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Mardi Gras: the one of the year it is OK to be bad

By by dianna wray/dwray@vicad.com
March 2, 2011 at 4 p.m.
Updated March 1, 2011 at 9:02 p.m.


WHERE TO GO1. FOR THE CLASSIC MARDI GRAS EXPERIENCE:

Mardi Gras, New Orleans New Orleans, La.

Tuesday

Where's the party: The parade. It's big, there are lots of lights, it's pretty hard to miss.

What to drink: Sazerac, dubbed the most famous cocktail in New Orleans. When in Rome, you know.

What to watch for: Beads. Why? Because they're shiny, though you often have to do unspeakable things to get them. Also, there's jazz, really really good fine ole New Orleans Jazz. You don't have to watch for it, just listen.

2. IF YOU'RE IN THE MOOD FOR THE OCEAN BREEZES:

Mardi Gras, Galveston

at Galveston

Now through Tuesday.

Where's the party: The Seawall, which is free, or downtown Galveston, which is not.

What to drink: A margarita. You're in Texas, after all.

What to watch for: The San Luis Costume Contest, Saturday.

3. FOR THE RICH WHO LIKE TO PARTY:

The Rio Carnival

Rio de Janerio

Where's the party: Everywhere. Every neighborhood, every street. Things get pretty wild during the four days leading up to Ash Wednesday. Like seriously, seriously crazy.

What to drink: Cachaca, a raw sugar brandy. It's not well known in the U.S., but it's popular in Brazil and, you know, delicious.

What to watch for: The samba schools, groups of musicians who play the traditional Afro-Brazilian dance in the region, a complex, percussion-heavy groove. They play throughout carnival and if you don't find yourself dancing to the rhythm of the samba when it's played by real samba players, life is wasted on you. I mean that nicely.

Survival GuideWhether you are hitting up Mardi Gras, heading down to Carnival or wearing beads and hitting the bars with your friends, Mardi Gras is meant to be a night that you will repent. Here are a couple of tips to help you survive the experience.

1. HYDRATE. HYDRATE OFTEN.

Hydrate more often than you think is necessary. If you've had seven shots of tequila, make sure you've had enough water to allow you to finish your margarita without hurling in the bar bathroom.

2. THIS IS NOT A PARTY FOR AMATEURS.Make sure you have a solid, alcohol absorbing meal a few hours before heading out. Mardi Gras partying is a marathon, not a sprint. Plan accordingly.

3. DO NOT GET A TATTOO.

Do NOT get anything pierced. Tell your companions, while sober, that you do NOT intend to do this and should be stopped if the impulse arises. Unless you want a funny story to tell about how "Jimmy the sailor" - above a cartoon duck - ended up being a permanent part of your life, and skin. Then, by all means...

4. ONLY WANDER OFF WITH STRANGERS IF THEY SEEM REALLY NICE, OR OFFER YOU SHINY BEADS.

Otherwise, stick with the people you know. Only they will bother to bail you out if you have too much of a very good time. Or, at least call your mom to tell her what jail you're in.

5. I WAS KIDDING BEFORE ABOUT DOING UNSPEAKABLE THINGS FOR MARDI GRAS BEADS.

In fact, it's a little known fact, but you don't have to flash anyone or show any body parts that are normally covered to get yourself some Mardi Gras bling. You do, and should, need to dance around and be that person jumping the highest and shouting the loudest. Skin ain't necessary, but enthusiasm is.

6. HAVE FUN.

Not just "fun" but FUN. You'll feel this in the morning, so laugh loudest, dance rowdiest and make it worthwhile.

Repent Ye SinnersOnce it's all over, and you're lying in bed, hopefully, it'll be time to repent. If you woke up on the street, or in a pile of garbage, then just head right to the church (or the nearest greasy food joint). It's Ash Wednesday and that's what the day is all about. A bit of advice on the repenting process.

