National Geographic : 1953 Feb
184 Illustrious Ladies of a Bygone Era Look Down on Hostesses of the Spring Fiesta These portraits hang in the Louisiana State Museum, occupant of the 158-year-old Cabildo, one of the city's principal monuments to Spanish days. Here in the Casa Capitular (Chapter House), the Very Illustrious Cabildo, or city council, held its sessions and left its name as a heritage to the building (page 152). balls increases, and the larger krewes hold not only their private ceremonies but also great street processions, parades of glittering floats depicting scenes from legend and mythology. For a week or so before Mardi Gras and on successive afternoons, thousands line the streets to stare at the shining pageants, to shout to figures on the floats, and to catch trinkets tossed by the masked ones. Flares flicker, bands play, children shriek; there is splendor over New Orleans. At last, on Tuesday-Mardi Gras itself the city gets up early, forgets work, walks around, marches in clubs, rides trucks, masks as anything from Dorothy Dix to Franken stein's monster, and peers at the successive parades that pass for hour after hour. It is a friendly day, a good-humored day, one of surprisingly few fights or displays of temper. For Mardi Gras New Orleans checks every thing except its will to enjoy itself. Babies dressed as rabbits wave hands to the passers-by. A young man decks himself in a great-uncle's Confederate uniform; bright faced prototypes of Irene Castle waltz in the street; one man pushes another in a wheel barrow; women with gorillas' faces and gorillas with women's faces prance and weave; a dow ager shows up as a bootblack; boys pass dressed in papier-mache bottles; a girl minces by in the guise of an alligator; and hundreds more bob in and out of the procession repre senting only they know what. Gray Dawn Ends the Party Old Mardi Gras hands don masks and wan der through the day, stopping to see the Negro community's Carnival show-Zulu, King from Africa, with grass skirt to prove it. They hail the Jefferson City Buzzards on that club's "walking parade"; call to friends who, even if they happen to be somebody else, will call back; sip and eat at intervals, sitting down to gain strength and then going right on. With dark the masks come off, but the costumes can remain unchanged, and the dancing and fraternizing, singing and talking continue as long as individual constitutions hold up. At midnight Lent begins, the 40 days of sackcloth and ashes; and New Orleans re members the meaning of the words: Carne vale, farewell to the flesh. That day it begins to rest up for next Mardi Gras.