spanish moss from the live oaks. A tiny reminder to see the world on different terms.
Have you had a chance to experience the magic of a Mardi Gras celebration? I’d love to know how it helped change your perspective of things.