Iris has always been my favorite Carnival parade; so much so that it’s the only parade I’ve put in a book thus far; Mardi Gras Mambo opens with the boys on the neutral ground of St. Charles Avenue, watching the ladies of Iris on a beautiful Saturday afternoon:
Of all the parades, my favorite is the Mystic Krewe of Iris. There are several reasons for this. First, Iris is a women’s krewe, which means the masked figures on the floats tossing things are not men. Men always look for women (the larger the breasts, the better) and children in the crowd to reward with their largesse. They only throw to men by accident, or if someone yells particularly loud. This sucks if you like to catch throws. However, the ladies of Iris are just as sexist as the male krewe members. They throw to men and children. Flirting with the ladies definitely works. And since Iris rolls on the Saturday afternoon before Fat Tuesday, usually it’s sunny and warm. Sunny and warm means I don’t wear a shirt. (And a lot of guys don’t. It’s basically a beefcake bonanza out there on St. Charles Avenue the afternoon of Iris. Did I mention how much I love Iris?)
I get lots of throws at Iris every year.
Carnival so far had been a bit of a disappointment. Mardi Gras was early this year, which meant despite the fervent prayers of the locals, there was a strong possibility that Fat Tuesday itself could be cold, gray and drizzly. If the weather on Fat Tuesday sucks, it adversely affects the tourist numbers of the following year, so the City Fathers were keeping their fingers crossed and praying just as hard for sunny warm weather as the rest of us who just want to run around half-naked. Unfortunately, every night since the parades started, it had been gray, cold and wet. The parades still rolled despite the inclement weather, but all the newscasters were despondent about low numbers of people out for the parades. They fail to take into consideration that standing in a slight drizzle on a cold night waiting for a parade isn’t fun. You’d think they’d realize it as they stand out there in their trench coats broadcasting. And actually, it’s better for the businesses. Instead of being out there on the streets, the tourists were in the restaurants and the bars staying dry and warm spending their tourist dollars to support our economy.
Every night after we got home from the gym, I’d ask the boys if they wanted to go out and watch the parades. I hate standing out trying to catch throws when it’s cold, so I didn’t try very hard to convince them. I’d have gone if they wanted to, but Frank and Colin weren’t into standing around in the cold rain just to have beads thrown at them, so we pretty much blew off the earlier parades. After all, there’s always another day of parades, and the Goddess wouldn’t be so cruel as to have the weather suck the day of Iris. Regardless, I love the Iris parade, and unless the streets were flooding, we were going. Besides, my sister Rain is one of the ladies of Iris, so going was also a family obligation. Actually, most of my relatives are in one parade or another, but Rain’s appearance in Iris is the only one I care about.
Fortunately, that Saturday dawned bright and sunny and warm. All three of us had gotten up early, so we could go to the gym and pump up—as I said, the sexist ladies of Iris really notice muscles. We caught a ride with my best friend David Uptown, where he managed to find a place to park on Baronne, and walked the two blocks over to St. Charles Avenue.
That’s another important thing to remember about Carnival. NEVER watch parades on Canal Street. That’s where the mobs of tourists are, drunk and boisterous and pushing and shoving and just getting on your nerves. It’s much more fun to go Uptown and watch along the St. Charles route. That’s where the locals go. It isn’t as crowded, there aren’t any breasts being bared, and instead you can see what Carnival really is supposed to be like—or what it was like before the college students found out about it. That’s where you see families out with their kids, portable barbecues set up on the streetcar tracks, and coolers full of beer everywhere. Of course people are drinking, but New Orleanians know how to pace themselves—after all, we have to all year long. Drinking might be a city pastime, de rigeuer for every social event in town, but you don’t see people puking or passing out on St. Charles. You don’t see men taking a piss in a corner.
Many locals leave town during Carnival. They’re sick of the hordes of tourists, the problems getting around the city—St. Charles and Canal, the two main streets in the city, close for the parades, and it’s easy to get trapped inside the parade route. I can only imagine how frustratingly annoying it must be to live Uptown during Carnival. There’s also the familiarity. If you’ve been dealing with it your entire life, after a while I guess it can get old for some people, but I am not one of those people. After all, do you get sick of Christmas? And so far, it hasn’t gotten old for me. I feel like a kid again every year when the parades roll. I don’t believe I would ever get sick of Carnival. I love everything about it. I love the green, purple and gold decorations everywhere—the huge masks adorning balconies, the beads hanging from the tree branches and the telephone lines. I even love the tourists, even though they do stupid stuff they would never dare to do in a million years at home. I love the parades, catching throws, the non-stop fun atmosphere. I even like the pervasive smell of grease from the vendors hawking corn dogs and French fries and those bizarre sausage sandwiches made with fried onions and green peppers. I love the signs in front of bars advertising BIG ASS BEER $3.95—40 OUNCES!! Okay, it’s not like living in New Orleans is ever boring, mind you—it’s kind of like living on a non-stop rollercoaster ride sometimes—but Carnival is different. The whole city is in a festive mood, and everyone is relaxed and just wants to have a good time. What other American city throws such a huge party and invites the whole world to come join the fun?
Doesn’t that sound like fun? My very first Mardi Gras, back in 1995, was also my first experience with Iris, and I fell deeply and madly in love with the ladies of Iris. They showered me with beads, year after year. I used to have an Iris party every year; we even accidentally created a drink the first year we named the Iris: champagne, cranberry juice, and vodka.
And I finished revising Royal Street Reveillon yesterday. I still need to work on the prologue and write the epilogue, and I probably will go over Chapter 25 again, but for all intents and purposes, it’s done done done. Huzzah!
And now back to Iris prep.