All the street intersections in the French Quarter are gathering grounds. Flamingos, unicorns, angels, sailors—they toast one another, stranger or friend, spilling into and out of nearby bars.
The celebration is sustained most of the way to the Mississippi River. But just where there are some stairs down to the water’s edge, it all becomes tinged with sadness. I see a man weeping, head in his lap, shoes wet with the lapping of the river. A woman in a platinum wing and feathered headdress is consoled by a pirate. A man solemnly juggles holding two cans of beer and a photograph of an old guy in a sombrero. What’s going on here, I ask?
Why the wave of melancholy amidst the jubilation?
It's a ritual on Mardi Gras, I'm told, to come to the Mississippi’s edge to bid goodbye to those we’ve lost in the past year. To pause in the revelry to remember the dead and send a token of their presence out onto the water.
It’s a cycle, someone tells me. This day has it all: the joy of life, the gravity of death.
We imbibe both, today: the loss and the living.