Article Title:Diary of a Mardi Gras virgin
Author or Credit:Jacqui Stanford
Published on:6th March 2011 - 08:43 am
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Story ID:10010
Text:Self-confessed Mardi Gras virgin Jacqui Stanford has agreed to share her experiences as she belatedly dives into one of the world's truly great glbt events. Fasten your seatbelts, this could be a bumpy ride! People always look at me a little oddly when I confess I have never crossed the ditch to Australia. It's an odd thing for a Kiwi, especially one who has been to far flung parts of the world. Since I came out a number of years ago I have been gagging to go to Mardi Gras, but have always had something in the way preventing me from making the trip. This year it's changing. With my Aussie-born girlfriend in tow as my trusty photographer, and two of our best gay friends as our gay eyes for the dyke wives, I will be documenting my experiences as a Mardi Gras virgin from the Air New Zealand Pink Flight, to our fun gay-friendly hostel, to the local bars and pubs, to the parade, the parties, the cuisine and the ... ah ... talent. You can keep up with the antics of the NZ crew in Sydney right here on, as I celebrate the fact I am turning 28 on Monday (ah, only two years to thirty!) in the gayest imaginable style! FRIDAY The Pink Flight Well that was a flight to remember. Auckland to Sydney on a plane full of gays. Camp tunes pumping through the speakers, a sea of pink, pillow fights and complete and utter frivolity. The Pink Flight pre-party was an incredible starter, with drinks flowing, well, all over the floor really, as the incredibly hot shirtless guys carrying the trays got the wobbles time and time again and drinks went flying. James Leuii was pumping the music, lots of those adorable little snacks were being served and there were lots of familiar people to run into and interesting people to take pictures of. My favourite costume has to be “Pussy Pwr” group of lesbians in capes. In fact it’s hard to find anybody not in cape – capes and masks were handed out as we were given our boarding passes, as it is a SuperHERO themed flight. It led to many questions from other travellers as dozens of people donning capes flew around the airport! The party really got started when surprise guests the Topp Twins took the stage dressed as the Kens, cracking jokes and hyping up the crowd with their line dancing and yodeling. Consumate host Buckwheat then introduced her crowd of drag attendants, in their resplendent pink outfits. Drag performances were followed by participation from the in-flight crew. The Topps were, as always, top form It  was an interesting mix of people on the Pink Flight and there were loads of women, most noticeably many middle-aged lipstick lesbians. Take off came with squeals and cheers of excitement from the entire plane, ‘we’re going to Mardi Gras” shouted one person, “come on get it up” screamed another. Up, up and away we went and utter organised madness ensued as we sped to Sydney. People all over the aisles knocking back drinks, making new friends, catching up with old friends, dancing and squealing. It really was like a party in the air. The best part of the flight? The impromptu pillow fight which erupted down the back of the plane - which even the Topps joined in on. There were pillows and pillow inner flying everywhere. You have to feel sorry for the clean up crew. But the sight of my girlfriend being bashed mercilessly by a grinning middle aged lesbian counsellor with a mean arm for a pillow will stick with me forever! I wish there was a Pink Flight home again. But the people who had such a good time they lost their glass bottles of duty free booze on the Sydney Airport floor probably don’t. (Psst .... just in case you were wondering, no, you can't take handcuffs through Customs. The attempt of my girlfriend and I to sneak them through as part of our ‘pink police’ uniforms sure amused the usually stony-faced Customs guys though, who took great delight in holding them up for the line of people behind us. I took my embarrassed body through the scanners while he joked to my girlfriend that 'sorry, you're weekend away won't be as fun now'. Probably for the best as I'd likely now be cuffed to the plane bathroom wishing ruing the day I ever thought joining the mile high club, police style, was a good idea.) SATURDAY Warming up for the parade Sydney is dripping with gay. Everywhere you walk around Oxford St there are gay boy couples hand in hand, lesbian mums pushing prams, rainbow flags in shop windows, groups practicing their parade routines in the park. It's a beautiful thing. It's as if someone waved a pink wand and turned everything gay. Last night we went out for a bit after the madness of the Pink Flight, but the lines at the Oxford St bars were so long it became dull lining up in line after line after line watching VIPs/people who the bouncer has shagged being ushered in readily. So we crashed out at the hostel, we are staying at Elephant Backpackers, which is proving a great low-budget place to crash so far with friendly staff and plenty of activities (if we weren't so busy being gay this weekend!) After a good sleep on a somewhat squeaky bed we were up this morning to find the hotel to find media passes and check out the official parade press conference. I've been a journalist for a good eight years now and I was blown away by the massive media contingent that gathered, of journalists from all over the world. It was insane. But the bonus was I met up with my fab friend Matt Akersten who left to become the Sydney editor of - so you can imagine he's had a busy week! Aside from a list of helpful advice from the organisers, like "do not stand in front of Dykes on Bikes as they approach" (who would be that stupid!?), the press gathering made it clear the theme of the parade will be a highly political one: marriage equality, something Australia doesn't have, because, well its politicians clearly have their heads up their rears. The call will be strong at the parade tonight, hopefully the nation's leaders are listening. To put it simply, it's strange that our Aussie cousins don't have anything, not even civil unions. Really strange - especially when they have such a huge national and international voice and