Archive for May, 2015
The only place I’d move to if I had to leave New Orleans is Lafayette. I’ve spent many a good time in Lafayette, eating the amazing food, going to the fantastic festivals, hearing the Cajun and Zydeco hybrid bands, and meeting the wonderful people. New Orleans is Creole Louisiana and Lafayette is Cajun Louisiana. They have their own unique Cajun Mardi Gras with one of a kind Cajun traditions.
Courir de Mardi Gras means Mardi Gras Run. The event is held in many Cajun communities on Fat Tuesday.
Barry Ancelet, Cajun historian and head of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette Folklore Department, has explained the origin of the Courir as being in rural medieval France: It’s an early springtime renewal and essentially a way for communities to celebrate and find themselves.
Southwest Louisiana shares in this tradition, collecting ingredients for a communal gumbo is the theme behind the run.
Led by a flag-bearing capitaine, this colorful and noisy procession of masked and costumed men on horses and wagons go from house to house in the countryside asking for charity in return for a performance of dancing, acrobatics and buffoonery. The participants are earnestly employed chasing chickens, the most valued offering, and they pride themselves on their ability to collect enough live chickens to feed the entire community free of charge.
One of the most endearing aspects of the historical Courir are the local variations that exist in each major town, such as Mamou, Soileau, Church Point, Basile, Choupic, Gheenes, and Elton, among others.
The rural Mardi Gras celebration is based on early begging rituals, similar to those still celebrated by mummers, wassailers and celebrants of Halloween. As Mardi Gras is the celebration of the final day before Lent, participants and celebrants imbibe and eat heavily, and also dress in specialized costumes, to protect their identities.
La Chanson de Mardi Gras, the Mardi Gras song, known in the local Cajun French as La Danse de Mardi Gras and La Vieille Chanson de Mardi Gras, is a traditional tune sung by the participants, although the exact lyrics vary greatly from town to town. The melody of the traditional folk song is similar to melodies of the Bretons from the northern coast of France. The tune is played in a minor mode not generally found in other Cajun music. This version is sung at by the wonderful Cajun and Alt-Country band Feufollet at the Bluemoon Saloon and Guest House near the Henderson Swamp.
Another story for both my blogs, as this sad tale has to do with Mardi Gras crime. Apparently Tulane University hasn’t sought out NOPD for help in solving the robbery. Hundreds of old krewe items, including including invitations, favors, badges and other memorabilia was taken. Tulane University police attended a recent meeting of the Mardi Gras Memorabilia Society to inform members about the theft and to ask for their help.
It has been known for some time that the Tulane Carnival Collection had lax security. Among the more valuable missing items was a 1858 Krewe of Comus ball invitation and admittance card. Comus was formed the year before, making these items extremely rare.
The list of missing memorabilia is more than 40 pages long and includes hundreds of valuable items including a Falstaffian (turn of the century krewe, long gone) dance card; a bunch of REX medals; Elves of Oberon pins; and much more.
Rafael Monzon, a long time Mardi Gras memorabilia collector, said the items, as a group, could be worth $250,000 or more. Monzon said entire folders of material are gone, including the 1887 file from Krewe of Proteus, creator of the city’s second oldest parade. He said world of Mardi Gras memorabilia collectors is small, and vintage pieces can sell for hundreds of dollars.
Much of the missing Tulane collection are invitations and paper items, as they don’t take up much space or weight.
On the topic of old Mardi Gras ball favors, I found this wonderful page on Pinterest, it’s by Alaina and Lily Hauver and it’s called Forgotten Mardi Gras Krewes. Here’s the link.
There is only one Mardi Gras in America older than the New Orleans Mardi Gras, and that is Mobile’s, only 144 miles away. Begun by Nicholas Langlois of France in 1703, fifteen years before New Orleans was founded, although today the Crescent City’s celebration is much more widely known. In Mobile, the first capital of French Louisiana (1702), the festival began as a French Catholic tradition, as do Mardi Gras around the world.
Mardi Gras in Mobile has now evolved into a mainstream multi-week celebration across the spectrum of cultures in Mobile, becoming school holidays for the final Monday and Tuesday (some include Wednesday),regardless of religious affiliation. Much the same has happened in New Orleans. In downtown Mobile, there are 38 parades over 3 weeks. Baldwin County has a dozen major parades, and outside of downtown there are several parades as well.
When examining the Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Mardi Gras in Mobile, I’m struck by one huge similarity; both have fascinating histories. New Orleans has its ribald parades, Krewe du Vieux for example, but Mobile doesn’t.
Mobile has a number of strange, historic, and strong Mardi Gras traditions. One of my favorites is Joe Cain Day. Joe Cain is credited with re-starting the Mobile Mardi Gras after the War Between the States. In 1868, Joe Cain costumed as Slacabamorinico, a make believe Chickasaw Chief. The Chickasaw, a legendary fighting force, had never been defeated in battle throughout their history. Cain had been in New Orleans the year before for the Fireman’s Day Parade. The next day was Mardi Gras Day, and Cain was impressed with what he saw. His costume was an indirect insult to the still occupying Union force, since the Chickasaw had always won in battle.
