NEW ORLEANS (AP) — The merriment of Mardi Gras has ended and the solemn season of Lent has begun Wednesday.
New Orleans police swept through Bourbon Street at midnight in the city's annual ritual of letting Carnival revelers know the party is over — until next year. Jim Baker, of New Orleans, said he usually dresses in costume for the Mardi Gras holiday, but the weather deterred him this year.
Baker said he chose to celebrate a little differently — sipping cocktails under the cover of a friend's French Quarter patio balcony while watching other costumed revelers brave the cold and rain. Temperatures for most of the day in the New Orleans area were in the lower 40s and by early evening were at about 38 degrees. The wind chill made it feel even colder.
But there's one tradition Baker said he won't be straying from — rain or shine — and that's attending Mass and receiving ashes the day after Mardi Gras on Ash Wednesday. "That's when I begin thinking about Easter," said Baker, who is Catholic. "It's about celebration and sacrifice before Easter, to show that you're appreciative of being here."
Baker said he planned to attend Mass at St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square. He also planned to make a sacrifice for Lent, which is the six weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter, the day Christians believe Jesus rose from the dead after his crucifixion.
"I'm giving up desserts," he said. "I love desserts, but I'm diabetic. So it's a sacrifice, but it will be good for me." Giving up the excessive behavior was far from most people's minds as folks endured the wet and cold to celebrate Fat Tuesday.
"We'll drink, drink, drink until it gets drier," said Dean Cook of New Orleans as he walked Bourbon Street dressed as a pirate with vampire fangs. "Mermaids love the water," he said of his wife, Terrina Cook, who was dressed in a shiny blue mermaid costume, complete with a fin.
Ronnie Davis, a professor of economics at the University of New Orleans, decided to break his button-down image for at least one day. Clad in tutus, he and his wife, Arthurine, stood along the avenue watching the Krewe of Zulu's floats roll by.
"All year I have to dress professionally. This is the one time I get to act like a fool," Davis said. But the Mardi Gras revelry wasn't free of violence. Just before midnight, two people were found shot to death in a parking lot near the Port of New Orleans, police said. In a statement, police said both victims — ages 25 and 28 — were shot multiple times and pronounced dead at the scene.
In an earlier shooting nearby that police said was unrelated, a 25-year-old man was shot and wounded while attending a concert at a banquet hall around 10 p.m. Police said he was brought to the hospital and listed in stable condition.
As a cold rain fell Tuesday afternoon, crowds along the stately, oak-lined St. Charles Avenue thinned and French Quarter bars filled with patrons looking for a dry spot to escape while letting the good times roll.
"It's awful cold," said Rick Emerson, a Tampa, Fla., native who was watching costumed revelers pass by from an open doorway of a Bourbon Street daiquiri shop. Instead of alcohol, Emerson was sipping hot coffee to help stay warm.
Instead of costumes, Emerson and his wife, Cheri, were dressed in layers of clothes, hats and scarves. "We're bundled up. We're not used to this sort of thing." Rick Emerson said it was 80 degrees in Tampa, Fla., when he left last week, but he was determined to make the most of Mardi Gras.
"We're freezing, but we wanted to see some costumes, so we took a chance and came down," he said. The Emersons were among those making the most of the big celebration before the Lenten season begins for the faithful.
New Orleans native Leila Haydel said she was determined to make it a happy Mardi Gras no matter what. "I have about seven layers of clothes under my tutu," she said, twirling on Bourbon Street in a purple, green and gold tutu and hoisting an umbrella. "It's once a year. You have to come and enjoy. You have to."
Associated Press writer Chevel Johnson contributed to this report.