New Orleans and the Mardi Gras
New Orleans is the largest city of Louisiana with a population of nearly 350,000 residents. It is a port city with it being 105 miles upstream from the Gulf of Mexico, with the city bordering both sides of the Mississippi River. The area is famed for its ethnicity, with in particular Spanish Creole and French architecture mixing with African American culture to produce a unique atmosphere in the region.
This is reflected in its language, its music, its food, and it all comes together annually when each February the city celebrates the Mardi Gras over a two week period. The city is a hot bed for tourism in the region with over 10 million visitors coming to the city each year, but during the period of Mardis Gras the area becomes the centre of Mardi Gras celebrations in the country. The City had unwanted international headlines in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina hit the region killing over 1500 people. The city’s location in the deep-south means that it is susceptible to tropical weather storms. However, the size of the storm plus poor urban planning turned this storm event into a catastrophe.
During the 20th century the city had been expanding into the surrounding low lying marsh land areas and was dependent on the drainage systems that were put in place. By the time the hurricane arrived in 2005 the system was already failing. The local authorities had so little confidence in it that they organised an evacuation of the city as the hurricane approached, which they saved many more lives as 80% of the city was flooded.
Since then the city has hit back and at no time is this in greater evidence than during the two week of Mardi Gras. The first time Mardi Gras was celebrated was in 1699 at the mouth of the Mississippi River, by men celebrating observing catholic practice. The first time it was celebrated in New Orleans was in 1730 and from this date the celebrations continued.
Over the two week period there is at least one major parade each day but the intensity increase as the days proceed with the last five days of the celebration being the most active. The period is always held before Ash Wednesday and has Shrove Tuesday in the middle of it. As well as carnivals being a major feature of the celebration, the city also celebrates its culture through its music, food and its organized parties. The Mardi Gras even has its own special colors with flags of yellow, green and purple being draped from building’s balconies that fall down to the streets.
Many people wear costumes and masks during the two week period. This is especially seen during the carnivals and as part of the many balls that are held during the evenings. The two biggest are those organized by the Zulu club, for its mainly African-American members, and the Rex Club for its mainly Caucasian members. However the Mardi Gras is really about the masses coming to celebrate, and with 1.2 million people arriving in the city for the two week period, the bars and clubs are packed each evening. The city is home to Jazz and over this time people are able to experience some of the best Jazz music anywhere in the world.
During this time the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is held, which is one of the largest festivals in the country. The most famous musician from the city is Louis Armstrong and his influence is seen at the “Louis Armstrong Park” which celebrates music from the region
During the day the streets are filled with food vendors cooking and selling the city’s unique cuisine. Influenced by French, Spanish, Italian and many other cultures, the food eaten in the city has a variety that is not experienced anywhere else in the States.
Certain dishes such as beignets, crayfish, beans and rice, and jambalaya have been evolved by local chefs to have their own unique taste. The celebration is an opportunity for tourists to sample the very best of New Orleans food. New Orleans prides itself on its Mardi Gras Festival, and it has been instrumental in helping the city to get back on its feet after the events of 2005.