I have been a very busy dancer. It's been a self-imposed busy-ness, but busy nonetheless. Mardi Gras, the most wonderful time of the year, has come and gone, but while it was happening I made it a personal goal to do and see and play as much as possible. I think, given the opportunity, you would do the same. I've written about Mahdee Grah before, because it's hard not to talk about how your life is suddenly consumed by a sudden need to catch plastic beads for the majority of your day, but today was a special year because it was the last year I will be experiencing the madness. Which is happy and sad, I think--or at least, it could be worse. Mardi Gras is a particular kind of crazy that requires an incredible amount of stamina and a great willingness to brave the elements for alcohol and beads. It's not for the faint of heart. A lot of walking is involved, and depending on what shoes you have on, that can be a tough thing. Read: all white cowgirl boots look great, but don't provide a lot of arch support. I'm certain I've done some irreversible damage to my feet. But! As the unofficial Mardi Gras motto goes...it was worth it!

You know, they say Christmas is the most wonderful time of the year, but I'm not so sure. Call me blasphemous, but I think Mardi Gras is all of the celebration, good food and strong drinks without the stress of presents. The materialism is there, sure, but for the average parade go-er, it's not anything you have to buy! All you do is receive! Carnival even covers the good tidings of the season--it's a toss-up, but I may have heard Happy Mardi Gras more than I did Merry Christmas. Riddle me that. I think, in some ways, that Mardi Gras is more communal. You celebrate with a whole city, all of your neighbors, all of your friends, not just your own, probably at least moderately dysfunctional family. Think about it. The whole shebang is there. Wreaths. Decorated trees. Sharing. The list goes on.

I guess it is missing the whole Son of God thing. That seems important. But I suppose it would depend on who you asked. Anyway. Mardi Gras. A magical time. When I think of Mardi Gras, I think I will remember it as a series of images with feelings associated with each image. This could be a compelling argument for what memory is at all, I think--sensory recall with a feeling attached. I like that. So I will remember the mass exodus of people walking down Saint Charles in the gathering darkness, that rush of warmth and happiness at being a part of something bigger than myself. I will remember walking past my favorite house on St. Charles, the one that looks like a wedding cake. I will remember how it feels to finally hit the parade route, to see in the distance the floats cruising past the top of the crowd, the way beads look flung out against the lights of the floats. I will remember the way a marching band sounds. I will remember dancing and dancing and dancing on the neutral ground, stopping only to jump for beads. I will remember how my hands look reaching up to a float, I will remember looking into a stranger's eyes behind a mask and seeing them smile because they can see that I am young and having fun. I will remember the smell of a parade--smoky and a little damp, a little bitter, but still sweet. I will remember how inexpressibly good fast food tastes in the middle of a parade day. I will remember threading through a crowd, weaving through ladders and folding chairs and so many bodies, watching for kids. I will remember screaming until I lose my voice. I will remember how the Mardi Gras tree looks full of shiny new beads, Tulane's long standing testament to the beautiful and unique place we live in. And I will remember how nothing in the world can compare to crawling into bed after a Mardi Gras night, how it is the ultimate combination of muscle tired and mental tired and happy, happy exhaustion.

I'll remember all of it and be happy for it, be grateful that I got to be a part of it in a way that no tourist ever does. It was my last Mardi Gras and that's ok. I'll maybe come back, or maybe I won't, but nothing can touch my memory of it, the way it's felt to me for the last four years. I was sad for awhile, as sometimes I have been this year because that's just the way it is when you're doing everything for the last time. I had a weird moment out on the route when the band started playing When the Saints Go Marching In--I found my voice failing me and my eyes start tearing up on the second line. Oh how I want, to be, in that number momentarily ruined me. But then I kept dancing and got over it. And anytime I really, really start feeling sorry for myself, I think I will just remember how hard it is to find a clean bathroom. And how two miles is a long way to walk in the dark at the end of a long day when you're already tired. So there's all that, too. But it's worth it!

xoxo, Lauren