This Carnival is different, proving in a hard way that you can’t put your foot in the same river twice.
One of the fun things folks are doing is decorating their houses more than in years past, and although my condo faces the courtyard instead of the street, I thought I would join in with some low-key decorating of the front porch rail that faces the street. I had seen many bead fences in my rambles through the neighborhoods, some that seem to have been up for years, and figured that a bead fence would be a good use for the 4 or 5 dozen sets of Mardi Gras beads I had been saving for the walking parades I have joined in past years.
New Orleans has a different culture than I was raised with when it comes to “stuff.” As far as I can tell, if anything-furniture, a bike, books from the free little libraries, an Amazon package-does not appear to be secured on the street for five or so minutes, it is considered fair game in a kind of aggressive version of finders-keepers. In addition, there are hustlers who scratch a living together by selling these items on the street, including a prominent guy who drapes beads over tourists on Bourbon Street and then demands a “tip.” As one of my wise Black neighbors said, “They aren’t bad folks, but people are people.”
I draped the fence with beads to festive effect four weeks before Mardi Gras, with the idea in mind that some would walk away with enthusiastic revelers. Well, the first five dozen sets of beads lasted two or three days before they disappeared.
I continued walking the neighborhoods, and closer observation showed that some of the more weathered beads had been zip-tied to the fences, making it obvious that these were decorations, not donations.
With this revelation, I bought four dozen more sets of beads at the height of the season(a little more pricey than I wanted, but paying the price for last minute preparations) and zip-tied them to the porch railing, figuring I would cut the zip-ties the weekend of Mardi Gras to let them go to someone who wanted them more than I wanted to store them over the summer.
I walked out the morning after to find half of them gone, zip-ties cut, and three or four broken strands of beads on the sidewalk where people had not seen the zip-ties and ripped them off the fence. After cleaning the broken beads and cut zip-ties up from the sidewalk and gutter, I cut the remaining zip-ties to avoid the mess, rearranging the few strands that were left.
All of them were gone the next day, still two weeks before Mardi Gras. People are people, after all.