Tag Archives: parades

Mardi Gras Parades 2011: The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club

Zulu feels different from many of the other parades. They borrow a few floats from other krewes and throw beads made for parades as far back as 2009, but the sentiment here is unrivaled.

The Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club isn’t called a krewe—it was founded in 1916 before the term was popular—but it is one. Zulu is one of the oldest organizations to march. Their parade takes place at 8 a.m. on Fat Tuesday, so the highly motivated will stay up all night on Monday and go to bed after the parade ends Tuesday morning. (If you plan to do this, you should know Zulu’s notorious reputation for running late.)

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The Zulus offer arguably the most sought-after throw of Mardi Gras—the coconut. A throw is anything given away by krewe members on the floats or walking through the streets during the parade, and can range from plain sets of beads to pendants to an item exclusive to that krewe. Zulu’s coconuts are hand-painted and/or carved by individual members of the krewe, so they don’t throw them to just anyone.

In the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960’s, Zulu ran into controversy with its costumes—grass skirts and blackface don’t exactly promote racial equality. You’ll still see the marching Zulus wearing this in recent parades, and in fact they are known for the intricacy and detail used to construct their outfits.

Tara for TKGO

Mardi Gras Parades 101: Setting up camp

There are worse things than getting caught in a group of tourists in New Orleans during Mardi Gras. They’re usually nice people and Mardi Gras puts them in a good mood (read: they’re happy drunks).

As fun as the French Quarter can be, if you want to get a real taste of Mardi Gras, camp out on the local side of the parade routes. We spent most of our time in Uptown, where the parades run straight through neighborhoods (and some a block from my friend’s house!)

In the French Quarter, especially on Canal Street routes, you can expect a reasonable amount of order and police department management:

Mardi Gras 2011 in the French Quarter

But in Uptown, police puff on cigars and joke with the neighbors. Kids romp in the streets between parades. Whole families set up shop hours in advance on either side of the road and on the neutral grounds, or the grassy area that runs down the center of the larger roads.

Mardi Gras 2011 in Uptown, New Orleans

You’ll see barbecues on the sidewalks and whole picnic table pot luck spreads next to cases and kegs of beer.

Mardi Gras 2011 parades in Uptown, New Orleans

How to tell a local from a poser (like me)? Many of them bring hand painted ladders with boxes on top where the youngest kids sit to watch the parade. To transport the contraption, there are two wheels attached to the box.

Kids are happy because they can catch more swag, and dads are happy because they don’t have kids sitting on their shoulders while they down a cold one. Win-win all the way.

Mardi Gras 2011 parades in Uptown, New Orleans

What do you bring to these fantastic parades in Uptown? And who’s riding the floats, you ask? More on the way…

Tara for TKGO