Okay, so Ash Wednesday is tomorrow (and I'll be giving up booze for Lent, so everyone brace), which makes today Mardis Gras. I personally will be celebrating this with the traditional overindulgence in food, alcohol, and general merriment that precedes the 40-day Festival of Nada that is Lent, and down in New Orleans, folks are doing the same, even if the post-Katrina celebrations don't quite match the pre-Katrina ones.
Back when I was living in Atlanta and writing about clothes, I interviewed a woman who made her living creating fantastic masks and accessories for Mardi Gras, Halloween, and all of the multitudinous holidays that require costumes and glorious excess in New Orleans. Rosemary Kimble escaped to Atlanta before Katrina hit, but her studio and much of her work were damaged by the storm. At the time, she had plans to return to New Orleans for Carnival - her livelihood, after all, depended on revelers buying her work, and Atlanta doesn't have a huge market for peacock-feather masks and fairy wings - but she wasn't sure what she'd do after that. She loved New Orleans, and it was her home, but she didn't feel safe there. She didn't trust the levees, didn't trust FEMA to do what it had promised to do, just didn't feel welcome in a town that was more open to drunk frat boys on Bourbon Street than it was to native New Orleanians trying to start over.
Rosemary has returned to New Orleans for Carnival this year, and anyone hanging around Jackson Square Friday night might have seen her marshalling her Krewe du Faye parade. But the future remains up in the air as the real New Orleans - the non-touristy areas, the areas where people live and work and try to rebuild their homes and their lives - tries to rebuild, forgotten by the people and agencies and administrations that promised to help.
On a similar note, new Pandagonian Roxanne brings us a video from a ridiculously precocious ten-year-old blogger named Kalypso who lives in the city proper and documented the first Mardi Gras after Katrina as well as her own family's struggle to rebuild.
Her father also expressed his frustrations on his own blog.
The whole point of Mardi Gras is that it's supposed to be a period of unrestrained revelry in preparation for a period of self-deprivation, but I think there's no harm in taking a few minutes out of our heavy partying schedule to remember that, seventeen months later, there are still people desperately in need of help - and to recognize that New Orleans is home to lots of people who deserve a home, and not just some city that deserves to be abandoned because fixing it is too hard.