What: Mardi Gras Parade sponsored by Meo Mio's Cajun Restaurant.
When: 11:30 a.m. lineup, noon step-off.
Where: Begins in Coolidge Park, to Market Street Bridge, then crosses Walnut Street Bridge back to park.
Admission: Free. The public is invited to decorate wagons and bikes and join in.
What: Decade of Decadence Mardi Gras Masquerade, sponsored by Chattanooga Bach Choir.
When: 5 p.m. warm-up party at Sheraton Read House, 7 p.m. dinner, music and auctions at The Walden Club.
Admission: $100. Reservation deadline has passed. Call 877-9767 for space availability.
Mardi Gras, French for "Fat Tuesday," signals the end of carnival, a day for one last fling before Ash Wednesday begins Lent's days of fasting.
French settlers brought Mardi Gras to New Orleans in the early 1700s. The two-week carnival season is synonymous with revelry and indulgence, a time to let go of inhibitions with one's identity hidden by a mask.
One Harrison couple keeps the spirit of Mardi Gras visible year-round. Kirk and Jeanne Wurdack have decorated a guest room in carnival colors of purple and gold and use the Mardi Gras masks they have collected as accent pieces.
"We call it the Mardi Gras room because almost everything in there relates to Mardi Gras. We moved here from St. Louis in 1993, but we used to spend a lot of time in New Orleans," said Jeanne Wurdack.
"When you walk in this room, that's all you think of. Guests love it."
A lavish feathered mask fans out above the four-poster bed. Smaller half-masks serve as tie-backs above the windows to hold swags. The room is decorated with a variety of jesters ranging in size from miniature dolls to a 5-foot stuffed jester reclining in the guest room chair.
Mardi Gras masks can start at $2.50 for an unadorned domino and build to several hundred dollars for a sequined, feathered, full-face creation.
Curt Hodge, co-owner of Flowers by Gil & Curt, has been building a reputation for the elegant masks he designs in the manner of full-face Venetian masks. He designed his first four years ago to wear himself to the Bach Choir's annual Mardi Gras gala.
Word of mouth spread his talent, resulting in more requests each year. He has taken orders for masks to match revelers' ball gowns, and this year made the masks for the Bach Choir gala's king and queen.
"I prefer the handheld mask," he said. "In a lot of the turn-of-the-century movies you see, they carry masks on sticks."
Hodge said he starts with papier mache masks he purchases online. As a florist, he has access to a wealth of trims, ribbons, feathers and sequined embellishments -- many of them remnants of holiday decorations that he recycles into his elegant creations.
His most unusual design utilizes shag-bark hickory wood. He drilled pieces of wood, then zip-tied them to the papier mache face to build a mask more than 3 feet in length. The finished face appears to be one long section of tree limb, accented with two white birds in its branches.
"I had a box of bark sitting outside the shop, and it intrigued me," he said. "One thing like that can throw me into the creative process."
Susan Palmer Pierce is a reporter and columnist in the Life department. She began her journalism career as a summer employee 1972 for the News Free Press, typing bridal announcements and photo captions. She became a full-time employee in 1980, working her way up to feature writer, then special sections editor, then Lifestyle editor in 1995 until the merge of the NFP and Times in 1999. She was honored with the 2007 Chattanooga Woman of ...