From the French Quarter to Napoleon Avenue, New Orleans celebrated a joyous Mardi Gras

The Times-Picayune By The Times-Picayune
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on February 21, 2012 at 8:03 PM, updated February 22, 2012 at 8:17 AM

After downpours gave hell to the parade schedule leading up to Mardi Gras, warm temperatures and sunshine graced hundreds of thousands across the metro New Orleans area who reveled in the streets on Fat Tuesday.

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People masking as Indians in the 7th Ward or participating in the Bourbon Street Awards, a popular French Quarter drag and costume contest, bid farewell to the 2012 Carnival season by wearing suits and outfits that required months to craft. Friends and families mobbed St. Charles Avenue in search of coveted throws such as the Zulu coconut or Rex medallion.

“It’s wonderful,” said Theresa Campos, who enjoyed Mardi Gras between two grandstands by Gallier Hall. “The weather is good, the people are good, I am not complaining a whole lot.”

For the most part, officials lauded the good behavior of the multitudes. There was, however, a 1 p.m. report of gunfire near the intersection of St. Charles and Erato Street along the Uptown route in New Orleans, where two youths were wounded in a shooting during a Thursday night parade. Police said they found no evidence of anyone being hit by a bullet Tuesday, but as the crowd scattered, a woman apparently suffered a burn on a barbecue pit, according to authorities.

“Things have been going incredibly well,” New Orleans Superintendent Ronal Serpas reported in the late afternoon while on a break from patrolling the French Quarter on horseback.

Weather-wise, that wasn’t the case 72 hours prior to Mardi Gras. Dismal conditions on Saturday forced krewes to , variously, delay their starts, forsake their routes, or postpone to Sunday or Monday.

Tuesday’s parades had no such issues.

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At Zulu, blaring horns and staccato drums from assorted bands marching in the parade provided the crowds’ soundtrack. Ahead of Rex was the Marine Corps Band New Orleans, which completed its last march of the 2012 Carnival season with a nod to its own, the Marines’ Hymn.

The Algiers-based group estimated that it marched 150 miles in parades and another 200 in training, but band officer CWO2 Bryan Sherlock proudly noted that he and his fellow Marines “played strong all the way to the end.”

Across the metro area, huge crowds basked in the sun to send off the Carnival season. From Veterans Memorial Boulevard in Metairie to Boston Street in Covington, parade-goers packed the routes.

“Everything’s going great. The weather’s cooperating,” said Kriss Fortunato, a spokeswoman for Jefferson Parish government. “Everybody seems well-behaved. Everything’s rocking and rolling.”

Kriss Fortunato said early crowd estimates were around 800,000 people on the Metairie route.

Cynthia Webb, an old hat at Carnival in New Orleans, described her second visit to Covington’s parades as “Mardi Gras in Mayberry” — a short, safe affair where firemen marching in the parade give high-fives to all the kids, some of whom they know by name.

“It’s just fantastic,” she said, adjusting her pink wig and matching devil ears. “We’ve got perfect weather — it’s a perfect day.”

Meanwhile, parade goers at spots such as Napoleon Avenue soaked up an atmosphere similar to that of a state fair -- at least for anyone willing to ignore garish costumes and bouncing music.

Tents, barbecue pits and ladders marked the laid back scene, which delighted Casandra Tribbitt, a grandmother from Violet.

“I can sit right here and just let the children run,” she said.

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Elsewhere, off the parade routes, New Orleanians also honored the end of Carnival with traditions they hold dear.Eddie Vanison, a Mardi Gras Indian masking with the Hard Head Hunters tribe of New Orleans’ 7th Ward, unveiled his latest suit outside of his uncle’s house at the corner of Pauger and North Dorgenois street. Velvet and gold, the suit’s beadwork depicts Vanison fighting off humans with crab claws for hands trying to yank him down as well as an inscription warning, “Caution haters beyond this point.”

The suit symbolized the 37-year-old’s efforts to fend off negativity in the world, and it was the product of a year’s worth of sewing and countless accidental needle pricks.

“Words can’t explain what it feels like when it’s time to put your suit on,” said Vanison, who is a Mandeville Police Department detective, has portrayed a Mardi Gras Indian on various episodes of the HBO show “Treme” and carries the Indian name Gang Flag Big Easy. “For me, it’s like a woman who’s been planning for a wedding for a year.”

Over in the French Quarter, John Cucinello donned a gold dress, towering, matching purple-trimmed plumage, a red wig and similarly-colored, oversized chili peppers. He could not walk more than a few steps without someone stopping him to snap a picture of his lavish outfit that paid homage to Tabasco hot sauce.

“I just like to come out here and let the crowd scream,” explained Cucinello, who competed in the Bourbon Street Awards. “When you get on that stage, as far as you can see, it’s just people,” Cucinello recounted, smiling. “It’s great. It gets your adrenaline going.”


This story is based on reporting by Ramon Antonio Vargas, Allen Powell, Paul Purpura, Claire Galofaro, Danny Monteverde and Mary Sparacello. It was written by Vargas.