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CNN Today

Mardi Gras on the Bayou: Barbecues and Parades Draw Small-Town Louisiana

Aired March 7, 2000 - 1:25 p.m. ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.

NATALIE ALLEN, CNN ANCHOR: The weather is pretty much always just right for a party in New Orleans, and today is Fat Tuesday, the culmination of Mardi Gras.

DONNA KELLEY, CNN ANCHOR: And then tomorrow, Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season.

CNN's Keith Oppenheim has the tough job of covering carnival.

Hi, Keith.

KEITH OPPENHEIM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Natalie, Donna.

Well, somehow I'm managing with this job. To say things are getting interesting here on Bourbon Street would be an understatement.

Let's take you to a live camera view of Bourbon Street, and as you can see the crowds are pretty healthy at this point, but by tonight, believe me, it will be completely packed out on the street.

A lot of folks in New Orleans like to point out that what takes place here on Bourbon Street, the lewd side of Mardi Gras, is just one aspect. In the nearly-two-month-long celebration of Mardi Gras here in New Orleans, there are countless parties and there are more than five dozen parades. In fact, a lot of the celebrating takes place outside of New Orleans.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

(voice-over): A huge crowd clamoring for beads as glittery floats wheel by is one image of Mardi Gras. But outside New Orleans, down by Bayou Gauche in a small town called Des Allemands, Mardi Gras begins more like a family picnic.

P.J. ROGERS: Well, you'll see most people eating on the side of the road. They'll bring their own food and they'll cook it on the side of the road, just like we're having a big barbecue here in my house.

OPPENHEIM: Barbecue in Des Allemands is Cajun, along with grilled sausage, chicken and pork chops, there's nothing surprising about seeing a hog roasting on a spit or plenty of tomato gravies with ingredients like turtle and alligator. UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This one's alligator.

OPPENHEIM: Beyond the Cajun cuisine, a few folks take pleasure in decorating their houses.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I like all kind of wild color.

OPPENHEIM: But what brings out the town is the parade. Each float is made by a few families who pool their cash. The king and queen, Murphy and Middy Cortez (ph), may not be celebrities, but everyone in town knows them. For these Louisianians, this small parade has great meaning before Lent arrives and the celebrating stops.

BECKY DUFRENE, PARADE ORGANIZER: It's like the last day of fun before you commit yourself to God and the things you want to give up, and after Easter people go back to having a good time and letting the good times roll.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

OPPENHEIM: Back live now on Bourbon Street. And I should point out there's a lot of trash out there. And interestingly enough, garbage is the way folks in New Orleans measure the success of any event. In fact, a good parade will put out something like 2,000 tons of garbage. They clean it all up, but I should add that this year garbage collection has already exceeded all of that of last year, which is one reason they're expecting record crowds down here.

Well, happy Mardi Gras. Back to you, Donna and Natalie.

KELLEY: Same to you, Keith.

ALLEN: I think that's the first garbage gauge I've ever heard here on CNN.

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