This article is dedicated to the strong
spirit of survival found in Louisiana. Just around ten years
ago, Louisiana was struck with unbelievable devastation. On
August 29, 2005, Katrina and the resultant flooding crippled New
Orleans and the surrounding parishes. It was followed by
Hurricane Rita just a month later on September 24. Rita struck
an already reeling state a second crippling blow. Yet today,
Louisiana has bounced back. It may never be the same again but
it is once more a place to visit and marvel at the history,
culture, food and especially the spirit of its diverse
population that make is a truly unique place.
Traveling in the United States, Louisiana
is the closest you can come to visiting a foreign country. So
much of their food, culture and heritage is found only in
Louisiana is the only state that has
parishes not counties. Reason being that the strongly embedded
French and Spanish culture that was in place when the U.S,
acquired the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803.
While at first blush you might say, "The
first Mardi Gras in this country was held in
Mobile." That's true but
remember Mobile was part of the original Louisiana purchase.
Most cities and even small town in
Louisiana celebrate Mardi Gras but the principal celebrations
are found in New Orleans, Lake Charles, Shreveport, Baton Rouge,
Orleans naturally is the first place that comes to mind when
anyone says "Mardi Gras." The Crescent City is the epicenter of
the Mardi Gras explosion. If you include neighboring
parishes of Jefferson, Saint Bernard and Saint Tammany,
the New Orleans area hosts over 50 parades. Most of which also
have a ball. (Pun intended.)
Only at Mardi Gras in New Orleans will you find strawmen
(& women) sharing Bourbon Street
with a pair of
Gladiators and Uncle Sam in the background smoking a
Until 1968, balls were high society and
upper crust affairs. The Krewe of Bacchus changed all that when
Owen Brennan of Brennan's Restaurant and a few businessmen broke with tradition.
They revitalized an idea
Owen's father had tried with little
success in 1949 and plotted a krewe that would not only
allow outsiders at the ball but would have an outsider celebrity
king for a Sunday night parade with super floats that would be
bigger and more elaborate than any other krewe.
Ball goers would purchase a ticket rather than wait in
vain for an invitation.
Bacchus Parade hit
the streets on Sunday, February 16, 1969 with celebrity king,
Danny Kaye. The krewe today has over 1,400 members and 33
Since then two other super float krewes
have emerged using a similar plan. The Krewe of Endymion
provides a post parade event with top name entertainers so large
it fills the Superdome to overflowing. The other super krewe,
the Krewe of Orpheus has a more formal black-tie for its ball.
Zulu Parade is an distinctly New Orleans tradition. Begun in
the early 1900s, it is an African American krewe that takes
pride in their heritage. Originally, the krewe was somewhat
self-mocking, almost like a minstrel show. Their first kings
wore “lard can” crown and “banana stalk” scepters. Their throws
were somewhat different too. They threw coconuts however
lawsuits claiming injury from the coconuts proliferated. In
1987, their insurance company refused the Krewe of Zulu
coverage. That year they had to suspend their normal throws and
content themselves with just beads and doubloons. The following
year they persuaded the
Louisiana Legislature to pass what was known as the
“Coconut Bill,” exempting coconuts as a cause of injuries. That
might seem strange if you are not from Louisiana but
then-governor Edwards (who was never amiss to forcing the law to
fit his desires as you will learn later) signed the bill into
|The Krewe of Zulu tossing our
The Mystic Krewe of Barkus began over a dog
complaint. In 1992 Thomas Wood
attended a meeting at a local bar. He brought his dog, Jo
Jo McWood, to the meeting
and some of the patrons of the bar complained that the dog was a
nuisance. To get even with the complainers, Wood founded
the Krewe of Barkus and
pronounced Jo Jo
parade queen and captain-for-life. Today the parade of costumed
canines is still going strong. You can even enroll your dog in
the krewe. There is a ball of the human escorts afterwards.
One of New Orleans most colorful Mardi Gras
traditions are the Mardi
Gras Indians. Today, it is a recognized part of Mardi Gras
culture but that wasn't always the way it was. If you listen to
the words of the traditional Indians song,
I-KO, I-KO, it hints
Look at my king all dressed in red
I-KO, un-day. I betcha five dollars he'll kill you dead
Jack-a-mo fee na-na
and another verse
My flag boy and your flag boy were
Sit-tin' by the fire. - My flag boy told
Your flag boy "I'm
gonna set your flag on fire."
This krewe has no floats. Its members are
mostly African American men from inner city neighborhoods who in
the past used masking and the confusion of Mardi Gras to settle
old scores. Today, it still doesn't announce its route but the
"confrontations" between the "Big Chiefs" now are friendly
competition over the elaborate costumes that are handmade and
take months and in some cases thousands of dollars to create.
