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Silver Threads: When visitors get it wrong

I heard it Saturday at the Super Bowl festivities in Woldenburg Park: Mardi Gras has been cancelled!

If the visitor who imparted this news could have seen the crowds at Family Gras in Metairie, she may have assumed that all the fun was a suburban salute to the Ravens and 49ers. But locals were grooving to the music of Cowboy Mouth and Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, among others, and catching beads thrown from the floats of the Krewe of Caesar. Carnival was alive on the North Shore, too, even in the tiny town of Abita Springs, where everybody turned out for a look at the Pushmow parade.

Who dat says New Orleans can’t throw but one party at a time?

All this got me to thinking about all the misinformation and downright dubious opinions aired when the unknowing visit New Orleans for big events.

Years ago, a onetime TV star whose show had been off the air for about 15 years was tapped to be queen of a then-small Metairie Carnival parade, and her PR person called to ask that we interview her. I had to turn him down, as a limited number of reporters had bigger celebrity and locally aristocratic fish to fry.

When he argued, I explained his client’s relatively obscure and small share of space on the crowded Carnival agenda, so imagine my surprise when she later announced on a late-night talk show that she had just been “queen of the Mardi Gras in New Orleens!” The show’s host was impressed, but imagine the surprise of the debutante wearing the white hat on the Boston Club balcony that season.

About that same time, a columnist for a big New York daily came to town and reported that Orleanians’ favorite Carnival-time fare was Jax beer — never mind that the label had been extinct for a while — and the “yabbies” that they ate from paper cups as they prowled the French Quarter. The yabbies, as everyone surely knows, are fried crawfish tails. We thought somebody he met in a bar must have been putting him on.

(Or, he may have borrowed the image from Truman Capote, who should have known better, but came out with a short-story collection that featured one piece on New Orleans, and had the natives — not partaking of yabbies but — eating fried shrimp from brightly colored paper cones as they strolled around Jackson Square.)

My favorite image created by a writer visiting this city sprang from a Super Bowl played here some years ago. The young sports columnist found at least two things puzzling about the locals and their environs: “The people of New Orleans just amble around,” he wrote, apparently commenting on our lack of the hustle and bustle found in northern climes with a much lower humidity factor, and “things here look pretty much as they must have looked in the 1950s.”

I relayed this last comment to my friend Patty Gay, director of the Preservation Resource Center, and she said, “OMG, we just hope it looks more like it did the 1850s!”

Now we’ve progressed from misinformation to dubious information to no information. All I remember about this young visitor was that she had some kind of graduate degree, had gotten a fellowship for further study, and was touring newspaper feature sections nationwide. Asked to show her around, I took her to dinner in the Quarter and then to the rooftop of a local hotel so she could enjoy a view of the city. “What’s that big river out there?“ she asked me.

As to Mardi Gras being cancelled this year, please check your Wednesday Times-Picayune and on any day to find out what’s really happening.

Bettye Anding is a former editor of the Living section of The Times Picayune, for which she wrote “Silver Threads” until her retirement. Email comments to her at


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