“Mardi Gras: Beads, Belles, and Balls”–Carnival after Katrina

Beach, Jack. “Mardi Gras: Beads, Belles, and Balls”, Author House, 2007.

Carnival After Katrina

Amos Lassen

I was so glad to get Jack Beach’s “Mardi Gras: Beads, Belles and Balls” especially since it came this week—right on time for me to read about Mardi Gras. I don’t miss a while lot about New Orleans, but I did love Mardi Gras. I had forgotten all about it when I lived in Israel but when I came back, I got right back into the swing of things and then came Katrina and everything changed.

Now I have this great little book to remember it by. As “The Glass Menagerie” is a memory play, this book is a memory book, a remembrance of all the fun associated with Mardi Gras. And the beauty of it is that it does not fit into one little style of writing. It contains both prose and poetry and literary snapshots. The classes mix with wild abandon and the lowlife cavorts with the aristocracy—just like Mardi Gras and new Orleans themselves. Fantasy is everywhere and we take a trip though the gay decadent queen city—from the bars to the hangovers, from the parades to the costume balls, We can feel the crowd packed streets through Beach’s writing and we can catch the beads.

Beach divides the books into sections—before the  big day (and this he further subdivides into days of the week), Mardi Gras day itself (also subdivided into time periods, i.e. “morning”, “high noon”, “night” and “midnight” (when it is officially over), and finally Ash Wednesday and ultimately ending up with an advisory.

Everything is here—the wildness, the pomp, the ceremony and the book shows us those little things that make us come back year after year after year. I can remember friends that I would see once a year, only at Mardi Gras and after I had been absent for a good many years coming back and seeing they still were coming every year.

Mardi Gras is one of those things that are so hard to explain. It is an experience of the senses that must be seen and felt. Yet Beach has managed to convey the very essence of the celebration and as you read his work, you feel the spirit of the holiday. Katrina may have ruined the city physically but it did not break the spirit of the people, of the New Orleanians. Mardi Gras is more than a holiday to them—it is a way of life and even with the mess of a place they live in, they are not likely not to celebrate one of the things that makes New Orleans the city that it is. Since we can’t all be there, let’s do the next best thing and read Beach’s book. I have to admit there were tears in my eyes several times while I read but then I know “what it means to miss New Orleans”.

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