The only thing better than celebrating Mardi Gras in New Orleans is celebrating your birthday during Mardi Gras in New Orleans. And the only thing better than celebrating your birthday during Mardi Gras in New Orleans is celebrating your birthday during Mardi Gras in New Orleans with a group of relief volunteers who have become dear friends who pin dollar bills to your shirt and decorate the house with dozens of post-Valentine’s roses liberated from a dumpster. (The dollar bill tradition supposedly dates back to a time when a New Orleans law required people pay a tax on their birthday, so friends and neighbors would chip in to help cover the tax.)
My Mardi Gras experience was different from what most tourists experience, and I’m very glad for that. New Orleans is not Bourbon Street, and I kinda feel sorry for the tourists who spent all their time there, thinking they were getting an authentic experience (I’ve talked to a lot of locals who won’t go near the French Quarter this time of year).
The Zulu parade on Tuesday morning was my favorite part of Mardi Gras. My friends and I went to the start of the route, a residential area where the police barricades weren’t up and there were lots of families lining the street. I snapped this picture of a father holding his son who was now the proud owner of a rare Zulu coconut, which is the thing to get at the Zulu parade. It’s easy to get a dozen strands of beads thrown your way during the Zulu parade, but it’s much harder to get one of the special hand painted coconuts.
Going to Mardi Gras outside of the Quarter also meant that you couldn’t ignore the ongoing need for relief work and rebuilding. The Zulu parade passed by dozens of vacant houses, many still untouched since Katrina, and still in need of gutting and repair. Now that the parties and parades are over, we go back to work.