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Masquerades made forgettable with Bayou-sized servings of bourbon and mixed drinks. Strings of purple, green and gold beads won on Bourbon Street after having too many of those drinks. A few weeks of all types of related debauchery throughout the French Quarter.
Those are some of the better-known aspects of Mardi Gras in New Orleans – and they certainly play into the Big Easy’s famously infamous reputation.
“But there’s a lot more to Mardi Gras than ... getting drunk and passing out,” said Jim Brenner of Raleigh, who will serve as one of the krewe kings this weekend. “There’s a throwback to a more cultured time, when societal gatherings were enriching, and there was a deep appreciation of what has gone before.”
Brenner admits he had a good time at the celebration when he was a student years ago at Broughton High School and during the more than four years he spent at N.C. State University before graduating in 1972. But this time around, he is more excited by the centuries-old traditions.
Brenner returned to his family’s North Hills neighborhood with his wife, Nancy, when he retired in 2000 after a career working for the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation all over the country. Since then, he has dedicated much of his time to learning about history and culture. He’s involved with several historical groups, including the Raleigh Civil War Roundtable and the local chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution.
During a trip to Mardi Gras in 2001, Brenner connected with the Krewe of Mid-City through a former colleague. Krewes are social organizations that organize elaborate formal balls and parades during Mardi Gras. Dozens of krewes will hold events this year, many with kings and queens of their own. Mid-City, which is the fifth-oldest krewe, chose Brenner as its 80th king for his involvement in the group over the past decade.
During his daylong reign, Brenner will be the guest of honor at a formal ball and will lead a parade through historic downtown the Sunday before Fat Tuesday.
“Life remains busy and active and sometimes interesting,” Brenner said. “This will be all of those.”
Debutantes will strut around in lavish gowns during the ball, and men will wear flashy tuxedos with coattails. Everyone will exchange old-fashioned courtesies that have been mostly lost on modern generations.
“You really don’t see those formal balls too often anymore,” he said.
The celebration in New Orleans is connected to the countless carnivals being celebrated the world over this week – millions will gather in the streets of Rio de Janeiro, Venice is bustling with mask-makers and masquerade-goers, and there is something just about everywhere else. To be sure, there are drunk partiers enjoying the celebrations everywhere. But there is also something more: the traditions of generations past taking form all around.
In New Orleans, it’s the sound of let-the-good-times-roll music, the same refrains that have enveloped Bourbon Street for decades, and the celebrations led by honorary kings and queens for even longer that excite Brenner.
“ Pour le joie de vivre – for the joy of life,” he said. “That’s the slogan for the krewe this year. It’s perfect for this moment.”