More photos on Flickr – my Carnival album.

Last time I saw my Clarion West 2012 buddies was the summer of 2013, so this Feb, I flew down to New Orleans for a mini meet up. My knowledge of New Orleans mostly comes from Bryan himself, (including the amazing pronunciation of the word ‘eggs’), and his writing, so it was good to see the crescent city — the Big Easy – itself. The fact that it was also Mardi Gras at the same time – gosh, coincidence!

There were six of us, including myself. Bryan, Huw and James, and Brenta, and Carlie. Bryan’s very patient wife, Beth Anne, also helped show us around the city.

My knowledge of Mardi Gras was almost zero – it happens in New Orleans, and it involves floats and parades. Too much alcohol is drunk, and lots of silly tourists strip off. Luckily, since we were hanging around with old experts, we didn’t need to strip for beads, and we were told that Carnival is a marathon, not a sprint. Don’t get drunk by 11am, because it’s just starting. It’s a long day, we were there for 7am and didn’t leave until just before midnight.

The parades are fun to watch, but they also are fun to participate in. One of the unique aspects of Mardi Gras are the throws. Traditional throws are beads, cups and aluminium doubloons – but many krewes have their own unique throws. Sure, in the crowded French Quarter, people compete for items, but we were in a less touristy, more family orientated spot. You were literally smacked in the face with items just for waving.

Allegedly, even reserved, British people can get into the competitive, and addicting, nature of collecting the throws. Many bags were stuffed with beads, cups, medallions, soft toys, and other unique items. Even those of us with short T-Rex arms have been known to catch one or two good items.
George R.R. Martin rolled annually with the super krewe Endymion for about a decade.

“It’s like being a god for a short period of time,” said Martin, age 62. “The best thing to me was not to just throw blindly, not to just heave the stuff off the float. You look and you make eye contact with one specific person in the crowd. ‘OK, I’m going to throw something at you.’ Then you throw a stuffed animal and they catch it and there’s a look of gratitude. You feel like you just descended from the heavens and blessed someone.

“And you knew perfectly well that the next day, people are saying, ‘Why do I have all these cheap plastic beads?’ The stuff really has no value, but in the context of Mardi Gras, it’s like everything. I had a great time in Endymion.”

One of the days we didn’t go to the parades, we went to the French Quarter and along Bourbon Street. There was everything, amazing mask shops, beignets and hot chocolate, bars, restaurants and many, many people. Bourbon street at night was fun, crowded but not overly so, lots of amazing smells of food, alcohol, and music. Some very friendly people who tried to convince me I should drink with them, and when I demurred, instead slapped a Mardi Gras sticker on my arse.

When the Carnival side had calmed a little, and we were tired, hung over, and some of us sick, the rest of the trip was a little calmer. Hanging together, talking writing, watching films. I got some good ideas to add into my Goddess Detective sequel, and I got to read some of the other guys work.

Many thanks have to go the Byran & Beth Anne for their gracious hosting of so many of us for so long. They were truly generous with their home and time. Beth Anne cooked so many new dishes (which Carlie covers in detail here), the big difference being I adored all of them.