Thursday, February 22, 2007

the big easy

I flew home last night from a research trip in New Orleans and yes, boy are my arms tired. I have spent the last several hours processing what I saw, the conversations I had, and things I learned and how they will hopefully find their way into my graduate thesis. Yes, believe it or not, I received a grant from an academic institution to attend Mardi Gras. I must tell you that it was unlike any “book report” I have done thus far in my academic career. Some of the stuff I saw I expected but then there was a side of the festivities that I didn’t see coming.

I learned that depending on where you camp out on Fat Tuesday determines the type of Mardi Gras you’ll have. I know that you are thinking that it is a lot of immoral behavior and so on. Yes, in some areas that is true. Yet that is not all there is to the Mardi Gras experience. It is honestly a big family event down there. I had several locals tell me how much the holiday meant to them. Schools are let out and thousands of kids crowd the streets to catch beads. Families dress up in costume. These images are far different from the shots of co-eds degrading themselves that the media lusts for. I talked with people who had grown up there, and they told me that this is a celebration that centers them. Remember, you can’t have Mardi Gras without Lent. You can’t have Lent without Easter. A lot of people miss the point here, but Carnival plays a role in their preparation for the resurrection.

It seemed too, in the current state of New Orleans, that rebuilding was put aside in order to celebrate. I have to tell you that the city is still in poor shape. Several neighborhoods are a wreck and major shopping centers are still abandoned. Even the Wendy’s down the street from my hotel was overrun with weeds. “Dave Thomas! How could you turn you back on me?”

The odd thing is that in the midst of tragedy, the city still felt the need to celebrate. You can write it off as an economic decision. Which is partly true since the Carnival season brought in 700,000 tourists, each pouring hundreds of dollars into the struggling economy. Yet, maybe there is something more to it. Maybe they realize that there is reason to party, even the most desperate situations. I’m beginning to think that there is more to gain from Mardi Gras than a hangover.

Oh, and I also met Jesus on Bourbon Street… and we're all in big trouble.

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