A half dozen former Confederate veterans joined Cain later in the day, riding in a decorated coal wagon playing musical instruments. They became known as the L. C. Minstrel Band, now known as the Lost Cause Minstrels of Mobile.
No day is greater than Joe Cain Day. Cain is honored on the Sunday before Mardi Gras every year with a graveyard procession featuring Cain’s Merry Widows, who dress in 1800s funeral attire and weep and wail for their beloved husband. Once they’ve finished this ritual, the Widows throw black beads and black roses to the crowd and head over to Cain’s original home in the Oakleigh Historic District, where they are invited in for cocktails and bicker over who was his favorite.
In the afternoon, the Mistresses of Joe Cain lead the Joe Cain Procession, also known as the People’s Parade, featuring homemade floats made by groups of local friends, families, businesses, churches, and schools. Lasting all afternoon, it is the longest parade of Carnival, and it draws in the neighborhood of 150,000 participants and onlookers.
Cain helped to organize the T.D.S. (Tea Drinker’s Society), one of Mobile’s mystic societies, in 1846; however, their banquets were part of Mobile’s New Year’s Eve celebrations, rather than being held on Mardi Gras day. Other groups had developed Mardi Gras parades, but the Civil War had brought them to a halt.
He’s buried in Mobile in the Church Street graveyard. His gravestone says-
Here lies old Joe Cain
The heart and soul of Mardi Gras in Mobile
Joseph Stillwell Cain
Slacabamorinico – Old Slac
From the blog.al.com web site-
In the final Mardi Gras parade, Folly and Death ride the same float. Folly tries to beat death, since Folly is the only one who would try. Mardi Gras is the one time of the year when Folly triumphs over death. Except today, Fat Tuesday.
They ride the first float of the last parade of Carnival, which is presented by Mobile’s oldest and most storied Mardi Gras organization, the Order of Myths. Pulled by mules and illuminated by flambeaux, the float looks like it did generations ago, creating a portal that carries revelers back to the late 19th century. On the float, Folly chases Death around a broken column — what the OOMs refer to as “the broken column of life.”
During that cartoonish chase, round and round, Folly beats on Death with three inflated pig bladders, painted gold and tied to a broomstick, emitting loud whacks that can be heard across the parade route. The symbolism couldn’t be more universal, and the message couldn’t be closer to the heart of Carnival. Only Folly would ever try to beat Death, since Death always wins.
Except today, Fat Tuesday.
I live on the far side of Carrollton, and not far from my house is this business.The Hair Store was started by Euginie Saussaye In 1877. Today the business is run by 4th and 5th generations. Saussaye began the business by making hair pieces by hand for the French Opera House. Saussaye taught his grandson, Herbert Saussaye, the hair goods business. Herbert became known as the most recognized name in the hair goods business in the region.
In the 1950, Herbert opened his own shop in the French Quarter at 805 Royal Street. The business continued to prosper as the hair goods market grew over time. Herbert’s children run the business today, and their children are active the company. The business has diversified, and includes a specialization in theatrical make up, for use in the entertainment industry. Today they also carry a wide variety of wigs, masks, costumes and costume props. In April of 2002, the Hair Store left their French Quarter neighborhood and moved to 8224 Maple Street.
The staff is very knowledgeable and the selection is second to none. You won’t believe some of the make up kits the store sells. James Rizzuto is known in Carnival circles as the Wig Master. A makeup artist for Vieux Carré Hair Shop, he spends Mardi Gras backstage at more than a dozen balls, preparing kings, captains, pages, clowns and everyone in between for their royal presentation.
Here’s a glowing Yelp review of the Hair Store-
It’s a small shop in what looks like the family home. It has a front section with a wide variety of masks, once you step inside the store, you’ll see all your costuming needs from wigs to masks to costumes to make up. I came here specifically for the make up so that’s what I’ll write about the most.
I was helped by Lynn, one of three workers here, and she was absolutely amazing. She answered all my questions, trialled a few shades for me, and gave me a huge insight into the world of make up. I can’t thank her enough for her assistance with me today.
I ended up walking away with three Mehron foundation sticks, Mehron translucent setting powder, and a powder puff all for just over $40, a steal! I very much so recommend this place to anyone in the area who is after theatrical make up, wigs, masks, and costuming. You will not be disappointed!
New Orleanians are a very creative lot. Most us have a bag of two of Mardi Gras beads in the closet or attic. Once beads are exposed to the weather for a while, the paint wears off but the beads endure for a long time. Since Hurricane Katrina, the city has had FEMA money to fix a lot of major and minor city streams but so many more haven’t been fixed and are one of the banes of our existence in any older city in America. Combining beads and pot holes makes perfect sense to me. It’s a very quick and somewhat lasting solution.
Political Cartoon from al.com