LEJ's Mardi Gras Glossary / February 2017
|Jackson Square, NOLa Courtesy of Amtrak|
It is written by Leonard Earl Johnson
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
LEJ's Mardi Gras Glossary
* * *
BY Leonard Earl Johnson
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved
|Society of Ste Anne marching society, Rue Royale at Kerlerec, New Orleans / by Janis Turk|
|LEJ.org at Parc Sans Souci, Lafayette|
photo credit Frank Parsley
|Janis Turk and Karissa Kary photo Janis Turk|
"Ever hear the one about the tourist who ate the paper bag at Antoine's?"
|Carnival celebrants / NOLa|
Begins every year on January 6, but ends at different days on the calendar ~ but always on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent ~ a day that, by Canon Law, changes location in the month.
This is done to keep Lent ever forty-suffering days long. To achieve this Carnival shrinks some years. Swells others. 2017 is one of the longer Carnivals.
Shrovetide (les Jours Gras) ~ The last three days of Carnival Season. Sunday is for going to Mass; Monday and Tuesday are called Lundi Gras and Mardi Gras ~ Fat Monday and Fat Tuesday respectively ~ and they are for everything you probably think Carnival is about.
February 13, 2018;
March 5, 2019;
February 25, 2020;
February 16, 2021;
March 1, 2022;
February 21, 2023;
February 13, 2024;
March 4, 2025;
February 17, 2026;
February 9, 2027.
"It moves," L. A. Norma says, "it's alive!"
Ball (tableau ball) ~ A masked party featuring performances of scenes in still-life representing a specific theme. Can be deadly dull. Can be uproariously funny.
Moveable tableaus on Carnival Day (Mardi Gras) are the funniest. Who can forget the Westbank Big Hair Emergency Repair Krewe marching along fixing misshapen bouffants along parade routes of yore?
Boeuf Gras ~ The fatted bull or ox representing sweetly excessive death-to-the-fat, and the beginning of Lenten abstinence (true death). Said by journalist-emeritus and Mardi Gras overseers Arthur Hardy, and Errol Laborde to be the most photographed sight of Carnival.
|Boeuf Gras ~ Rex parade ~ Mardi Gras, NOLa|
Captain ~ Leader of each Mardi Gras organization.
Court ~ The king, queen, maids and dukes of each Mardi Gras organization. There is a hierarchy here culminating in Rex. However, no court or krewe is more important than the one you are in.
|Rex Doubloon Wikipedia|
Rex ~ One of the "Big Four" ~ oldest four krewes of New Orleans Carnival ~ founded in 1872 by a group calling itself, The School of Design. Ponder such a krewe name ~ with its religious, mythological and historical resonance ~ and you will see dimly into the mysteries of Carnival.
Krewe insignia on one side and the parade theme on the obverse. Doubloons were first introduced 1959-60 by New Orleans artist H. Alvin Sharpe. They were gold colored aluminium and first thrown by Rex in 1960. For a few years they were generically called Rex Doubloons. Today doubloons are thrown by many krewes in various colors, themes and names.
King Cake ~ This is an oval cake (traditionally brioche but today anything)
|King Cake with Baby|
in Mardi Gras tricolor, with a plastic baby doll hidden inside. The baby doll is loosely seen as the Epiphanous Baby Jesus, and concurrently all temporal joys-on-Earth.
Songwriter/singer/musician Al Johnson's beloved Carnival Time opens with the line, "The Green Room is smokin' and the Plaza's burnin' down / Throw my Baby out the window, let those joints burn down..." An act of rescue or callous disregard? Or,
as we see it in New Orleans, both!
The person who finds the doll is crowned "King" and buys the next colorful cake and gives the next party.
In New Orleans, the first Carnival parade each year is organized by a happily knit group of swells on Twelfth Night, January 6 (King Cake Day, a.k.a. Epiphany). This krewe calls themselves the Phuny Phorty Phellows.
|Phunny Phorty Phellows Street Car Parade / NOLA.com|
Krewe ~ a generic term for all Carnival organizations and clubs. Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology are sources for half the krewe names. Some clubs are named after neighborhoods, while others are named after historical figures or places.
|Rio parade, Lafayette|
Amid large parades in Acadiana's Hub City of Lafayette rolls the samba-swinging Krewe of Carnival en Rio.
Clubs are chartered by most cities as non-profit entities and are financed by dues, by sale of krewe-emblemed merchandise to members (who give them as favors) and by fund-raising projects. Mardi Gras krewes are sometimes involved in charity work. But not much.
Lundi Gras ~ French for Fat Monday (Mardi Gras is French for Fat Tuesday). "Fat" is a broad term for prosperity and joy, the very things being done in Carnival-excess before somber Lent takes them all away.
The Day before Mardi Gras from 1897 to 1917 was celebrated by arrival of Rex aboard a steamboat on the Mississippi River. In 1987, under the New Orleans Mayoralty of Sidney
Barthelemy, a local
|Courtesy of Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club|
seminarian turned Tulane trained master-of-sociology ~ with mild manners and movie star looks ~ revived the practice. Ultimately with the addition of King Zulu.
Each year since ~ aboard separate vessels, and for the last few years, Rex has come on the streetcar.
