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PERSONAL JOURNEYS

A Memorable Place

Mardi Gras in small-town Louisiana

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By Steve Luckman

SPECIAL TO THE SUN

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On a Sunday morning several weeks before Mardi Gras, we left New Orleans heading east toward the small town of Slidell. Checking the schedule of area Mardi Gras parades, we noted that there was to be a parade in Slidell of the Krewe of Perseus at 1 p.m. but could find no further details.

The night before, we watched the Krewe de Vieux Parade, a typical Mardi Gras parade in the way most outsiders think of Mardi Gras. Somewhat raunchy in theme and aided by alcohol consumption on the part of the marchers and observers, it was a noisy, raucous affair winding its way through the French Quarter of New Orleans.

Leaving town the next day, we drove on U.S. 11, a nondescript highway bordered by strip malls and used-car lots that eventually becomes the main street of Slidell.

On this Sunday, however, for three miles outside town, both sides of the road were lined with what appeared to be the world's longest tailgate party, consisting of pickup trucks and SUVs, their tailgates facing the highway, filled with picnic gear.

Since Cajun country is not far away, besides the usual hot dogs, hamburgers and chicken being grilled, the air was filled with the smell of shrimp and crawfish steaming in boilers. Along the curbs were lawn chairs and thousands of eager children, most holding empty sacks, awaiting the start of the parade.

We parked near the start of the parade route and confirmed that we weren't in Baltimore when we saw the Creole Bakery, featuring green, purple and gold Mardi Gras bagels.

The parade started promptly at 1 o'clock. For almost two hours, we were treated to a scene of old-fashioned, small-town America -- Louisiana style. It seemed every high school band, children's dance group, beauty contest winner, equestrian unit and dog obedience school within a 40-mile radius marched, all in Mardi Gras outfits, even the horses and dogs.

Interspersed among these groups were dozens of homemade floats, each dedicated to a different aspect of the 2004 parade theme, which was "A Little Romance."

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Floats included "A Candlelight Dinner," "A Bottle of Champagne" and "Be My Valentine." Each float contained a dozen or more costumed riders, all tossing beads, cups, coins or candy by the handful. Before the parade was half over, most of the sacks the children had brought were overflowing with goodies.

(I admit, with some guilt, to using my height advantage to catch my share of the bounty being thrown at the little kids).

As the parade ended, we left Slidell, feeling privileged to have experienced Mardi Gras away from New Orleans, and to appreciate what life can still be like on a Sunday afternoon in small-town America.

Steve Luckman lives in Baltimore.

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Let Us Hear From You

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* My Best Shot -- Send us a terrific travel photo with a description of when and where you took it. (Cash value: $50.)

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* Readers Recommend -- Briefly tell us about places you've recently visited that you'd recommend to other readers. (50 words or less; photos are welcome.)

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