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Location: New Orleans, Louisiana, United States

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 ConsumerAffairs.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 anthologies: 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.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

March 2010 / After the Ball

Yours Truly in a Swamp

After The Ball

Reprinted from Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans

March 2010
Leonard Earl Johnson
Photo Credit Janis Turk
* * *

Mardi Gras 2010 was the best ever! But, hey, we say that about every Mardi Gras. Except maybe the one in 2006.

This year, with hardly a wound showing, we sparkled in the eye of television sets across the nation. The World? We were New Orleans in our great time of joy.

Proud City
We just won the Super Bowel and elected a new mayor. Now, for Mardi Gras 2010, we dressed ourselves in colorful costumes and paraded Up- and Downtown with a spirit not seen in The City since the end of World War Two.

Plastic beads rained through the air of cold sun-washed days. Replicas of the What'a Bouts' (Saints) hard-won trophy passed on floats and atop bicycles. Revelers dressed as The Trophy. Sometimes the real thing passed held high for our cheering.

Mitch Landrieu, mayor elect, rode in parades with some of the football heroes. And throws worth saving passed from hand to hand. My favorite was a cellophane wrapped condom labeled "Mayor Nagin's Last Day, May 3, 2010, Prevent the spread of bad government."

Poor Mayor Ray Nagin, celebrating in shame and relief, toasted Krewe Kings for the last time from the Mayor's seat in front of Gallier Hall. We recalled the Thursday after The Storm when Nagin and newsman Garland Robinette broke into tears on WWL-radio.

* * *

It must have been something like this year's Carnival when the Second World War ended. Old photographs show New Orleans folks spilling out in the streets glowing with knowledge that a century of peace stretched ahead of them.

Pray, unlike the ironic sixty-five years of round robin war that followed World War Two, today's pumped up City will not end up with the new Charity Hospital morphing into a four-bed clinic inside the world's largest football atrium.

Truths and Goodbyes
During the early weeks of Carnival we traveled to Abbeville -- where Mardi Gras, oddly, never took root. We went for something more somber, anyway. The funeral of Louisiana music great, Bobby Charles, author of See You Later Alligator and Walking to New Orleans.

I would not have believed it had someone told me, when I was a school boy, I would in twilight years celebrate the funeral mass of Bobby Charles, author of songs spilling daily from the radio. Songs that defined Life for me and my Brothers when we were doing time for the Illinois Board of Education.

How many corn-fed boys told corn-feeding girls, with a wink and a grin,"See you later alligator." Never mind we didn't know an alligator from a crocodile. We knew as clearly as Bobby Charles the metaphor of dangerous traps.

* * *

The Sunset Limited from Lafayette to New Orleans was full. Rubens Mesa and Julieta Diaz, owners of Guamas, a popular Jefferson Street night club and restaurant, were on board, with their own bartender and his girl friend. They were bound for Mardi Gras in the Big Easy. The bar car ran out of everything but rum. We soldiered on.

After The Ball

More Amtrak

Bound for Los Angeles, on the first Friday after Ash Wednesday, we took lunch in the diner of the westbound Sunset Limited. At my table was Robert W. Pfister, 2010's King Okeanos, LXI.

Okeanos is the last New Orleans Krewe to throw glass beads. "We get them from India," King Okeanos, LXI said with pride. He gave us a smll bag of beads and a stack of golden King's doubloons. Can Carnival end any better than that?

The train passed over the huge Atchafalya River and an elderly couple at the table across the aisle from us asked if it was the Mississippi again. This is one of those moments I live for, to bloviate as Leonard the knowledgeable. But this time I had to defer to Okeanos, who is, after all, the God of Rivers.


Copyright, 2010, Leonard Earl Johnson

For more of L. E. J.'s Yours Truly in a Swamp go to

Monday, February 01, 2010

New Orleans Mardi Gras / February 2010

Yours Truly in a Swamp

New Orleans Mardi Gras 2010
Reprinted from Les Amis de Marigny, New Orleans
February 2010
Leonard Earl Johnson

* * *

"I've always depended on the kindness of strangers," wrote Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire). FEMA need not take a bow. New Orleans survived by such kindness long before the great hurricanes of 2005.

