- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 29, 2008

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Elizabeth Nelson ducked out of work early recently to indulge her new passion. The 45-year-old nurse-anesthetist headed to a Carnival supply store to buy another gross or two of long strings of plastic pearls, which she will throw away soon as eagerly as she bought them.

“I know I’m going to be pretty hyped when we hit the streets and I don’t want to run out before the ride is over,” said Miss Nelson. “I’m going to be throwing tons of stuff.”

Miss Nelson, a New Orleans native, will ride in her first Carnival parade on Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), the pre-Lenten climax of Carnival season that falls this year on Feb. 5.

She is one of thousands of people who will don masks and silly costumes, mount papier-mache floats and play make-believe in the season’s prime parade time.

Despite the reduced number of parades in New Orleans since Hurricane Katrina hit, there are continuing signs that Carnival is recovering. Among them, the glitzy Krewe of Endymion will return to the Mid-City route it used for years before Katrina flooded 80 percent of the city in August 2005.

Float riders will spend, spend, spend to toss trinkets, beads and a universe of other useless stuff collectively known as throws. No one knows exactly how much they will fork out, but merchants say it is in the millions of dollars each year.

Miss Nelson will be one of hundreds of riders in the Zulu parade, a predominantly black organization that has paraded on Mardi Gras since 1901. She paid $1,500 for her spot on a float, her grass skirt costume, afro wig and makeup — everyone in the parade wears blackface — and a stash of beads and decorated coconuts to shower on parade-route crowds.

But the supply of beads Zulu provided was not enough for Miss Nelson.

“I’ve probably spent another $1,500 buying more beads,” she said. “This is an incredible experience. It’s probably in the top 10 events in my life.”

Dan Kelly, president of Beads by the Dozen, a Carnival supply shop, estimates he and his 50 employees do about $5 million in business in throws alone this time of year. “The saying is, it’s treasure on Tuesday, trash on Wednesday,” he said.