Happy Mardi Gras, friends!

I haven’t written much lately — it’s been crazy busy around here and things are getting busier as the boys’ baseball practices start up this week.  They’re both playing this year.  Part of why we’re busier is that Dave’s now more active and we can again do family activities.  The cruise really cinched things for us — Dave’s back surgery from October was a resounding success.

For the past week or so I’d been suggesting we take the family to see a Mardi Gras parade in the area.

I guess, in typical Major Mom fashion, I should give you some background to what Mardi Gras is, huh?  Here you go.
While the phrase “Mardi Gras” does literally translate into the words “Fat Tuesday”, which is the day before Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras along the Gulf Coast is actually more of a “season” — between Epiphany and Ash Wednesday.  This is the time to be festive, eat richer foods, imbibe on beverages and just plain party before the more serious penitential Lenten season.

Many Americans are familiar with Carnival season in many parts of the world, such as the largest Carnival there is: Rio de Janiero, Brazil!

Dave and I got to celebrate Mardi Gras when we were stationed in Louisiana in the mid-1990s.  In 1997 we were invited to spend a weekend in Lafayette and we attended several community parades. Then we had the privilege of attending a very elegant Mardi Gras ball in the Cajundome in Lafayette.  Dave wore his mess dress, I wore a floor-length gown.  We quite literally partied all night, complete with a breakfast buffet!  It made for some wonderful memories of our time in Louisiana.

Here on the Florida Gulf Coast, there were so many choices for where to go and what to go during Mardi Gras season.

After showering Dave over the weekend with our options — Pensacola Beach, Pensacola, Fairhope, Daphne, Spanish Fort, and Mobile, he finally asked me, “Patricia, what do YOU want to do?”

My answer: “I want to see America’s oldest Mardi Gras!”  So we made plans to head out to Downtown Mobile after church on Sunday.  Luckily, due to poor weather on Saturday, many parades had to be rescheduled to Sunday and we were able to see TWO parades.  We had some miscommunication with the rescheduled times and we ended up staying for a night parade.  Definitely unintended for the sake of the kids, but we survived and it isn’t nearly as crazy as New Orleans!

So after church, we went home to change into warmer clothes and headed out.  We didn’t know what we were doing.  We tossed some snacks into some tote bags, threw some chairs into the back of the car and headed out.  During the drive we answered the kids’ questions about Mardi Gras, many of their impressions were based on scenes from Disney’s The Princess and the Frog.

In the meantime, I had plenty of questions from Dave.

“Where will we park?”

“I don’t know!”

“Where’s the parade route?”

“Pull it up on the iPhone!”

“Okay, here’s the parade route, where should we watch?”

“I have no earthly idea — we’ll just have to wing it!”

And wing it we did!  We got off I-10 in downtown Mobile and were greeted with thousands of people, cars, and cops directing traffic.  Folks were paying $15 to park near the start of the parade route, so we wandered around downtown on the periphery of the route and as luck would have it — there was an open parallel parking spot!!!  FREE PARKING!!!  We grabbed the spot…Dave continued to ask questions as to whether this was a good parking choice, did we need to pay for the parking meter (no, it was free on Sundays), what if we were too far from the parade, etc.

We asked a nearby traffic cop “How far to the parade route?” and we were pointed in the right direction.  It was a short walk — even for the kids — and there was plenty of space to set up our chairs and wait for the parade to start.  We arrived on site about 15 minutes before the start of the first parade, but we were about a mile into the parade route so the floats didn’t pass us until about 15 minutes after the start of each parade.

We thought we were going to be watching 5pm and 5:30pm parades, but the weather rearranged things some and actually we saw 5pm and 7pm parades.

The first parade was Le Krewe de Bienville.  Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne de Bienville was one of the founders of the City of Mobile in the VERY early 1700s.  Their floats’ themes were related to spies and James Bond.  It’s exactly what Dave and I remember from Lafayette.  The kids really enjoyed themselves and were glad for the experience.

We got primo seating right against the curb.  A cold front had passed through and it was COLD sitting in the canyon of high-rise buildings.
Do I look silly enough?  Check out the hat right over my shoulder on the left.
Everyone on the floats were masked.  Check out all the beads available to be thrown out!  And the stuffed animals behind them!  All fair game!
The kids loved this float — they enjoy Mad TV on Cartoon Network.
Name that James Bond movie scene!
Caught some beads in action flying off the float towards the left 🙂
A relatively “gentle” parade.  The kids got a few beads…
They were more excited about the stuffed animals they caught!
I’m showing this bag because this whole thing was thrown towards us.  At the bottom were several action figure toys, including a Superman, Captain America and Mater.

In between parades, I got a glimpse of what Mobile is like during Mardi Gras:

Krewes will pool their money together and invest in these big platforms to watch the parade together.
We were watching the parade near this park.  There were groups of people who’d camp in this park all weekend.  It was like tailgating — with lots of food, drinks and craziness!
These Mardi Gras-crap vendors were everywhere too.  This one was a shopping cart full of some really icky toys.  Behind it you can see a nicer-looking golf cart.
You want to tailgate right for Mardi Gras, arrange for your own porta-potty!!!

By the time the Mystics of Time parade began, it was after dark.  This is apparently one of the most popular krewes in Mobile and their parades are more elaborate.  This parade was MUCH more crowded and the families gave way to a younger, more wild crowd.  Not quite New Orleans (i.e., everyone kept their clothes on) but the second parade was definitely a different experience.

For starters, it was much longer.  The first parade was about 20 minutes, the second one was 40 minutes.  Easily twice the number of floats.

Also, there were twice the number of goodies tossed at us.

Did I say “tossed” at us?  I should have said “hurled” at us, because in this parade things came at us more viciously.  So I would take as many pictures as I could before the float got too close to me, then quickly put away the camera so I could pay attention to what was coming towards us.

More variety too.  In addition to the beads and stuffed animals in the Krewe de Bienville parade, the Mystics of Time (MOT) included baby moon pies, frisbees, cups, doubloons, vuvuzuelas, University of Alabama souvenirs, and other candies.

Thirdly, the people around us were a bit more selfish.  The daytime crowds were great about keeping their own space, but at night, you could see folks wrestling each other for the bigger items.  Do I feel guilty about the greed I felt during the parades?  Yes, I do.  But the spirit of Mardi Gras is to get all the greed out of our systems before Ash Wednesday.

Finally, the Mystics of Time parade had music music music!  In between most of the beautiful floats were bands — high school bands, middle school bands, and numerous New Orleans-style brass bands.

As the weather got colder and colder after sunset, we weren’t sure about staying for the nighttime parade.  But we were so glad we did.  The kids had a blast, and Dave and I enjoyed a great southern tradition we last experienced 15 years ago.

Enjoy some pictures from the MOT parade.  Their floats had mythological themes.

This is the RSA Battle House Tower, the tallest building in Mobile (and the tallest building outside of Houston on the Gulf Coast)…all lit up for Mardi Gras!
The kids kept occupied while waiting for the next parade.  They’re playing tag here.  Other kids would come and go and play with the boys…they had a good time.
I was trying really hard to capture the flames that came out of the mouths of these floats — they were awesome!
Everyone on the floats are masked.
In between floats are these Mystics of Time horsemen.

After the parades, we were even able to leave downtown Mobile without incident (thanks to our GPS) and made our way over to Dreamland BBQ for a late dinner before driving home to Navarre.

J got a haircut the next day.
Our stash from the night!
I love this medallion.  We got two of these, but one of them broke off the beads.
Our one and only doubloon.
Custom “MOT” beads, how cool is this?
My silly attempts at organizing the beads.