Describing Mardi Gras to out-of-town friends can often break down into a defensive action. How, after all, to convince neophytes that your personal carnival experience need not involve frat boys chanting at biker chicks to flash from balconies when that scene really does repeat constantly in some parts of the Quarter?
What I've developed is an explanation of how completely Mardi Gras consumes New Orleans and the little and big ways in which it penetrates local life. I usually start with the example of my friends who have children born and raised in New Orleans, who naturally have come to expect in their few years that at Mardi Gras time the world of workaday adults and rules gives way to plastic-jeweled royalty. The same streets they take to school or the doctor's office are for a few days littered with toys and treasure tossed their way by benevolent strangers, masked by their costumes and deep in their cups.
The most recent exhibit, however, comes courtesy of our international airport and its Web site. On the homepage, among the RFPs for maintenance work and the nation's terror attack alert level, is a little advisory about traveling with your king cakes, Zulu coconuts and "rubber tipped spears." Even the work of airport security has to take Mardi Gras into consideration.