Thursday, November 24, 2005

New Orleans' Mardi Gras parades to roll on

NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - New Orleans' colorful Mardi Gras parades will roll again next year, despite the hole that Hurricane Katrina punched in the city budget.

But there will be fewer floats and a shorter marching season because the city can't afford police overtime, officials said on Wednesday.

After days of talks, officials compromised and promised eight days of parades in the run-up to Fat Tuesday, which is the last day before Lent and which falls on February 28 next year.
"We owe it to our ancestors and our children to keep this celebration going. We just can't stop. This is so important for us," said a delighted Arthur Hardy, publisher of the Mardi Gras Guide and a Carnival historian.

"All indicators were that the city just wouldn't be able to pull this off, even as recently as 24 hours ago. Somehow, they managed to pull a rabbit out of the hat."

Shorter than the usual 12 days, next year's Mardi Gras will reflect the decimation of New Orleans' tax base by the exodus that followed the hurricane and the city could not afford overtime for police along the parade routes.

"It is a critical factor for us that we have no additional money," police chief Warren Riley told a news conference.

Some of the krewes, as the Carnival organizations are known, had threatened to move their parades to suburban Jefferson Parish if the city curtailed the parades.
Some "superkrewes," with names like Bacchus and Endymion, traditionally parade with dozens of huge floats and marching bands on the weekend before Fat Tuesday, and it takes them several hours to complete their routes.

Fans stake out prime territory before the popular parades with ladders and coolers. Many spend the night along the route to guarantee a prime spot to catch beads and other favors tossed out by the masked and costumed riders.

Next year will be the 150th anniversary of the first Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans. Parade seasons have been canceled 13 times, most recently during a 1979 police strike.

A controversial part of today's agreement would allow corporate sponsorship of the Carnival, something that Mardi Gras purists have kept at bay for years.

The city's arts and entertainment director, Ernest Collins, said corporate sponsorship was necessary to raise the $1.5 million in additional funds the city needs to host next year's parades next year, but it would be done in good taste.

"We don't want to see overt commercialization of Mardi Gras," he said.


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