Monday, February 4, 2008

So many sousaphones!

I think there must be more sousaphones per capita in New Orleans than anywhere else in the world. Last year, watching the Mardi Gras parades, I asked what the beat was that kept the rhythm of the marching bands. That's the New Oreans' beat, I was told. Well, of course! (Even in the St. Patrick's parade, Irish songs are played with the New Orleans' beat.)

Bands here don't just have one sousaphone, they have several, so the effect is heart-stopping. The same can be said of cymbals. Not just one pair of cymbals will do. Sometimes there's a few to create a veritable thunderclap.

I've been trying to figure Mardi Gras out. When you are standing on the curb, shouting for beads, aren't you really like a peasant hollering for royalty to throw you some crumbs? So why isn't that humiliating and what makes it so much fun?

Many forms of entertainment claim to be fun for all ages, but in this case, it really is true. Tonight, I saw a 90-year-old woman going after beads and a baby just a couple of months old waving its little hands. It is difficult to say who is having the better time - those on the floats or those on the street, though it must be a thrill having all those eyes riveted on you.

Bead catching really is an equal opportunity sport. Little kids sitting atop ladders might have some advantage, or perhaps beautiful young women, but everyone can and will catch some beads, providing they stand within throwing distance.

But it really doesn't matter if you do or if you don't, because most of the throws have little value. There's no fist fight if two people grab the same string of beads - one person just offers it to the other. But even if you have a huge cache at home from last year, you'll still want more, guaranteed. And if you spot an unusual bead, stuffed animal, sword or coconut, WOW, now you've got to have one of those too. (You begin to sense how the Indians traded Manhattan.) The excitement is inexplicable but infectious. Pretty soon, you're screaming your lungs out and waving your arms, trying to attract attention.

Then after dozens of marching bands, twirlers, flag and flambeau carriers, horses and floats have passed, the fire trucks pull up the rear and the parade is over for the night.

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