We Have the French to Thank for a Very Fat Tuesday
Schuyler Hoffman, who produces this Nouvellettre® and ensures it’s safe arrival in your inbox, warned us that after a day of merriment in the “Big Easy” (New Orleans) during Mardi Gras day, that he might not be so coherent as to perform his important duties. (So, let’s just hope that you receive this sometime before daybreak on Thursday, February 23rd!)(Note: Mardi Gras costumes often make satirical comment on current events and issues. Contaminated Chinese drywall has been a big issue in homes remodeled after hurricane Katrina. )
While having dinner last night at one of Paris’ sweetest bistrots, “Le Buisson Ardent“, a few photos of the merriment popped into my iPhone from my sister, who was well in the midst of Mardi Gras fever and wanted to share it someone who could appreciate it. There were signs of Paris and France everywhere on the streets of the “Vieux Carré” (French Quarter) and the Faubourg Marigny (the adjacent neighborhood) — a drag queen with an Eiffel Tower hat, Marie-Antoinette atop her guillotine and Marcel Marceau look-alikes one sporting a red beret and the other carrying a lacy parasol.
The skies were blue, the weather warm. Everyone was in a good mood. It was “Nouvelle Orléans” at its finest.
“Mardi Gras” means “Fat Tuesday” and it’s always the Tuesday before “Ash Wednesday.” I can remember many Wednesdays after a raucous Mardi Gras Day when the Catholic kids came to school with ashes on their foreheads. I felt a bit left out, but cleaner.
We have the French explorer, Iberville, to thank for the carnival, who in 1699 brought it with him from Paris when he set up camp 60 miles south of New Orleans on that particular day and declared it “Point du Mardi Gras.”
The French continued the Mardi Gras tradition into the late 1700s with masked balls and festivals, but when the Spanish took over the city, the customs were banned. Louisiana was purchased in 1803 by the U.S. of A. as you may recall, and the prohibition lasted until 1823 when the Creoles convinced the governor to legalize it once again. The first parade took place in 1837, but because of violent behavior toward masqueraders during the 1840s and 1850s, the press called for another end to the celebration.
Six New Orleanians and former members of an organization named “Cowbellians,” saved the day in 1857 by forming the “Krewe of Comus” and adding both beauty and safety to the event. “Krewe” was a new term they coined and declared it a secret society, then they formed a parade made up of floats and a grand ball after the parade to celebrate in style. The Civil War came and interrupted things again, but in 1866 Comus returned.
The rest is history…along with the Twelfth Night Revelers in 1870 who began the custom of the King Cake…the Krewe of Rex when in 1872 the Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff of Russia visited New Orleans and began the tradition of the “King of Carnival” plus installing the new official colors of purple, green and gold…and now, as it is today, one of the world’s most attended city street festivals.
I grew up in Nouvelle Orléans thinking about what costume to don, learning how to worm through the crowds to the front row ringside view, catch the best beads (without exposing any breasts) and get carried up by the mass crowd on Bourbon Street without being trampled.
Who knew then that we had the French to thank? All I knew was that it was a ‘helluva’ lot of fun, the streets had names such as “Chartres,” “Bienville” and “Dauphine” and “Mardi Gras” meant “Fat Tuesday.”
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
(in Jackson Square, New Orleans)
P.S. Le Carnaval de Nice is still going on (until March 4th, Carnival de Nice)…and I intend to take advantage of that next week at “Le Matisse.” It will be the first time I will stay in the apartment myself! Meanwhile — it’s booking up! So visit Le Matisse before the summer months are gone, gone, gone.