A Soaking Wet Mardi Gras Parade

We wake to threatening skies. Today is the Mardi Gras Parade.

Graham is having printer problems, so we go over to his place to try to resolve them for him (success!) and then, Eric having arrived, we head to a local café for bacon and eggs: we haven’t indulged since we left North America. By the time we finish brunch, the skies are no longer threatening – they have opened, and the rain is streaming down. We console ourselves that the Mardi Gras parade doesn’t start till 8 p.m., and so the rain will stop.

A Worthy Cause

In addition to sponsoring shopping sprees, the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation raises money for its HIV/AIDS work by selling reserved seats to the parade, which are at the very end of the parade route. We have bought these, not wanting to spend 3 hours jumping up and down to see over the heads of those parade-goers who lined the parade route starting at 8 a.m. to get good views. Grant and Bob, back from their road trip, have also bought seats, although we are sitting about 17 stands apart from each other. They arrive at our apartment about 5, sparking wine in hand, so that we can have a leisurely walk to the stands, about 2 kilometres away. Based on Pride Parades past in Toronto, we assume that if the parade starts at 8, it will be 10 by the time it gets to the stands, so after our champers, we wander at a leisurely pace, noting, with a bit of amazement, the number of people quite happily guarding their vantage point in the pouring rain.

We stop to ask a parade martial which side of the street we should be on – apparently once the barricades are closed, the only way to get to the other side is to go all the way past the end of the parade and double back. He tells us, but also tells us the parade actually starts at 7:30, and that it should reach the stands no more than 45 minutes later.

It continues to pour – we still are telling ourselves the sun will still come out before the parade starts. By the time we get to the stands, which are set in Moore Park, the evening is no longer simply wet, it is a mud-filled adventure as well. At the gates, the ticket-takers insist that each guest take a plastic poncho. These prove to be all the colours of the rainbow, and once donned render everyone into a democratic equality – there go the hours of primping and of choosing just the perfect outfit!

Despite the wet, everyone is determined to have a good time – Aussie spirits are clearly not going to be dampened by rain. I am disappointed only in that the rain means the camera will stay well hidden, and our readers will not be able to share in the visual treat of Mardi Gras.

We grab some food, and faster than expected, the parade is upon us. Every few stands there is a platform with 2 drag queens on it, who are entertaining us as we wait. It causes us to ask the question of how their faces have stayed on – surely they should have washed down the fronts of their costumes by now. The DQs will also do the colour commentary on the parade as it passes. The woman in front of us declares herself enforcer of the DQs’ request that umbrellas not be used in the stands, and we watch in Canadian horror as she proceeds to destroy a couple of umbrellas in furtherance of her quest. The rest of the spectators quickly understand the consequences of umbrella-up, and we enjoy an unobstructed view for the entire parade.

The Mardi Gras parade is led by the Dykes on Bikes – a huge contingent, their headlights shining in the colours of the rainbow flag. The bikes are just gone, our enforcer is just telling us there will be a delay before the first float arrives when, in fact, the first float arrives (Toronto should hire Sydney’s Parade Marshalls!) and we have 2 ½ hours of sheer wonderful, sometimes pure, sometime propagandist, entertainment – in which “W” is almost as big a villain as the current Aussie PM, John Howard. We watch in amazement at the costumes, some representing hundreds of hours of labour, the totality incalculable, and feel so sorry for the marchers, smiling and dancing their way through the downpour. We do miss out on another level of Mardi Gras as many of the night-lighting and other effects cannot be used because of all the water.

We wonder how the feathers on many of the costumes have avoided becoming bedraggled – we are covered in plastic and we have not avoided that fate. The rain stops literally as the marchers who spell out “THE END” walk by. The dance, at which 18,000 partiers are expected tonight, is just past the stands, and there are huge streams of people fighting through the mud in 2 directions – those going to the dance, and those leaving the stands. After much discussion, we had decided not to go to the dance – most Aussies told us that the dance shouldn’t be missed, but only because the sight of 18,000 people dancing in one room was worth seeing. Our reaction: “not at $150 each”. Bob, who suffers from a bit of agoraphobia, declares he’s had enough of the crowds, and goes searching for a taxi, no mean feat given the size of the no-car zone created for tonight – to administer himself a facial.

The street is a non-stop party as we head back towards Oxford Street. The casual Aussie attitude to alcohol in public places is very well displayed tonight – and we fully appreciate the oft-repeated advice to wear closed-toe shoes – there is a sea of broken glass. But the cleanup crews are out in full force, and by 2 a.m. things are mostly cleaned up.

About 2 a.m. the bars start kicking the patrons out – early by Aussie standards. We learn that they will reopen by 4 a.m., when the first dancers will start leaving the dance looking for places to “Recover”, and once reopened will not close until about 7 a.m. Monday morning – 27 hours away. Although many people seem content to stand and wait, we are not amongst them, and are at home sound asleep soon after.

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