- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 5, 2003

From combined dispatches
NEW ORLEANS The threat of war with Iraq and the wet weather did little to dampen the spirits of revelers gathered yesterday for Mardi Gras, the city's annual spectacle of merrymaking and decadence.
Low-flying Coast Guard helicopters over the historic St. Charles Avenue parade route were a reminder that the celebration this year was under the specter of terrorism and a looming war.
But any sense of caution fell away once the parades reached downtown and crowds spilled into the French Quarter. Celebrants appeared glad for the diversion from the nation's troubles.
"Mardi Gras is the spirit of freedom," said John Ellis, who was visiting from Binghamton, N.Y. "I think [the threat of war] has made me more want to enjoy the moment and have a good time."
A dozen maskers calling themselves the Krewe of Homeland Security wore plastic drapes and duct tape, with colored dots representing smallpox. The Krewe, a local term for carnival club, handed out Mardi Gras Alerts, designating purple, green and gold the traditional carnival colors as security-status indicators.
"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.
Clarinetist Pete Fountain kicked off the day's parades with his "Half Fast Walking Club," which stopped frequently at watering holes en route to the French Quarter. Filmmaker Spike Lee rode as honorary grand marshal for Zulu, a predominantly black Krewe.
As the paraders marched, they tossed trinkets such as beads and doubloon coins, known as throws, to people who competed to catch them.
Rex, the King of Carnival, followed with elaborate floats and regally themed throws, officially declaring a day of rest and celebration before city officials gathered in the reviewing stands.
Things took a raunchier turn in the French Quarter. Some celebrants participated in annual downtown drag-queen competitions, while others opted for feather boas and body paint, many indulging in a more recent tradition of baring flesh in exchange for beads and other throws.
Carnival celebrations were held worldwide on Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday," which is the last day before the solemn Christian season of Lent begins today on Ash Wednesday.

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