The Plaquemine native and St. John School junior was treated like the queen she is during Carnival in D.C.
Plaquemine’s Miss Evangeline and informally, the city’s queen, got treated like a princess during the three-day Mardi Gras celebration in Washington, D.C.
Zoë Bertrand and her parents, Gary and Missy, said they’d never seen anything like it.
“Awesome,” Gary said. “I’m telling you, it was unbelievable.”
Zoë said “awesome” wasn’t a strong enough adjective for the experience, an event-packed, morning-to-late-night, three-day celebration of Mardi Gras.
“When people ask about it, it’s hard to express just how awesome it was,” she said, the excitement revealed in her voice. “The whole thing, it just deserves a better explanation.”
The fun started as soon as Zoë and the 40 or so other festival queens from Louisiana arrived at the hotel to begin the festivities.
“From the time we got there, there was Todd Graves (the owner of Raising Cane’s) and a jazz band playing in the hotel lobby,” she said. “Mr. Graves is awesome. He’s so nice.”
Graves was also a major sponsor of the event. “Everybody was saying that this one was the most extravagant they’ve ever had because that’s what Todd Graves wanted, one bigger and better than ever,” Zoë said.
The 17-year-old St. John School student could hardly contain her excitement as she talked about the long weekend of living like a princess.
“I was just amazed,” Zoë said. “When I walked into my hotel room, there were two big duffel bags that were stuffed with bath balms, fancy soaps, T-shirts, caps, pillows, blankets, a robe, stuffed animals – it was just insane.”
“Every time I sat down for a meal, there was a Lee Michael’s bag in front of me,” she said.
The king and queen of the big Mardi Gras ball also gave each of the festival queens gifts as well, several times over the course of the weekend.
Zoë said among the many gifts the royal couple bestowed upon the festival queens was an engraved pewter dish and a pewter keychain, but her eyes lit up when she talked about the sterling silver necklace she received at one point and a pair of pearl earrings at another.
A modest, unassuming small town girl, she said she felt “a little uncomfortable” with the abundance of lagniappe that seemingly never ended.
“It’s not that I was ungrateful for it, but I’m just not used to literally being in the spotlight and being showered with gifts every time I sat down,” Zoë said.
Gary purchased a video recorder for the once in a lifetime experience and said, “I filmed everything, but I filled up the memory card in the first two days.”
“So the last day, the night of the big ball, all we have are phone videos,” he said.
While he may have had the misfortune of running out of memory for his video camera, Gary brought home some wonderful memories of his own.
“I was just sitting back and taking it all in,” he said. “I’ll admit to getting a little teary-eyed a couple of times because I’m just so proud of her.”
Among many high points in the D.C. trip for Zoë was meeting the members of the popular, New Orleans-band Better Than Ezra. Already a star struck fan, she said it was tough to conceal her enthusiasm when she met its members.
“Nobody knew who they were, what they looked like, except me, so I went over to talk to them,” Zoë said. “Are you playing Jazz Fest this year,” she asked timidly. The musicians answered that yes, they were.
“Then they started asking me about my festival and they got interested in this whole thing because they didn’t know anything about it,” Zoë said. She said that after that, she and the band became very friendly.
“From then on, they knew me so every function they were at, they talked to me, they pulled me up on stage one night, they pointed me out in the audience,” she said. Zoë was given a pair of drumsticks by the drummer, which she shared with her brother Aaron, who she said was an even bigger fan of the rock band.
She tried to play if off as coolly as possible, but it was quite obvious she was thrilled to be able to consider the members of the band friends.
“I was thinking, ‘Better Than Ezra knows me, they want to see me, talk to me,’ ” Zoë said.
(Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series on Miss Evangeline’s Mardi Gras in Washington, D.C., experience.)