Street is thronged with revelers on Mardi Gras
As you can imagine all this pageantry will
cost a bundle and provide a lot of jobs. One of the chief
creators of the floats and an attraction you can see year-round
is Blaine Kern's Mardi
Charles is second only to New Orleans in Mardi Gras events
and parades. It offers a very family friendly celebration with a
few unique twists. It has a more Cajun flavor while New Orleans'
celebration is more
Creole. Mardi Gras in Lake Charles culminates on Tuesday night
with the Krewe of Krewes
Parade. The unique thing about this parade is that Krewe of
Krewes is made up of over 60 separate krewes.
Children's Parade is
a fun event. I got to take part in it last year and wore out my
arm throwing beads to the expectant little ones that lined the
|Mardi Gras is so special for
Royal Gala brings the
fun of Mardi Gras to all at a very reasonable price. It is held
the on Monday, Mardi Gras Eve, and offers all the opportunity
usually only found at a ball.
Kings and queens, royal dukes and duchesses, captains,
courtesans, and jesters all parade in full regalia with music,
lights and dancing.
|At the Royal Gala, you get to
see a preview of all the royalty's costumes
At a Royal Gala, you are greeted by the
12th Night Revelers, another Lake Charles Mardi Gras custom. The
12th Night Revelers are decked in colorful jester costumes, many
twirling parasols like Second Line Paraders. They were formed in
1991 by Anne Monlezun to spread the true meaning of Mardi Gras
and act as Mardi Gras Ambassadors.
Another Lake Charles Mardi Gras event you
should not miss is the show presented by the Krewe of Illusions.
It is so professionally done, you think you must be on Broadway
seeing a top show.
|One scene for the Krewe of
Man's best friend is not left out of the
family celebration in Lake Charles. The
Krewe of Barkus
offers pups a chance to get rigged out in costume and compete
for the title of "Mystical Dog." Their human helpers toss out
both beads and dog biscuits.
Lake Charles is home to the largest
Mardi Gras Museum in the South. The Mardi Gras Museum of Imperial
Calcasieu is located in the Central School Arts & Humanities
Center at 809 Kirby Street. The costumes are unbelievable in
both beauty and scale. You can even try on one of them and climb
on a float to toss your own beads. There is a display devoted to
the King Cake and its traditions.
We even got to decorate our own kingcakes.
|I'm trying on a royal headress at the Mardi Gras
||The costumes alone are worth a trip to Lake Charles
In Calcasieu Parish, the
Iowa Chicken Run is a unique take off on another only-in-Louisiana
custom, the Courir de
Mardi Gras. The original Cajun tradition
was for masked horsemen to ride the around the area
stopping at homes to beg for something to make gumbo. The
residents would bring out a chicken or some rice of vegetable
and the revelers would get off the horses and dance and sing in
return for the food offering.
In Iowa, there is a slightly different
twist on the custom. Instead of just horseback riders, they have
several trucks decked as floats. There are still some
horseback riders and a few four-wheel vehicles.
There is no exact route
but Iowa homeowners come out to watch. When someone holds up a
bag of rice or a package of chicken, the parade stops and
everyone gets out playing zydeco music and dancing as a "thank
you." When the dance ends the chicken is tossed and dozens of
excited kids race off in its wake.
|The captain prepars to toss the
||Kids race to capture the chicken
Berline Bellard, who coordinated the event,
explained the procedure. "When we stop. The captain will blow
the whistle. We all unload
off the trailer and then he will throw the chicken in the
air. The minute it hits the ground, the kids and even the dogs
will take off after it. Whoever catches the chicken will bring
They use four different roosters to avoid
too much stress on the animals. Luckily these birds will not end
up in the gumbo pot
that day. While the parade is en route, local ladies are back at
the Knight of Columbus Hall preparing the meal the participants
will enjoy upon their return. Of course there is music and
dancing. That is compulsory at any Cajun event.
Visitors can purchase a ticket and get to
ride on one of the "floats." Participants come from all over the
world as well as locals. Last year, when I took part, Lake
Charles mayor and his family rode on one of the floats with us.
His grandsons chased the chickens along with children who lived
in the local trailers.
This event brings together all races, economic levels and
Shreveport/Bossier City are
also more family orientated. One of my favorite parades is
Shreveport's Barkus and
Meaux. It's open to any pet not just dogs. They have a King
and Queen of
Bone Apétit and court
just like human krewes. The court are named for food related
items like Lady of
the Fondue and Duke of Midnight Snacks. The parade is
competitive with contests that
include Best Float, Pet/Owner look-a-like, and Best Dressed
|Who's having more fun, the kids,
the dog or the onlookers
Shreveport/Bossier City has seven parades
in all. The Krewe of
Gemini has a museum with costumes of past royalty. It's open
March. Mardi Gras Bash is an opportunity for groups of 10 or
more to enjoy a front-row experience for the Krewe of Centaur
Parade held on the Saturday before Mardi Gras.
Another fun and free event is the float
loading parties. Both the Krewe of Centaur and the Krewe of
Gemini throw a party a night or so before the parade where
visitors can visit the dent and watch the behind the scenes
activities involved in putting on a super parade.
