The official Mardi Gras street parades are inaugurated every year when one of the city’s oldest – Krewe de Vieux [www.kreweduvieux.org] – marches proudly through the French Quarter at night. Krewe de Vieux rolls weeks before the more famous (read: touristy) events take place, and is filled with adoring local fans who shout out in support as their mothers, fathers, children, and friends swagger down the street in extravagant, flirtatious costumes.

While Rob filmed, and Michael asked “What’s that supposed to be?”, Dan, Wesley, and I danced gleefully to the small brass bands. I became ecstatic when I caught my first beads of the season, which, you may be interested to know, included King Cake baby dolls strung together in rather naughty positions. I embraced my bead donor with a big kiss and screamed “Happy Mardi Gras” and he yelled out to the crowd, “See? That’s why we LOVE New Orleans!”

Named after the Parisian Carnival by Louisiana’s French pioneers, Mardi Gras has a richly textured and surprisingly complex history. In fact, New Orleans’ racial, cultural, and economic past continue to play a huge role in the present-day festival. Peak your interest? Check out Lords of Misrule: Mardi Gras and the Politics of Race in New Orleans by James Gill for a fascinating look back at how it all began.

Each parade represents a different theme and is named after a mythological hero or Greek God (Orpheus, Endymion, Zulu, Rex). Its organizers and participants are known fondly as “Krewes”. Masquerade-like in their appearance and attitude, Krewes don’t “march” down the street – They “roll.” And “Vieux” means “old” in French (pronounced “vooh” in New Orleans, referring to the “Vieux Carre” – or “Old Quarter”), a hint that our favorite parade that night, Krewe de Vieux [www.kreweduvieux.org], was one of the most historic. Add the horse-drawn floats – the only Krewe to boast this feature – and we had ourselves a truly authentic Mardi Gras experience.

Despite the cold, drizzly weather, partygoers lined the parade route and celebrated old school. But if you think historic = civilized, think again. This is the raunchiest Krewe of all. I can’t even show you most of the pictures. This reveler says it all – otherwise, I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.

For a run-down of all the Krewes in Mardi Gras, check out this Site [www.mardigrasneworleans.com].

And be sure not to miss the Mardi Gras Indians, a long-standing tradition we hope time will never change.

Rachel Clift