Zulu and Rex arrive at Spanish Plaza and greet each other, at the foot of Poydras Street.
"One River Two Boats!" ~ L. A. Norma wrote at the time in a letter to the old Times-Picayune daily.
Comus does not currently parade ~ a bitter hangover from political battles with former City Council Woman, Dorothy Mae Taylor, over race restrictions in luncheon clubs and Carnival krewes.
Comus and Rex still hold an elaborate meeting-of-the-courts ball on Mardi Gras night. But only Rex parades.
|Lee Circle, Saint Charles Avenue, New Orleans|
from Confederate Memorial Hall Museum
Zulu ~ A black krewe formed some forty years after the Civil War, and the post-war
|click to read caption|
The obelisk commemorates the bloody battle of 14 September 1874. It was part of a terrorist plot that removed the elected governor, William Pitt Kellogg. The inscription on the monument refers to the National Elections two years later ~ 1876 ~ as the moment that ended failed-Reconstruction, and united Louisiana White Supremacy with Yankee Jim Crow Laws. Names of whites fallen in the battle were inscribed in the stone. Names of fallen blacks were not.
"De facto wage-slavery became the law of the land!"our pedicab driver says.
|New Orleans Civil War Era |
US Custom House and Post Office
free downloadable poster
"At best," Norma chortled from inside a plume of cigarette smoke.
Some think the insurrection should be sharply remembered. Two out-of-town deconstruction companies hired to remove the Confederate memorials sent lawyer-letters to The City asking out of their contracts because of death threats.
For three days, in 1874, Governor Kellogg and his cronies (krewe?) took refuge in the newly built U. S. Custom House and Post Office, a handsome Union thumbprint first occupied in 1856 and serving through the Nineteenth Century (including the years of War Between the States) as the U. S. Post Office and Custom House. Still standing, at 423 Canal Street, across North Peters Street from Brooks Brothers, and not more than a block away from the sight of the Battle of Liberty Place. Today the crestfallen edifice is home to the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium.
"The Bug House," Norma calls it.
It was, however, reestablishment of a new Confederacy they were talking about, though this time aligned more with Washington and less with London.
Masterminds even sent a delegation to plead their case before Ulysses S. Grant, recently home from the war, and newly elected to steady the wheel of the US ship of state.
They told President Grant their Big Swamp City, port of New Orleans would make a fine seat for this new Confederacy.
Having just fought the Civil War to defeat such a Confederacy,
Grant reasoned he must now send in troops to free Governor Kellogg, and said no to the boys from Louisiana. Whom he sent safely home to moan and groan over their grillades and grits for the next century and a half.
One wonders if Grant might have hanged them ~ it was surely treason they were preaching. Or if they were civil and polite at a sociable meeting that might have been at the Willard Hotel? Did they drink whiskey? We know Grant did. Did any of the Louisiana boys visit the famous pleasure houses of the victorious capitol?
Sherman was from Ohio, and a recent graduate of West Point.
He was not yet a Union general when he was hired, in 1859, as first president of the newly founded
"Sherman burned Atlanta," our cabbie said,
|Courtesy of Louisiana State University Libraries|
|Bobby Jindal, Louisiana Governor and Republican |
US Presidential no-chance ~ absent from state
much of his term pursuing this.
Led Louisiana from budget surplus to insolvency.
Stood against Donald Trump 2015-16
Courtesy of Rumproast.com
The old line krewes did not like this and had been working for some way to stop it ever since it started.
|Courtesy of Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club|
"You can imagine the indignity of a float full of white-faced blacks coming up behind your Fatted Ox throwing coconuts!" Norma says this to visitors as she blows Camel Cigarette smoke in their faces ~ this time of year laced with Marijuana.
|Celebrant, NOLa / Carlos Detres|
Throws include doubloons, plastic cups and beads with and without krewe emblems.
Hangover ~ This one you may already know. It is most appropriate for Ash Wednesday.
Still it is not unheard of in Louisiana to entertain more than one festival per town. Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and New Orleans have them almost weekly.
|Rio de Janeiro, Brazil|
|Courir de Mardi Gras|
* * *
|LEJ.org at Carnival Time / Mark Konikoff|
Go here For
T-Shirts, Koozies, LEJ.org icebox magnets
and such falderal ...
You may not receive a monthly e-mail notice for LEJ's Louisiana / Yours Truly in a Swamp unless I figure out how to set up a new freemail system. But you can always go to www.LEJ.org.
Don't hold your breath on my figuring out le Internet. I am a storyteller, not a computer-pinball gamer.
Contact me if you want on the list - that may get e-mailed. If you wish to read any month's column go to www.LEJ.org anytime. They are posted on the first of each month and polished for the next few weeks.
First Recording ~ 1960
Cosimo Matassa's Recording Studio
|Al Groos, General Manager Royal Sonesta; Al "Carnival Time" Johnson;|
Pat Brady; Henri Schindler; Leonard Earl Johnson, and Marvis Early
photo credit Mark Konikoff
* * *
Krewe du Vieux
* * *
Confederate Memorial Hall Museum, New Orleans
(keeper of Queen Mildred Lee's (1884) Comus treasures)
* * *
|LEJ.org with Maidens (click image for high resolution) Photo: Anson Trahan|
© 2017, Leonard Earl Johnson,
* * *