Mardi Gras Nostalgia

king cakeMy mother sent me a King Cake!!!  Oh the joys of yummy goodness!  I think my friends have concluded that I’ve lost my mind, since I went ga ga over a ring of bread with a baby inside.  It’s so strange to be out of New Orleans sometimes.  Living there, I never perceived how other people saw the city.  There are things in New Orleans that are just understood.  There are things that the locals just know, and we think they’re common sense.  There are traditions and rules that one doesn’t really think about because we take them for granted.  Being removed from that now, I find myself explaining things I always thought everybody knew.  Like a little plastic baby being hidden inside a cake.  I guess it does sound odd to someone who didn’t grow up with it.


There are other things too.  I’ve repeatedly have to explain how I went to Mardi Gras but didn’t see boobs everywhere because Metairie parades are different from French Quarter parades.  Locals don’t usually go to the French Quarter parades, especially not on Mardi Gras Day and certainly not with children.  The tourists go to downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter.  Yes, Mardi Gras is a season in New Orleans.  There are Mardi Gras parades for close to a month before the actual day of Mardi Gras.  No I didn’t ever show anyone my breasts for beads.  Beads are cheap plastic trinkets that I’ll throw away when I get home, and once you actually go to a parade, you’ll realize how little meaning they have.  In one parade, you’ll catch enough beads to fill a backpack or two, without showing your private parts.  It’s unnecessary.  Of course there are drunk people.  It’s New Orleans.  You’ll see drunk people on any Tuesday of the year.  Getting drunk in New Orleans on Mardi Gras hardly makes you special.  Yes, you will get arrested if you pee in public.  You can be hammered drunk, but by all the gods don’t start a fight or urinate in the street.


I found myself really missing home this year around Mardi Gras.  I’d love to have taken Diana to the Metairie parades, down W. Esplanade.  Sometimes I dream about the oak trees, with the grey moss dripping off of them.  And I can feel the wind pick up, the bread in my hand, as I feed the ducks while sitting on a huge oak root.  I see the cracked and crooked sidewalks, the ageless way the city can grow and yet somehow St. Charles avenue always stays the same.  I could go on for hours describing the things I think of when I think of home.  Lately my thoughts of home come more and more frequently. And they’re accompanied by a nagging pain in my gut that tells me I’ve been away too long.  Never once in my life did I feel homesick.  I always just wanted to get away, far away. And for a while I did not really even miss it.  I missed some of the little things, but I never seriously wanted to go back. And now I do. It’s hard to have a child and not think of yourself when you were one.  I yearn to show Diana all the things I discovered as a child.


I want my children to climb the trees in City Park.  I want them to go on field trips to the Cabildo, to the St. Louis Cathedral, to the French Quarter and Jackson Square.  I want them to understand what it really means to have a history.  True, beautiful history full of joy and sadness.  I want them to know what nouveau riche means.  I want them to ride the streetcar and see the houses of the Garden District.  I want them to sing, “Well I went on down to the Audubon Zoo, and they all axed for you…”

These are things that they can have, for the most part, without living there.  The history and tradition is up to me to pass on.  I will do my best.  For now, the King Cake is just an excuse to eat cake in their eyes.


11 thoughts on “Mardi Gras Nostalgia

  1. I feel your nostalgic longing, Cari, in all of those little, location-specific details. After growing up in NYC, I’ve now lived in L.A. for fourteen years, and up until recently, just like you, I missed small things here and there without ever really experiencing homesickness. Lately, though, I’ve felt the same as you: like I’ve been away too long. The catalyst wasn’t a regional event like Mardi Gras so much as it was the winter itself: I miss the snow and the change of seasons (folks in Boston may very well be reading this askance). As writers, we should probably take a moment to appreciate the irony: We spend our youth longing to be elsewhere, then our adulthood dreaming of home.


    1. That’s certainly true. When I was young, I think I took the beauty and history of my hometown for granted. I gradually began missing different aspects of New Orleans. When I moved to San Diego, I missed the rain. I missed the old houses and trees. When I lived up north, I missed the sun and the warmth. Eventually it builds up inside of you. It took me many years to realize that New Orleans will always be special to me. Every time I visit, my soul whispers to me, “You are home.”


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