The big, divided street that runs alongside our neighborhood in Algiers has been a mess for months and months, and will be, I’m told, for another year. They are adding lanes, which meant cutting trees in the neutral ground, breaking up the old curbs and pouring new ones, and widening the bridges across the canal that runs from the Behrman Highway-Holiday Drive crossing to the Crescent City Connection.
I could have supervised this in a way that would have been much less wearying to the public, but since I’m neither an engineer nor a road-work contractor, nobody has asked me for an opinion. Meanwhile, we motorists who don’t absolutely have to use Gen. de Gaulle Drive at peak traffic hours just stay at home, away from the bottlenecks and bother.
This week, however, the road crews began cleaning up, striping the new lanes that had really been useable for weeks, and removing some of the hundreds of orange cones that have made trips to the bank, the drugstore, and the grocery store a journey through a maddening maze.
The impetus for the efficiency? Carnival, of course.
Five or six parades will line up on lower de Gaulle and hang a left on Behrman, following a route into Jefferson Parish. I can activate my annual drill: Walk from our house to the route, watch Alla from the comfort of my lawn chair, greet friends who’ve settled nearby, and make forays to the frozen yogurt shop across the street. Meantime, I collect enough trinkets to make half a dozen little out-of-town grand nieces and nephews very happy. The maskers are much more generous than they were decades ago and the beads are bigger and on longer strings.
I saw my first procession of Carnival floats in February or March of 1959; after dinner out, my husband-to-be and I parked our car — easily in that era — a few blocks from the route and ran to the corner to watch a nighttime parade, one of the biggest ones of the day. I was enchanted by the colors, the flambeaux, the costumes, the music.
Later that week at work, I was assigned to show up at about 3 p.m. on Mardi Gras to write a story on that year’s truck floats, hardly knowing what that meant. I left my apartment on Constantinople about 9 a.m. and, meandering down St. Charles, was hailed from a balcony apartment by a former high-school classmate. The day couldn’t have been easier; I partied, ate and drank, was awed by Rex as the sunlight of a beautiful day made his royal adornments sparkle splendidly, took notes on the imaginatively decorated trucks, and set out for Lafayette Square and the office in time to meet my deadline.
The next few years were spent being parents of children too young to enjoy parades; we hadn’t the kind of infants who slept peacefully in strollers along the routes, and as toddlers our daughter was frightened when perched in a seat atop a shaky ladder and our son was too hyperactive to remain in one for long.
Carnival became a family holiday a few years later, when my father-in-law offered his closed florist’s shop on St. Charles as our Mardi Gras headquarters. We stowed picnic hampers and ice chests there the night before, and with another couple and their offspring showed back up at 9 a.m. to catch the marching clubs and wait for Rex and the truck floats.
I remember bringing secret hoards of beads to give to our kids, who weren’t satisfied unless they had accumulated a supermarket bag full of throws. We always masked, albeit in a very simple manner. One year I had my dressmaker run up ponchos with blanket fabric, and we wore sombreros. Another, short kimonos with Japanese words embroidered on them and flat straw hats were our costumes.
When we went to Boston many years later to begin a fall foliage tour of New England, we wound up being in the city for the annual Columbus Day parade. I was excited when we found out it was part of our itinerary, but so disappointed as we saw the bands and marching groups and only a few “floats” pass by.
They call THIS a parade? I thought. Not a pair of beads, or a shoe, or a coconut in sight.
Bettye Anding is a former editor of The Times Picayune Living section, for which she wrote Silver Threads until her retirement. Email her at email@example.com.