I was 18 years old and the previous summer had made friends with one Angie Radford (Angie, where are you these days?) in the Soviet Union, where we were both exchange students. I was at NYU and Angie was studying down at Loyola in New Orleans. She invited me to come on down for Mardi Gras and crash on the floor of her dorm room. You don't take an invitation like that lightly, not when you are 18 and full of piss and vinegar.
I made the trek from New York to New Orleans and was delighted to find what to a Northerner was warm weather in the midst of winter. That town was ALIVE! Angie took me first to a costume shop where she had wisely arranged ahead of time to rent costumes for us - I got the French dance hall girl, she got the sexy French maid - because one can't stride around town on Fat Tuesday in civvies.
I remember some highlights. Having drinks in Jean LaFitte-in-Exile, what is the oldest bar in the French Quarter. Easting Popeye's chicken for the first time and discovering what a cure it is for hangovers. Kicking a football through the arms of Tulane University's "Touchdown Jesus" statue. The sensual smell of St. John's Bread trees along the streetcar route. Eschewing the fancy restuarant (we were students on budgets) and eating upstairs at K. Paul's kitchen (this was during pre-Emeril days). Visiting a voodoo shop. And Cafe du Monde, oh man, Cafe du Monde!
And the parades! I recall going to at least two - Endymion (Angie said they had the nicest floats and costumes because their krewe was the wealthiest) and Zulu. At the latter, I did not score a prized coconut, despite my offerings of bottles of gin, but after each parade I had about 5 pounds of beads around my neck - "Throw me something, mister!" It is amazing how fanatical the pursuit of plastic beads is during a Mardi Gras parade!
And Fat Tuesday - pure decadence. For those who might see my today as "Church Lady", when I was 18, I was not in that category, although of the group I was with, I was definitely the tamest of the lot. No, I showed no one my tits - but when that request came up, one of Angie's well-endowed friends ripped open her shirt to display a lack of brassiere and I watched as the fellow's head simply disappeared betwixt her globes. The drag show put on by the queens was shocking, even to a Bronx gal, and then there was the couple openly copulating atop a car while the crowd around them cheered them on!
And Ash Wednesday was memorable . . . for the utter and complete silence of the town. Businesses were closed, the sidewalks were empty as the city slept off its big hurrah from the previous night.
Laisser les bon temps rouler, as they say down in the Big Easy - let the good times roll . . .