Costumes, beads give way to ashes in New Orleans

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NEW ORLEANS (AP) - Officers on horseback cleared Bourbon Street early Wednesday, declaring an end to Carnival 2012 in New Orleans as Mardi Gras revelers began to prepare for the beginning of Lent, the period of fasting and repentance before Easter.

Streams of people poured into the French Quarter as the sun began to set Tuesday to continue the party that began earlier along the city’s traditional Garden District family-friendly parade route which follows stately St. Charles Avenue.

Bathed in springlike warmth and showered with trinkets, beads and music, New Orleans reveled in the excesses of Fat Tuesday. The drinking was in full swing shortly after dawn, and with it came outrageous costumes and flesh-flashing that drew thousands to the Quarter.

New Orleans police said late Tuesday they were investigating a stabbing on Esplanade Avenue but had few details. In a second incident, two people were shot in the leg and two suspects were taken in custody, police said.

Tom White, 46, clad in a pink tutu, bicycled with his wife, Allison, to the French Quarter. “I’m the pink fairy this year,” he said. “Costuming is the real fun of Mardi Gras. I’m not too creative but when you weigh 200 pounds and put on a tutu people still take your picture.”

His wife was not in costume. “He’s disgraced the family enough,” she said.

Brittany Davies struggled with her friends through the morning, feeling the effects of heavy drinking from the night before.

“They’re torturing me,” the Denver woman joked. “But I’ll be OK after a bloody mary.”

Indeed, the theme of the day was party hard and often.

Wearing a bright orange wig, a purple mask and green shoes, New Orleans resident Charlotte Hamrick walked along Canal Street to meet friends.

“I’ll be in the French Quarter all day,” Hamrick said. “I don’t even go to the parades. I love to take pictures of all the costumes and just be with my friends. It’s so fun.”

Across the globe, people dressed up in elaborate costumes and partied the day away. In Rio de Janeiro, an estimated 850,000 tourists joined the city’s massive five-day blowout. Meanwhile, the Portuguese, who have suffered deeply in Europe’s debt crisis, defied a government appeal to keep working.

In the Cajun country of southwest Louisiana, masked riders went from town to town, making merry along the way in the Courir du Mardi Gras. And parades were held elsewhere around Louisiana and on the Gulf coasts of Mississippi and Alabama.

The celebration arrived in Louisiana in 1682 when the explorer LaSalle and his party stopped at a place they called Bayou Mardi Gras south of New Orleans to celebrate.

The predominantly African-American Zulu krewe was the first major parade to hit New Orleans’ streets, shortly after 8 a.m. Tuesday. Most krewe members were in the traditional black-face makeup and Afro wigs Zulu riders have sported for decades. They handed out the organization’s coveted decorated coconuts and other sought-after trinkets.

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