A young writer roaming the French Quarter during this historic Carnival discovers different doesn't mean dead.
- story and photos by Kirsten Reneau
I knew this Mardi Gras would be different. I knew it wouldn’t include champagne at 6 am, an Uber to St. Ann’s, dancing in the street and using the bathroom in stranger’s houses (my usual M.O). If COVID-19 wasn’t enough to dissuade people from gathering, the 25 degree temperature outside helped.
Being in the Quarter felt like what it must have been like in decades long past. Despite the fact that people stayed a good ten feet away from me at all times, it felt almost intimate. Almost everyone was masked and walked around in small pods of two to four people. I’m very happy to report that most people, far cleverer than me, incorporated masking into their costumes.
I missed the crowds. It would be more accurate to say I missed the people, finding old friends and making new ones. I, like most people, was worried about tourists, but I didn’t find that many. Those that I did see seemed peeved, like Bourbon Street was shut down just to spite them.
Amidst and against the emptiness of the day, everyone was in high spirits. Some people were upset about the lack of parades, but most had more or less come to terms with it. Usually, the hundreds of pounds of plastic beads and hurricane cups that litter the street and pour over from the trashcans make me feel ill.
This year, the throws were personal – masks and key chains and glass beads tucked inside cups. There were no walking brass bands, but plenty of Bluetooth speakers. Homes were decorated, elaborately. Thematic costumes were worn. Jackson Square was all but empty, but people drank and laughed and waved to each other from across the street.
It all felt like the closest thing Fat Tuesday could safely be in the quarter; that is to say, it still felt like Mardi Gras. There was still art and music and a celebration of something, if only the fact that we woke up and went outside.