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Leonard Earl Johnson (photo credit Frank Parsley) covered Hurricanes Katrina and Rita (2005), and the 2010 British Petroleum oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico for Consumer Affairs.com. He is a contributor to Gambit Weekly, New Orleans Magazine, SCAT, Baton Rouge Advocate, Advocate Magazine, The Times-Picayune, Country Roads Magazine, Palm Springs Newswire and the books FRENCH QUARTER FICTION (Light of New Orleans Publishing), LOUISIANA IN WORDS (Pelican Publishing), LIFE IN THE WAKE (NOLAfuges.com), and more. Johnson is a former Merchant Seaman, and columnist at Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans; and African-American Village. Attended Southern Illinois University, Carbondale, and Harry Lundeberg School of Seamanship at Piney Point, Maryland. Winner of the Press Club of New Orleans Award for Excellence, 1991, and given the Key to The City and a Certificate of Appreciation from the New Orleans City Council for a Gambit Weekly story on murder in the French Quarter.

Friday, January 01, 2016

Early Mardi Gras with Glossary / January 2016


         Society of Ste Anne marching society,  rue Royal at Kerlerec,  New Orleans   /    by Janis Turk


             Yours Truly in a Swamp,
A monthly e-column by Leonard Earl Johnson
at www.LEJ.org


LEJ / Parc Sans Souci, Lafayette
 photo credit: Frank Parsley


LEJ's Louisiana, 
Yours Truly in a Swamp
© 2016, Leonard Earl Johnson, All Rights Reserved.
January 2016

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Janis Turk  and  Karissa Kary               photo credit: Janis Turk

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Short Carnival / Early Mardi Gras

a cultural exchange

by Leonard Earl Johnson

www.LEJ.org 



There will be many a Yankee trader awakening at home the week after Mardi Gras (very early this year on February 9) with moss-stuffed voodoo dolls sitting bewilderingly atop their desks.

They dance to our musicians, our chefs, and our artists. Then they dance back home with our tunes and slang ringing in their ears, and our peptic reflux dancing up in their tummies.
We show them our "dis and dats," and they fill our hotels.  Kind strangers come to Town to pay our bills and laugh at our jokes. "Ever hear the one about the tourist who ate their paper bag at Antoine's?"
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LEJ's Glossary of Carnival Comminisms 
terms used by everyone from Rex to thee 
by Leonard Earl Johnson

Be Advised: 
Carnival is like the Catholic Church.  
The deeper you look the more there is to see.

Shrovetide ~ 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.

Carnival celebrant  /  NOLa
Carnival Season ~ 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 changes its location in the month by Canon Law. 

This is done to keep Lent ever forty-suffering days long.  To achieve this Carnival shrinks some years. This year is one of the shortest Carnivals ever.  But not the shortest, that occurs on the years when Mardi Gras falls on February 3.  

Here is a Mardi Gras list for the next few years.  You will not likely know where you put it in 2027, but remember to bring a coat, it is the same date as this year's!

February 28, 2017; 

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.

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"It moves," L. A. Norma says, "it's alive!"

Ball (tableau ball) ~ A masked party featuring entertainment performances of scenes in still-life representing a specific theme.  Can be deadly dull.  Can be uproariously funny.  


Moveable tableaus on Carnival Day are the funniest.  Who can forget the Westbank Big Hair Emergency Repair Krewe marching along fixing misshapened bouffants on parade routes of yore?

Boeuf Gras ~ The fatted bull or ox representing death to the fat, and the beginning of Lenten Abstinence.  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 ~ One of the "Big Four" ~ oldest four krewes of New Orleans Carnival ~ founded in 1872 ~ Rex Wikipedia.


Doubloons ~ Coin-like objects bearing some 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. 

Favor ~ This is a personalized souvenir, given by organization members to friends attending the ball.

Invitation ~ A non-transferable printed request for attendance at a Mardi Gras ball.

King Cake ~ This is an oval cake sugared in Mardi Gras tricolors (traditionally brioche, today
King Cake
 anything) with a plastic baby doll hidden inside.  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 Phunny Phorty Phellows



Phunny Phorty Phellows  Street Car Parade 
A 1981-incarnation of 1878 revelers ~ who  neither looked nor acted much like anyone today.  Originally parading on foot on Mardi Gras Day behind Rex. Today they ride the Saint Charles Streetcar in colorful costumes, on Epiphany night. Sometimes with too much music.  Around car stops and the Car Barn can be good spots to see this first-of-season show.

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.  In Acadiana's Hub City of Lafayette, amid the large parades rolls one samba-swinging beauty named Rio.

par1 

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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 Lent takes them 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 Sydney Barthelemy, a local
Courtesy of Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club
 book-learned Creole Catholic-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 two years Rex has come on the train ~ Zulu and Rex arrive at Spanish Plaza and greet each other there, at the foot of Poydras Street. 

"One River Two Boats!"  ~  L. A. Norma wrote at the time to the old Times-Picayune daily.

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Comus ~ One of the oldest krewes. First paraded in 1857 ~ four years before Secession ~ with the parade theme: "The Past, The Present, The Future."  Comus does not currently parade ~ a bitter hangover from recent political crises with City Council Woman, Dorothy Mae Taylor, over race restrictions in luncheon clubs and Carnival krewes. 

