Saint Louis Mardi Gras

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Lent is the part of the Ecclesiastical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday, next Wednesday, and ends on Easter Sunday, some forty days hence. Lent is a time for penance and fasting. It also coincides with that season of the year that in our agrarian past was when winter larders began to give out and before spring’s new growth could be realized. I suspect that in year’s past, there was an element of making virtue out of necessity, when it came to giving up things for Lent. Immediately preceding Ash Wednesday and Lent, comes Fat Tuesday, or in French, Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras has traditionally been an opportunity for one more chance to revel and feast before Lent closes in. Ground zero for Mardi Gras, at least in this country, has always been New Orleans, but Mardi Gras celebrations in Saint Louis have risen to number two in size. Two cities that are linked by river and by French heritage form the axis of festivity for this informal holiday. Saint Louis’ Mardi Gras centers around Soulard, a neighborhood founded by and named for a refugee from the French Revolution. Once dilapidated, its 19th century row houses were rehabbed in the 1980s. One such is the home of our friends, Gary and Linda.

Gary and Linda live, breath and revel in Mardi Gras. As Gary told me, “If I lived a block off of Times Square in NYC, New Year’s Eve would be my big holiday. Since I live here, it’s Mardi Gras.” This is the second year that we have been invited to their Mardi Gras party. This year we decided to bicycle to their place, because last year, parking was so tough. On the way over, we got caught up in the Mardi Gras traffic, which at times seemed a bit hairy, but as it turns out the toughest part, was the last fifty feet. Getting through the security cordon required sneaking around a fence. What we worried about most, the return run, with all of the drunks about, turned out to be a non-event. We got 20 miles, but I digress. Gary is the master of Mardi Gras. He has a portable grandstand that eliminates the need to queue up for a spot to see the parade. This year’s innovation were giant rake like claws, perfect for snagging tossed beads. Saturday’s parade began at Busch Stadium and ended at the brewery. This route underscores one of, if not the main activity at Mardi Gras, drinking. Gary and Linda were not remiss in this department either. As if coffee and Bailey’s was insufficient to the occasion, they had alcohol infused whip cream to top things off with. This year, as opposed to past years, I concentrated on photographing the crowd, rather than the parade. All of the people pictured were willing subjects and some were maybe a little too willing. We launched from our house after nine and didn’t recover until after four. After a quick turnaround, we drove to our second Mardi Gras party, Rodney and Michelle’s. This was a work related function and was more family friendly, than the Soulard affair. The food was to-die-for good.

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