presence through Mardi Gras - I meant the parade is broadcast live on TV here! There seem to be a lot of double standards in this country. It's not fair play. Take the economic and tourism benefits from Mardi Gras then biff back the underarm bowl of no marriage equality? Not fair at all. One of Dawson's parade coverage co-hosts "international dance sensation" Louie Spence probably summed up the mix of politics and frivolity in the air in his comments at the presser, saying "I think, what's your PM's name? Julia? I think if she does this [pushes for marriage equality] us gays will sort her out with a fresh hairdo and a new suit. I'm sorry I've seen her a few times and she looks like shit." I mean even Kylie has appeared in a video promoting marriage equality. Kylie! Maybe she should run for PM. At least she wouldn't need a makeover. Word on the street is a major pop star (not Kylie) is headlining in the party ... pity the tickets cost an arm and a leg. Unless there is an incredibly fortuitous turn of events it looks like we'll be slumming it in the bars tonight (and I am on the hunt for Amanda Palmer, I hear talk she is town!!!) Off now to refuel and give my poor girlfriend some attention ahead of snapping pictures at the parade!   SUNDAY Last night's parade Wow. So that was Mardi Gras. I am still utterly staggered by the power of that parade. The mixture of freedom of expression, pride and pure raw protest power. The message was overwhelming: Gay Australians WANT and DESERVE marriage rights. Almost every float had that theme. And with the racket they made on Oxford St, well it doesn't seem like they will be silenced until they get them. I know the dykes on bikes won't be silenced ... and I wouldn't mess with them! There is a story going around that one year a photographer stepped out in front of them and was nearly run over as one woman revved her bike and went for it. It was a long day, after a lengthy press conference and then getting a good spot for pictures and standing for hours. At one stage I was sitting on the road just taking it all in for a minute, watching people dance by I caught the eye of a lesbian who was pushing a pram, while her partner held their daughter and they walked past hand in hand in a rainbow families themed group. It was the moment that made the parade for me. These women were everything I used to always want and never thought I could have, as I peeked through the closet doors and hoped one day I could still have a family of my own. There was no New Zealand presence, which tempered my excitement with a little homesickness and jealousy. I know there are plenty of critics out there who say we shouldn't have a parade of our own. I disagree. We need it. We have so much to be proud of. And so much still to march for. I want to see a New Zealand flag through a rainbow. MONDAY Exploring Sydney One of the things I most love about travelling is random explorations. I don't really like making a schedule and pre-planning everything. I like to go for a wander and see what I find. Sydney is perfect for that. The Botanic Gardens which lead out to the Opera House are the most amazing place for a casual romantic stroll. Walking through them with my girlfriend, talking, joking and looking at the amazing birds and scary bats will remain one of my favourite memories of my first visit to the city. People barely bat and eyelid when you walk in Sydney holding your girlfriend's hand. I like that. We were hosted by Elephant Backpackers, a low-budget party hostel which has a mishmash of interesting guests from all over the world. The building it's in is stunning, with a vast central staircase leading to the upper floors. If you want a cheap place in Sydney you can't really go past it, whether you want to join in the fun with the guests or do your own thing. If you are travelling alone there are plenty of planned activities where you can meet people, or you can just walk out your door and get chatting to someone from a far-flung part of the world. There is also a restaurant with incredibly cheap, high quality food and beer, plus really good coffee for just $2 for guests. You can't go past that! And its location on the cusp of Woolloomooloo is perfect – walking distance to everything, including Oxford St and Darling Harbour. We were probably the quietest guests in the place. I didn't have so much of a party weekend. I turned 28. I am getting old. I prefer restaurants and good coffee and daytime excursions to all night parties now. If I had been to Sydney even a year ago it would have been a different story. If I had been to Sydney and been single it would have been a different story. I would have been out all night and slept all day and seen a very different side of the city, hanging out with my mates who met Ruby Rose, danced till dawn and will probably spend a week in post-holiday recovery. The bars in Oxford St were packed and we found quieter places. I guess that's the beauty of a place like Sydney – there are so many options. We did a few touristy things: checked out the wildlife park and the aquarium (complete with dugongs, the strangest, cutest creatures under the sea) and rode the monorail, shopped at Paddy's Market, went to Pancakes on The Rocks, drank plenty of local beer, and bought souvenirs. For my birthday dinner we wandered into an Italian place in Darlighurst, Il Vicoletto. I love Italian. I love the passion that goes into the food. Il Vicoletto attracted me with its red-tableclothed, intimate, traditional look and its decent prices. The food? Exquisite. The service? The best I have ever had outside the US. My girlfriend and I were greeted by the most genuinely friendly hostess/waitress I have ever met. She was a small Asian woman with a huge grin and a wicked laugh, who regulars knew on a first name basis. When she found out it was my birthday I got not only a kiss on the cheek, but a little dance as she hid a candle in a slice of tiramisu and sang happy birthday and delivered it to my table. It was gorgeous. We asked her if she could move the restaurant and its devoted Italian chefs to Auckland. "Easier for us if you move here," she giggled. Hmm. It's almost worth another trip over just to go back. Jacqui Stanford - 6th March 2011    
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