(For more Shreveport Mardi Gras click here.)
|One of the floats at the Float
Baton Rouge has the most informal Mardi Gras of this group.
There are seven parades mainly focusing on weekend fun. The
Krewe of Mutts is their tribute to man's best friend. Mardi Gras
day the parade, Beauregard Town Walking Parade, is a
human-powered event where anyone is free to join the parade. It
has no gas guzzler floats. You either march, bicycle or create a
pedal-powered float for this one. it ends with a big open party
Their biggest parade,
The Krewe of Spanish Town,
is held on the Saturday before
Mardi Gras. It also ends with the ultimate Mardi Gras
Party. It offers free bands, vendors, art exhibits and food. You
can purchase a "Taste of Louisiana" meal tickets if you wish.
Houma, Mardi Gras begins two weekends prior to Fat Tuesday
With the Krewe of Hercules that Friday night and culminate with three parades
on the big day,
Krewe of Houmas, Krewe of
Kajuns and Krewe of Bonne Terre. Mardi Gras there is
celebrated with a very Cajun flair.
Most Louisiana cities have some celebration
of the day. Natchitoches has one parade, the
Krewe of Dionysus,
which has more than a dozen super floats.
It's a legal state holiday in Louisiana
since 1875. Don't lose sight of the fact that it's also a
religious holiday. Mardi Gras is always celebrated on Shrove
Tuesday, also called Fat Tuesday, the day before Lent officially
begins on Ash Wednesday. The weeks leading up to it are filled
with King Cakes and parties.
|Kingcake making is an art at
Julie Anne's in Shreveport
Louisiana has food not usually found
elsewhere until the
recent upswing of Cajun Cooking hit the airways. Things like po'
boys, crawfish, gumbo, etouffee, boudon and dirty rice are a way
of life in Louisiana.
|Crawfish being dumped at
Shreveport's Mardi Gras Bash
Drive by Daiquiris can be found in many
places. In case you are used to open-container
laws, the daiquiris
servers comply by pasting a bit of tape over the straw hole.
Naturally patrons remove the tape, put in the straw and slurp
the icy goodness.
The first cocktail, the Sazerac, was
created by a pharmacist in New Orleans in the early 19th
century. New Orleans is
the birthplace of Absinthe
Frappe, the Ramos Gin Fizz, the Obituary Cocktail and Pat
O'Brian's Hurricane. Antoine's Restaurant is the
birthplace of Oysters Rockefeller.
“I’ll dance at your
funeral” does not constitute a curse in Louisiana. It refers to
Jazz Funerals which are embraced as a way to celebrate the life the
dearly departed enjoyed
rather than mourn the end of that life.
Of course, Jazz is a part
of New Orleans. Be sure to visit the
Jazz Festival. In 2016,
it's April 22 to May 1.
Voodoo is not the stuff of bad horror movies in New Orleans. It is an accepted
religion that is actively practiced by many people. A great
place to understand Voodoo is with a visit to Jerry Gondolfo's
Orleans Historic Voodoo Museum. It's the most authentic.
|The Historic Voodoo Museum in
New Orleans is truly unique
New Orleanians have a way
with language that is decidedly European. If someone refers to a
porte cochere, he's
talking about what you call a carport. "Make the groceries"
doesn't mean they are going to create them just go and buy them.
Banquettes and neutral
grounds describe the places called "sidewalks" and "medians" in
other places. The term neutral ground came about after the
Louisiana Purchase when Americans began to move into the city.
French and Spanish Creoles, even the Free People of Color
considered them barbarians and did not want to mingle with them.
Business required dealings between Creoles and Americans so
instead of the American being invited into the French Quarter or
the Creole venturing into the
Garden District or
Irish Channel, where
the Americans lived,
they would meet on the neutral ground on Canal Street. it
divided the Quarter from the Uptown section and was thus a
"neutral ground" for both parties.
|The Canal Streetcar is a
tradition in New Orleans
There is so much to see on
both sides of that neutral ground, the Old Custom House, now the
fantastic Audubon Insectarium, the New
Orleans Audubon Aquarium, streetcars like nowhere else, A ferry to take you to the
Algiers side and naturally
|One of the exhibits at the
||A butterfly poses at the
My favorite "language story" relates to one
of New Orleans favorite sports. I was taking a tour on one of
the Hop-on Hop-off Tour Buses. When we passed Harrods on Canal Street,
our guide informed us "Ladies and gentlemen, there is no
gambling in New Orleans. Un un! Gambling is forbidden by the
At this point we were all looking to see if her keepers
were pursuing her bus with a strait jacket.
She continued, "Governor Edwards was in
office when we got casinos in Louisiana. He decided that even
though gambling was forbidden, gaming
was legal. So here we have
gaming at the casino."
(For more about Louisiana
casinos, click here.)
I am from New Orleans and grew up with all this so it
seems natural to me. Go visit and see what you think. I predict
you will love Louisiana.
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