In several places around the world, people like to gather at a massive festival for some good old-fashioned debauchery right before the abstinence-marked Lenten season. Some examples include Rio de Janeiro’s Carnaval, Switzerland’s Fastnacht, and of course, New Orleans’ Mardi Gras (also known as “Fat Tuesday”). The festival of Mardi Gras has become synonymous with beads, floats, massive amounts of alcohol and more than a few Girls Gone Wild videos.
This year’s Mardi Gras celebration, however, was vastly different from preceding years, despite the fact that the processions were carried out as they have always been. It was a unique Mardi Gras-and if you feel I need to state the obvious as to why, let me give you a hint: half a year earlier, a massive amount of wind and water pounded the city, and as a result, New Orleans resembled the swamp around it. Now that the city is dry, and the festivities are now over, the questions come up as to whether Mardi Gras made a difference to the city, and what to do next.
It is my opinion that Mardi Gras was the best thing that could have happened to New Orleans after the horrors of Katrina. The festival did wonders boosting the spirit and morale of the city. New Orleans needed a break from the dreariness and red tape it has endured in the recovery process, and the best way to have done that was by celebrating the most festive two weeks of the year, as has always been done, this time with an additional symbolic element of strength, endurance and lambasting of irresponsible politicians, as seen in the many humorous floats poking fun of Homeland Security, Ray Nagin and President Bush.
It also brought desperately needed tourist money into the city, which can only do good for an economy derailed by the storm. The recovery has been a slow process, and the money brought in during the festival will serve as a nice jump-start that will keep New Orleans going, provided more people and businesses return to the area.
Lastly, this year’s Mardi Gras received a lot of media attention-which will help raise awareness on New Orleans’ current condition. As I’ve mentioned in previous columns, New Orleans is far from being rebuilt. The very nature of the city and her geographical surroundings make the Big Easy’s case drastically different than other hurricane-prone areas, such as Florida. Homestead, certainly, took a while to rebuild after Hurricane Andrew all but wiped it off the map over a decade ago. But Homestead didn’t have to re-strengthen levees or clear up foul, brown gunk from the flooding, as New Orleans will have to do before people will move back. The media’s re-focus on New Orleans will do good to remind people of this.
There are some in New Orleans who say Mardi Gras probably shouldn’t have continued, saying the effort should have gone towards reconstruction. Still others say Mardi Gras could give tourists the false impression that New Orleans was back to normal, and as such, cause them to stop thinking about the city. I can certainly see and understand this, but in the end, I believe Mardi Gras was good for the Crescent City. One needs to only look at the footage on CNN-if anyone needed a good party to forget life’s hardships, even for a moment, it’s these people.
Because we know what it’s like to miss New Orleans. Now, throw me somethin’, mister!
Jay Rooney is a junior majoring in journalism and history, and a 2005 Mardi Gras veteran. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.