Mardi Gras: 'More Passion, More Calm' - - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

2/27/06-New Orleans, LA

Mardi Gras: 'More Passion, More Calm'

Children sat atop ladders yelling for beads and other trinkets Sunday as two of the Carnival season's biggest and glitziest parades rolled through this fun-starved city.

By nightfall, the warm, sunny weather had chilled a bit, but that didn't stop the crowds -- old, young and of all races -- from partying.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which flooded most of the city last summer, people seemed a bit nicer -- and less likely to lace their words with profanities -- than in previous years, an annual vendor said.

"Before, the people were more aggressive; now I see there is more passion, more calm," said Miryan Velasquez, 60, who sells alligator on hot dog buns, lemonade and shrimp po-boys, a quintessential New Orleans sandwich on French bread.

While some revelers noted crowds so deep that people could barely move, they were thinner than in years past.

Velasquez said her business was down by at least half.

"What can you expect, it's Katrina!" she said.

Pat Kaschalk, a teacher in New Orleans, estimated the crowds at three-quarters of the usual numbers.

"It was actually possible to catch something this year," she said. "We were able to get close to the floats and make eye contact with the riders. Normally we wouldn't be able to do that."

'Everyone is definitely feeling the love'

In previous years, a million people would cram into New Orleans for the climactic final weekend of Carnival, but some officials estimated this year's crowd at 400,000.

They said the turnout was not bad given the fact that large parts of the city still lie in ruin from Katrina's floods, and that only about 190,000 people now live in the city that once had nearly half a million residents.

Despite the reduced numbers, streets were jammed with cars, parking was at a premium and popular nightspots had long lines of people waiting to get in.

"It is slower, but better in quality," said Inez Quintanilla, bartender at Lafitte's Blacksmith Bar in the French Quarter. "Anyone who is here is here because they want to be."

"Everyone is definitely feeling the love. It's a real good vibe," she said.

A threat of thunderstorms Saturday prompted a one-day delay of the Krewe of Endymion's parade, which followed the Krewe of Bacchus through the Uptown neighborhood on Sunday night. Three smaller parades were held in the afternoon.

The sunny weather and party atmosphere provided a sense of optimism for New Orleans six months after Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city and dispersed more than two-thirds of the population.

"I just hope the rest of the world doesn't think New Orleans is OK because we're having Mardi Gras," said Cynthia Perkins, who lost her home in the flood.

While some decried the city's plan to hold Mardi Gras celebrations while tens of thousands of residents were displaced, Ebony Jenkins, who lost home, car and possessions in the flood, was in a festive mood nonetheless.

"My take on it is: Let it roll," she said as she waited for floats and masked riders to fill the street and shed a rain of doubloons and beads on the throngs.

"Mardi Gras is just Mardi Gras, period," she stressed. "You can't take Mardi Gras from the N.O."

Parades and costumes

Along the parade route on St. Charles Avenue, ladders placed by spectators wanting a better view of the passing floats lined the streets as they do each year, while others sat in lawn chairs along the curb.

People wearing such things as alligator heads and jester hats and giant wigs with Mardi Gras colors of green, gold and purple screamed for beads as parade floats passed by and members of the local "krewes," or clubs, tossed plastic trinkets -- "throws" -- to the crowd.

As they have throughout this Carnival season, Sunday's floats mostly carried satiric messages about the effects of Katrina -- "Mold lives here," said one -- but some struck a more serious note.

"Thanks to all who never forgot to care," read another.

This year's Carnival season has been cut to eight days of parades from the usual 12 because the city is strapped for cash and short of staff. Some New Orleanians thought it should not happen at all amid the devastation of Katrina, which struck on August 29 and killed more than 1,300.

Ellis Joseph, a local drummer, said the citywide party has served its purpose, if the goal was to briefly forget the surrounding tragedy.

"They're trying to act as if nothing happened," he said. "It's like a real big release."

The annual Carnival season winds up on Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, which is marked by parades and street parties through the city. In stricter days, Mardi Gras was the last chance to use up all the fat in the larder and kick it up a bit before the austerity and fasting of Lent.

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