1. TAKE YOUR IBUPROFEN BEFORE YOU HEAD TO CHURCH. Trust me, this will help.

2. IF YOU CAN'T REMEMBER WHAT YOU'VE ACTUALLY BEEN UP TO, GO AHEAD AND ASSUME IT WAS NO GOOD AND IS WORTHY OF REPENTANCE.

3. GO ON AND PICK WHAT YOU'RE GIVING UP FOR LENT, RIGHT THEN AND THERE. You might consider alcohol. You may have been thinking about caffeine, sugar, chocolate or fried foods but tread carefully - these are all things you'll need in those crucial post-Mardi Gras recovery hours.

4. START GOING OVER THE NIGHT WITH A FINE TOOTH COMB. It may have been embarrassing when your friend threw up on that police officer's shoes, but now it's comic gold.

5. IF YOU'VE NEVER DONE IT BEFORE, ASH WEDNESDAY IS AN EXPERIENCE. With ashes. For those new to the field, be prepared to get a little dirty, i.e.. ashy, because they put ash on your forehead in the sign of a cross. I know it may seem a little gross, but considering what you've been up to, you've got no room to complain. Most people leave the ash on their forehead until it rubs off over time. Do it. It'll be good for you.

6. REALLY DO IT. I'M NOT SO SURE ABOUT THE FASTING, AND I'M EVEN LESS INCLINED TO GIVE THINGS UP SINCE THE TIME I TRIED GIVING UP COFFEE. That lasted 30 minutes and cost me a date. We all make mistakes, and I'm church-type things would assure us that everybody transgresses, so think about that stuff. If you're religious, you know what to do. If not, go get some doughnuts?

WHAT IS MARDIS GRAS?Mardi Gras goes by a lot of names (aka Fat Tuesday, aka Carnival, aka Mardi friends-got-really-drunk-and-weren't-sorry-at-all).

It's known as a crazy party, and, go figure, that's how it got its start.

As far as anyone can tell, Mardi Gras started out as Lupercalia, a Roman festival celebrating fertility and agriculture. It was a pretty good time and a nice way to liven up the mid-winter blues. I mean, they didn't even have Christmas to break the monotony. (Because they were pagans, get it?)

The church came along, and, as with so many other holidays (Christmas, Easter, Halloween), they adopted the holiday for themselves, turning it into one final fling for Christians before hitching up for the long haul of good behavior leading up to Easter.

In England, people had pancake breakfasts, and some people gorged themselves on meat and the other stuff they weren't going to have, but the holiday really got interesting when the French got ahold of it.

Like it or not, the French may not be able to win a war, but they know how to throw a party. They didn't just throw this one. They even named it since Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday.

It was a pretty crazy party, and the French brought it to America in 1699 when French explorer Sieur d'Iberville landed in Louisiana and brought the party with him.

The tradition took firm root in good old New Orleans, and they've been celebrating it with parades with krewes - the masked people who march in the parades - and parties, food and good times to be had for all since the 1820s. When jazz showed up, the party really got going.

If you're allergic to fun, don't celebrate Mardi Gras.

Mardi Gras is the one time of the year, excepting all of those others, when it's OK to be bad. Advisable even, since it's Fat Tuesday, aka Carnival, aka time-for-a-really-big-party. Mardi Gras is traditionally a wild last bit of gluttonous, wild and crazy fun before Ash Wednesday rounds the corner, causing all who believe in it to start being well behaved for the 40 days of Lent leading up to Easter.

Giving things up isn't easy. In fact, the one year I gave up caffeine (I was all of 12), I wanted nothing more than coffee, in IV form if necessary, because it was the one thing I couldn't have.

But Mardi Gras is the last hurrah before that, and if you're smart, you'll head on out and throw yourself into the whirl of beads, feathered masks and people embracing their wild side before they put it away for 40 days. Mardi Gras is not a party for the faint of heart, so go in prepared with these tips on surviving a festival so fun you can celebrate it whether you repent or not.

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