In 1950’s small town Iowa, Mardi Gras was barely a rumor. We’d read now and then of the bead-tossing, the parades, the exotic French Quarter celebrations with their hints of unspeakable, masked misbehavior. But we were midwesterners, with midwestern sensibilities, and gave little thought to those far-away customs.
Even neighbors who traveled to New Orleans seemed to consider Mardi Gras a purely native ritual, disconnected from their experience of the city. Their souvenirs – long, gray-green sweeps of Spanish moss, Hurricane glasses from Pat O’Brien’s, recordings of Sweet Emma Barrett’s piano and Willie Humphrey’s exquisite clarinet – were the stuff of any vacation. As we listened to their jazz and looked at their photos, New Orleans’ life seemed normal enough, recognizable despite its differences. On the other hand, Mardi Gras seemed odd, slightly degenerate, part of a world of drunkenness and debauchery best avoided by reasonable people. (more…)