Eugene Walter, the fine chronicler of life in Mobile, Alabama, once wrote, “If as a child you had seen, every Mardi Gras, the silhouette of Folly chasing Death around a broken spine, hitting his back. him with the scepter of the Deceiver…will you also see the world in different ways? “
olly chases Death. I can’t think of a better way to describe much of what’s happened in the past two years of the pandemic.
The Order of Myths, the oldest Mardi Gras mystic on Mobile, was founded in 1867, with Folly chasing Death as its symbol. Folly has always been depicted as a court jester chasing his arch-enemy, Death, around a broken pillar symbolizing the fragility of life.
And after about 60 parades over the course of several weeks in celebration of Mardi Gras, this week’s OOM parade (if you want to sound like a local, pronounce it “double-oh-em”), as usual, the final parade, which falls on Fat Tuesday. It is the last joy before the season of Penance begins.
For more than 150 years, the festive season has ended with Folly defeating Death by beating him with gilded pig bullets. Strictly speaking, The Fool’s “scepter” is a broom from which two inflated and painted rose tablets hang.
The scepter was still on shelves last year, when Covid-19 canceled Mobile’s Mardi Gras season. But last year it was explosive – having fun in the streets even as death lurked in the world. That Tuesday fell on February 25, when the coronavirus was still called “novel,” when the World Health Organization had not yet declared its spread a pandemic.
My husband and I traveled from our home in Birmingham to Mobile County, where I was born and raised, to visit my parents and of course, participate in the Mardi Gras parades. The weather is sunny to nearly 21 degrees Celsius, although it is still winter.
Little did we know that within a few weeks, what we considered unthinkable: Starting the day in a crowded downtown restaurant with Bloody Marys with skewers of boiled shrimp, olives, okra pickled and green beans. Stroll with other Mardi Gras frolicking among the live oaks of Bienville Square. Trying to find a spot in my favorite vantage point, the corner of St Francis and St Joseph, when the crowds gather.
Not long after, we heard the narration whistle warning the crowd that the parade was approaching. Marching bands and floats passed us, krewe members tossing MoonPies, necklaces, Mardi Gras bracelets and other items to outstretched hands. My husband caught a green, 4-foot-long stuffed trident for me.
I named him Folly, and he still sits on the couch in our bedroom as a reminder of all the fun we had before the world closed.
“Fast” is defined as an expensive or stupid job. In a million years, I never dreamed that venturing to a bookstore or grocery store would turn out to be an act of madness.
Or that visiting with a friend from two meters away, our smiles hidden by flowery masks that we coordinate with our costumes, becomes a reckless stunt. Or finding toilet paper and Lysol wipes becomes an adventure sport.
Forget about dancing around in a crowd of thousands trying to catch some plastic beads and a steaming marshmallow cookie.
For the past two years, I’ve felt like Folly, only Death is after me. And it wasn’t a man in a silly skeleton costume with a skull mask. It was the woman who got too close to me in the line at Piggly Wiggly. And hikers refuse to yield an inch on the trail. And the people who gather in restaurants and bars, then go out into the world recklessly spreading their mucus and drops. And those who refuse to believe that there is still a pandemic and will not vaccinate or wear a mask, not even a person with a skeleton grin.
Over the past two years, we have had to give up a lot of things that we once took for granted.
Because this Fat Tuesday, one day of the year, is the day Death can never win, so laissez les bons temps rouler. It’s French Cajun which means “let the good times pass”. (© The Washington Post)
Audrey McDonald Atkins is the author of ‘They Called Me Orange Juice: Stories and Essays’
https://www.independent.ie/opinion/comment/for-this-years-mardi-gras-death-can-take-a-hike-41400814.html For this year’s Mardi Gras, Death can go hiking