Mardi Gras revelers brush off concern over economy, war

Wednesday, March 5, 2003

NEW ORLEANS -- Thousands of revelers shook off the fear of war and the struggling economy Tuesday as they celebrated Mardi Gras with a vast and raucous street party under a bone-chilling fog rolling off the Mississippi River.

The problems with Iraq and North Korea were drowned out by the music and good cheer of Fat Tuesday. The only evidence was in costumes of duct tape and plastic, along with "Bomb Iraq" bull's eyes.

"It's cold, the world is going to hell, but how can you stay home?" asked Michael Patrick of Baton Rouge, who was decked out in Elvis Presley splendor. "It's not the best day, but it's better than the rest of the world where it's just Tuesday."

The annual festival is held before the fasting and penitence of Lent, the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It ends at midnight Tuesday.

A dozen maskers calling themselves the Krewe of Homeland Security wore plastic drapes and duct tape, with colored dots representing smallpox. They handed out Mardi Gras Alerts, declaring the security status as purple, green and gold, the traditional Carnival colors.

"We figured if Tom Ridge could keep us safe for the rest of the year, we could keep everyone safe for Mardi Gras," said Jane Gardner Aprill of New Orleans.

While the city does not officially release crowd estimates until after Mardi Gras, many longtime residents said traffic appeared to be down this year. Balcony space on Bourbon Street, usually booked months in advance, was also available right up through Monday because of cancellations.

"I think it's because of the threat of war and all the security," said Angelle Blanchard, manager of a business with an open balcony.

The temperature, which never got out of the low 60s, felt colder as the day wore on and the wind rose. That didn't stop Rob Alexander of New York and Tim Brown of Miami from wearing only diapers, gold crowns and shoes for the party.

"It's on the cold side, but we've worn this costume every year," Alexander said. "We didn't want to break a tradition."

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