Ever since politicians pulled themselves off their Good Books, whisky and whores long enough to build us a workable airport, tourists have flown through the air of Big Swamp City like Carnival beads over Canal Street

* * *

Since the storms of '05 we have had lean tourist years and somber shopkeeper faces. Not this year.

First tourists came yelling, "What'a Bout Them Saints!" Now they join in The City's traditional chorus of, "Throw me something, mister!" They are here in great number for this Carnival and God bless them for it.

Nothing is as good as Carnival. Not even the "What'a Bouts" (formerly the "Who Dats"), good as they are.

The National Football League says they own the words "Who dat" and we must pay a royalty to use them. So, for now, our millionaire Saints will have to be known as the "What'a Bouts." As in, "What'a bout them Saints?"

This is like the old joke about copyrighting a musical note so that every one who then hits high-c will owe me. Give me a break! Louisiana has been saying "dat" and "who" for longer than the N. F. L. or the What'a Bouts have existed. If anything, the N. F. L. owes the Louisiana language and us a royalty.

One more turn round the dance floor, Captain?

The What'a Bout's win makes us feel a whole lot more like "dat who" we were. Carnival cinched the deal. Carnival is the defining ingredient that makes New Orleans New Orleans.

"Dat, and da port," L. A. Norma said, in dialect, while grinning at a young Greek sailor and blowing Camel Cigarette smoke over a pile of glittering Carnival beads piled on the sidewalk outside the old pâtisserie, Croissant d'Or in "da Quarters."

Welcome home pilgrims. Mardi Gras, the celebration of celebrations uncensored and unlicensed is for the people and by the people. So show me ...

"Maybe the taxpayers should build New Orleans Carnival an arena," Norma said. "The way they did in Rio de Janeiro!"

Brazilian Carnival, like ours, is built around good times (mainly sex, drugs and rock'n roll, but also the samba). In 1984 they built something called the Sambadrome for their samba dance/parades.

Tourism is a cultural exchange

There will be many a Yankee trader awakening at home next week with moss-stuffed voodoo dolls sitting bewilderingly atop their desks. They come dancing off their airplanes to our musicians, our chefs, and our artists. Then they dance all the way back home with our tunes and slang ringing in their ears, not the N. F. L.'s!

We show them our "dis and dats," and they fill our hotels with bead-catching, flesh-flashing, credit-card-slinging kind strangers who have 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?"

* * *

For all Carnival celebrants the following terms are important for understanding the greatest show you may ever see, MARDI GRAS 2010 in New Orleans!

Ball (tableau ball) - This is a masked party featuring, as entertainment, the performance of scenes representing a specific theme.

Boeuf Gras - The fatted bull or ox symbolizes the last meat eaten before the Lenten season of fasting (the live ox presented in the Rex parade was replaced in 1959 by a paper-mâché version). Boeuf Gras is one of the most photographed sights at Mardi Gras.

Captain - The 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.

Doubloons - These are coin-like objects bearing some Krewe's insignia on one side and the parade's theme on the reverse. Doubloons were first introduced in 1960 and created by New Orleans artist H. Alvin Sharpe.

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

Invitation - This is a non-transferable printed request for attendance at a Mardi Gras ball.

King Cake - This is an oval, sugared cake 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. The King Cake season opens on Kings Day, January 6.

Krewe - This is the generic term for all carnival organizations and clubs in New Orleans. Greek, Roman and Egyptian mythology are the sources for nearly half the krewe names. Some clubs are named after neighborhoods, while others are named after historical figures or places. Clubs are chartered by The City as non-profit entities and are financed by dues, by the sale of krewe-emblemed merchandise to members (who give them as favors) and by fund-raising projects.

(Mardi Gras krewes are often involved in charity work. But not much.)

Lundi Gras - French for Fat Monday (Mardi Gras is "Fat Tuesday"). From 1897 to 1917, the day before Mardi Gras was celebrated by the arrival of Rex (king) aboard a steamboat. The custom was revived in 1987.

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 emblem.

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

Hangover - You know this one. Most appropriate for Ash Wednesday.

Copyright, 2010, Leonard Earl Johnson

For more of L. E. J.'s Yours Truly in a Swamp go to

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~ L. A. Norma

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Leonard Earl Johnson
Box 202
302 Jefferson St.
Lafayette, LA 70501