Comus and Rex still hold elaborate meeting-of-the-courts balls on Mardi Gras night.  But only Rex parades.  Henri Schindler, Carnival Artistic Designer makes a touching statement on the meaning of Mardi Gras in New Orleans old line artistic circles. 


Lee Circle seen from Confederate Museum

In 1884, the first Queen of Comus was Mildred Lee, daughter of defeated Confederate General Robert E. Lee, subject of the 1884 monument on Saint Charles Avenue at Lee Circle, by Alexander Doyle.  Targeted in 2015 for removal by current Mayor Mitch Landrieu 

"You lose, you blues," a musician I know says.

New Orleans is a city built along a bend in The River, and organized around Carnival.  Old line comedians tempered with cheeky Carnival spirit have been seen feigning the Sign of The Cross  while saying, "Comus, Momus, Proteus and Rex," the big four of old line New Orleans krewes

Zulu ~ A black krewe formed some forty years after the Civil War, and the post-war
click to read caption
 
Battle of Liberty Place ~ a Reconstruction era battle that took place at the foot of Canal Street in front of today's Harrah's Casino. The battle's monument is in the news lately as it, too, is targeted by Mayor Landrieu for removal.  Another Confederate memory banished to the land of 
out-of-sight-dom.

The obelisk commemorates the bloody battle of 14 September 1874.  It was 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 White Supremacy with Jim Crow Law.  


"De facto wage-slavery!"our pedicab driver says. 

"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 memorials have 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 still standing across from Brooks Brothers, on Canal and North Peters Streets. 


Grand Marble Hall,    U. S. Custom House,    NOLa
The insurrection was drummed up by the Crescent City White League, a group of Confederate sympathizers, planters, and World traders who wanted what everyone wanted.  At least everyone who was a World trader, planter, or Confederate sympathizer.  
Hell, even Grant wants this, they reckoned.  Because, an ill-functioning Port of New Orleans would make an ill-functioning Western Expansion of the United States, and if the Louisiana Purchase and the War Between the States were for anything, they were for this.  So felt the White League-rs, anyway.

Their objective was regaining Big Swamp City for the seat of a new Confederacy.  Masterminds even sent a delegation to Washington, D. C. to plead their case before President Ulysses S. Grant.  

Having just fought the Civil War to defeat such a confederacy, 

Grant reasoned with the boys from Louisiana, 
he must now say, 
"no."

He reinstated Governor Kellogg. 


  One wonders if Grant might have hanged them for treason?  

Or if their meeting was civil, social, 
and took place at the Willard Hotel? 
If they drank whiskey with Grant? 
If anyone visited the famous pleasure houses of our victorious capitol?

Some of the men in the Louisiana delegation were from Grant Parish, founding site of the Louisiana White League.  Grant Parish was a "Reconstruction Parish" (there were eleven created from Winn and Rapides parishes in 1869).  Grant Parish is in an English part of Louisiana ~ around Alexandria and Pineville and where William Tecumseh Sherman once lived.

Sherman was from Ohio, and a recent graduate of West Point. 

He was not yet a Union general, but he was hired as president of the newly founded

Known as "The Little Seminary," in its day.  Later it moved to Baton Rouge and changed its name to Louisiana State University. 
Yes, boys and girls, the first president of L. S. U. was 
William Tecumseh Sherman!

"Guess that's why Jindal's Repugs wanted L. S . U. starved to death," 

Norma said through a cloud of smoke.

"Sherman burned Atlanta," our cabbie said, 
"Bobby Jindal burned Baton Rouge."

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Originally Zulu poked heavy handed fun at the white krewes, and would neither publish their parade route nor apply for City parade permits.  They liked to catch up with Comus, Momus, Proteus, and Rex unannounced and taunt them.  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 tells this to visitors as she blows Camel Cigarette smoke in their faces ~ this time of year usually laced with Marijuana.

Mayor Barthelemy's 1987 solution softened the satire and Zulu now obtains a parade permit and publishes their route.

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This Saga is a perfect example of a kind of New Orleans social studies practiced by those poorer souls who come to "watch" Carnival.  

We who know better know Carnival as a participatory thing.  
Take another turn around the dancefloor, Louisiana, them smart folks are watching us again.


Rex
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Celebrant,  NOLa   /   Carlos Detres
Throws ~ These are inexpensive souvenirs tossed from floats (since around 1871) by costumed and masked Krewe members in response to traditional calls of "Throw me something, mister!"  These throws include doubloons, plastic cups and beads with and without krewe emblems. 

Ash Wednesday ~ The day after Mardi Gras, and the beginning of the Lenten fasting season.

Hangover ~ This one you may already know.  Most appropriate for Ash Wednesday.

Courir de Mardi Gras
Carnival is celebrated throughout the U. S. Gulf Coast.  Most towns in coastal Louisiana have a celebration.  One town most famously not celebrating Carnival is Abbeville; and the most notable Mardi Gras outside of New Orleans massive effort is the many Courir de Mardi Gras.  These are events where participants ride horseback from house to house asking for contributions for a communal gumbo.

Among these items is a live chicken or two.  A grand drunken chase ensues.  Hardly anyone is injured if you do not count the chicken.


© 2016, Leonard Earl Johnson, 
All Rights Reserved.



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