The Most Magical Place on Earth: New Orleans during Mardi Gras {Not Disney World}

There seems to be an ever growing trend among New Orleanians to leave the city during Mardi Gras and head to Disney World, the so called Most Magical Place on Earth. I’m told that if you’re in Disney World on Fat Tuesday, it looks like NOLA has taken over with all the purple, green, and gold attire. As for my family, we stay in the Big Easy and make an event out of the entire Carnival season. We don’t understand why people would want to leave just when the city becomes alive with tradition, spectacle and good times! To me, from January 6th until the street sweepers roll down Bourbon Street on Mardi Gras night, New Orleans IS the most magical place on earth.

DSC05132I’m not one of those people who was born and raised here. I went to school at LSU, and I’ll admit, I didn’t tell my parents the first time I attended Mardi Gras as a freshmen in college. Most people who haven’t experienced Mardi Gras think that it’s dangerous, rowdy, and mostly about women willing to bare it all for beads, and I was convinced my parents would be worried to death. While my first experience with Mardi Gras pretty much held up to this perception, I learned that it’s primarily the tourists who hang out on Bourbon Street creating this atmosphere. When I met my future husband, a NOLA native, I learned that Mardi Gras to a local is all about family, historic rituals, laissez faire attitudes, and oh yeah … parades! My husband loves everything about the holiday. He jumps out of bed on King’s Day, the official start of the season, as if he were 6 years-old on Christmas morning. He dances to the music that he’s waited all year to blast through the speakers while he puts on his iconic Perlis polo. While he was shaking it to Mardi Gras Mambo at 7AM, I asked him what it is about Carnival that he loves so much, and his response was, It’s just a feeling.  

I think he’s right.

It’s that feeling you get while wrestling the stranger to the right of you over a glittered shoe from Goodwill and then dancing with them in the street moments later.  

It’s that feeling you get witnessing the look of awe and wonderment in your child’s eyes as the blazeUntitled design-3 from a flambeaux torch flickers in the night.

It’s that feeling you get trading someone a beer to use their bathroom or to save your spot on the parade route.

It’s that feeling you get passing an oak tree that seems to explode with blossoms of shimmering plastic.  

It’s a Tuesday to the rest of the world, but we’re parading down Royal Street dressed in costume, kids in tow, with a brass band leading the way.  

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It’s hard to put into words what exactly makes it so special. Yes, the crowds get suffocating, and parking for parades can make me hyperventilate. Yes, my child can sometimes get ornery because naptime and bedtime are non-routine for over a week. Yes, my house becomes the new home to bags upon bags of plastic junk … but I’ll take it over Disney World any day! My son has an opportunity to grow up here and have this in his soul. It seems almost unfair for me to trade in the culture he will experience during carnival for expensive and engineered fun. At Disney, I’m paying for a theme park to entertain me, and during carnival, my own city puts on a show for free. 

On Mardi Gras night, it’s our tradition to watch the Rex Ball and eat Chinese food. And while we listen to If Ever I Cease to Love on repeat in between bites of Five Happiness General’s chicken, we can’t help but feel sad that it’s all over. The words to the song, strange yet beautiful, are like a love letter to New Orleans, the city that I will never cease to love.  

If Ever I Cease To Love,

If Ever I Cease To Love,

May the moon be turned to green cream cheese,

If Ever I Cease To Love.

2 Responses to The Most Magical Place on Earth: New Orleans during Mardi Gras {Not Disney World}

  1. Shana J January 22, 2016 at 9:45 am #

    The message in your blog touched my heart very deeply. It reminded me that New Orleans is magical every day, not just during Mardi Gras.

    When I left New Orleans for Dallas in December 2013 for a job, I started getting homesick right away and even got physically ill. I actually wept on Mardi Gras in 2014 and 2015.

    Last April, I drove from Dallas after work one Friday to visit my classmate Tara Thomas Leo at her mother’s home in Austin. She was dying of stage 4 lung cancer and these were her words of advice to me regarding my struggle to forge a life in Texas: “I believe you when you say that your heart aches to go back to New Orleans. I believe some places are magical. For me it’s Paris. For you, it’s New Orleans. Life is too short, Shana. Go HOME to New Orleans.” She died about a month later. I put a plan in motion and moved back to New Orleans in July.

    With rushing to move back, (because tomorrow is not promised, etc., etc.), I landed in a crappy apartment in Algiers. I don’t subscribe to cable. I don’t bother washing my car because it rains 4 days a week and I work in a construction area in the CBD. I have no blood relatives here and my best friends (and my dog) are all hundreds of miles away. I won’t be taking any vacations soon, either. I work three paying jobs and I volunteer with a kids’ organization between job #1 and job #2. Job #3 is mainly on the weekends. Even still, I don’t make big money, just enough to cover bills and the essentials and tuck away money for emergencies and (prayerfully) a move across the river this summer.

    However…

    When I walk into my crappy apartment and see my frottoir scrubboard hanging on the wall, I smile. And when I am toting my instrument around, no one gives a second look. When I go to bed at night, I fall fast asleep. If anything negative passes through my mind throughout the day, I reflect on how I called to the Lord to move me back to New Orleans, and I smile. I loudly and rigorously practiced earlier this week for two hours with the windows open. No one seemed to mind.

    Sometimes I’ll be sitting on the couch watching tv and pop up, get in my car, drive across the GNO and check out live music on Frenchmen Street, grab coffee in City Park or Cafe du Monde, and then there is my weekly zumba substitute – Tuesday nights at the Maple Leaf for Rebirth live. Their recorded music is cool, but seeing live brass… how can I explain this…

    It’s as if the trumpets, trombones and tuba blast away any drama, blues or potential drama or blues and then the sax brings that mellow, numbing vibe and the outside world ceases to exist for a moment. And when the drummer gets on a roll, I get a rush of adrenaline and endorphin that no drug can mimic.

    Lastly, if I get a hankering for some gumbo or seafood in the middle of the night, I can run to Melba’s on Claiborne/Elysian Fields for a home-cooked meal and a daiquiri.

    Texas will always be close to my heart. I have a beautiful family there, the world’s best classmates, precious friends, and hundreds of priceless memories. But, understand that my life in Texas was a roller coaster… up and down became my constant and that is a hard life to live. So, for whatever reason, life is different here in NOLA. I have the same concerns and problems, but the anxiety and stress are not attached. Thanks for the nudge, Tara and everyone else who encouraged me, helped me pack, and kept me going when my body literally and physically gave out.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m still re-building and finding my way and I still have much to accomplish to hit my first year goals. I’m focused and diligent, but I make sure I get out and enjoy and embrace the magic of New Orleans… not just for Mardi Gras… every day.

    So, I will go to sleep now, with no undue stress to get up at an exact time or be to a place at an exact moment. My first thought when I open my eyes will be – “I live in New Orleans. This is not a dream. Thank you, Lord.” and then I will open my windows, strap on my frottoir, and practice for a few hours before I go to job #1.

    • Bradley Schneller February 17, 2017 at 3:17 pm #

      Shana J,

      I’m touched by your story to move back here and your undying love for the city we share. I’d like to offer you a scholarship to our gym, if you are interested. It’s a great community of people and although we might be far, it could be worth your while. Hit me up; [email protected]

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