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Happy Mardi Gras 2010

Bead Redistribution is a game my sister and I played last year during Mardi Gras.

Just for fun of course because to be sure, there is no shortage of beads in New Orleans. No, in New Orleans there are literally heaps and heaps and heaps of Mardi Gras beads. Some are particularly exquisite (for that sort of thing), shaped like crawfish or shoes. Some are battery operated with flashing lights, heart-shaped, or resembling pearls.

Some are very big. Others are small and delicate, or many colored, or glassy and clear. I get dizzy thinking about ships of beads floating in to New Orleans every year, carrying thousands of pounds of bead cargo from Chinese bead factories.

Go to any of the dozens of Mardi Gras parades and you can accumulate a pile of beads half your own size at least. (Don't worry, it can be done innocently, without partaking in the sordid ways mentioned in the stories some people tell about Mardi Gras season.)

The game my sister and I played of Bead Redistribution originated on Bourbon Street Lundi Gras night. There is great sport in getting the attention of bead throwers on balconies, yelling for beads, and catching the strands. But eventually you could very well strangle under the weight of too many beads.

So my sister and I decided to redistribute ours. We picked people who were completely without beads, or who had only one or two strands, or people who just looked like they could use some good beads in their lives.

The method was quite successful. Eventually we were down to just the most special of our own strands so we decided to introduce our game to other bead-wealthy Mardi Gras-goes.

Bead Redistribution induction went like this: Hello, my name is _______. My sister and I are involved in a Bead Redistribution process. You have so many very nice beads, while others have no beads at all. In order to support the Greater Good, would you consider perhaps giving up even one strand of your own beads so that everyone might enjoy a strand?

We were amazed by the generosity of the people we approached. Some went so far as to contribute not one or two strands, but the whole heap of strands they had wrapped around their necks. Some actually redistributed irreplaceably good strands of beads. Some people redistributed every last strand of beads they had.

The outstretching branches of old live oaks along St. Charles Avenue are draped year-round in Mardi Gras beads. As floats pass by throwing beads, the wide-reaching branches are a natural snare.

After the parades, people take their beads home, sort them by size and color and drape them over porch railings and hang them from bushes.

Even from blocks away during Mardi Gras you hear a roar of cheers and see the immensity of towering floats passing along the street, as if monster waves cresting and breaking against shores of the many-beaded people. Small children are pulled through the crowds in wagons, wrapped in beads and sitting among beads.

Bigger kids, who watch the floats from the tops of ladders along the street, keep their beads in bags. Other miscellaneous throws from floats, besides beads, are canvas bags for collecting beads, footballs, stuffed animals, decorated coconuts, play tattoos. Every parade has its signature throw.

People adorned in beads line the streets in fold-out chairs, hours even before the floats arrive, or watch from bead-lined porches of giant columned houses.

Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans occur almost continuously beginning the week before Fat Tuesday. If you park your bike or car near the route, you likely will return to find it slathered in beads.

I found myself thinking about Eckhart Tolle's philosophy Friday evening as floats from the Muses parade rolled past me and I safeguarded a grand assortment of shoe-shaped beads. "As within, so without." Did my deep love of shoes create the reality of shoe-shaped beads?

On Facebook a couple seasons past, I told a friend maybe we could meet in my home state during Mardi Gras vacation to ski Big Sky - the attractive quiet of glistening white snow and fresh mountain air, as opposed to the clanking ballyhoo and beer bottles up to the neck ruckus of the season preceding Lent.

The last time I did have the chance to make it up to Big Sky, a tree below the lift glittered with strands of Mardi Gras beads, someone else's idea of Bead Redistribution I suppose.

There is no escape from yourself or New Orleans.

Indeed, staying put for Mardi Gras 2010 was the only logical choice as the excitement of the season approached. After enduring the bitter cold to watch the parades Friday, we danced under the clear starry night at a Mad Max-style bonfire party in Bywater, where the upper and lower Ninth wards are held separate by the Industrial Canal.

Saturday's Mid City parades included Endymion, while Saints' MVP Drew Brees rode in Bacchus Sunday. Afterward I blushed continuously, watching New Orleans' Big Freda, Katy Red and Sissy Nobby spin it like spinning tops at the Hookah Bar's Sissy Bounce Sweetheart's Ball. Monday's big parade was Orpheus, followed by Juvenile at the Republic.

Parades Mardi Gras day start at 8 am, the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club's parade among them. The day is gorgeous, the temperature just right for parading. Men wearing painted faces and grass skirts throw Zulu beads and painted coconuts. We watch the parade every year from the neutral ground on Basin Street, followed by more parades and finally the grand party on Frenchmen.

Carnival season is about indulgence before taking on the fine and narrow, about throwing off regular life only to put it on again with a fresh perspective. Just like the gobs of beads I've taken my time getting used to, it took a couple years to get the hang of the season of Bacchus -how to refresh the senses without wiping myself out completely.

Mardi Gras day is for revelry, and I suppose Wednesday I'll put myself back on, sweep up the beads, keep the best strands and throw the others into my trunk alongside last year's for recycling.

Speaking of, nowadays they talk about recycling all those empty glass bottles you hear clinking in French Quarter garbage bins to serve as reinforcement to Louisiana's many fragile barrier islands.

I see the lede already: New Orleans Saved by Heavy Drinking.

Heavens, that's amazing.

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