On Tuesday, February 28th, the annual Carnival celebrations come to an end in Berlin, Rio, Venice, Mobile, Lake Charles and, yes, the New Orleans area and its suburbs.
DuxWare, located in Slidell, Louisiana, is just north of New Orleans on Lake Pontchartrain. Nestled in a duck-covered arm of the Lake, with a golf course nearby is usually very quiet town. The peaceful, bedroom community ends for about two weeks before the Big Day when the Krewe of Bilge goes sailing through the bayou, as the bikini-clad sailors throw trinkets to those standing on the shoreline. The constant reminder from mothers along the bank can be heard yelling to children to “not fall in” as they peruse shiny plastic trinkets.
In the South, we have a long history with Carnival time since well…the beginning! The Canadian Brothers Lemoine, tasked by Louis XIV with finding the mouth of the Mississippi River in 1710 (before the English did), never hung around to see the entire Gulf Coast taken over with lust for Moon Pies, doubloons, weird costumes, and beer. The first French landfall was on Mardi Gras Day near Mobile, Alabama and the first Carnival was celebrated that very day. Carnival means “away with meat”.
Founded in 1908, Zulu was the first parade to embrace integration, having many white riders in, wait for it…black-face makeup! Many of the older Krewes, like Rex (1872), were all-white and limited to a few select, secret members. Zulu was founded to poke fun at the upper crust Boston and Pickwick Clubs.
It is well known Mardi Gras brings in a ton of celebrities to our city, but did you know that in 1949 Louis Armstrong reigned as King of Zulu? Mr. Armstrong started the celebrity craze that year! Not to be outdone, the Krewe of Rex followed that up in 1950 with the Duke and Duchess of Windsor (formerly Britain’s King Edward VIII). That always makes me laugh considering this was real royalty in a fake royalty role.
In the 1960’s, Bacchus, Argus and Endymion were started, open mostly to all, and added celebrity monarchs. These parades attract as many as 1 million viewers each. Past Monarchs include Dolly Parton, John Goodman, Nicolas Cage, and William Shatner. Harry Connick Jr has his own Krewe of Opheus, where mostly well-known musicians rein as King. The late Pete Fountain led his Half-Fast Marching Club out of Commanders Palace at 7 a.m. on Carnival Day, with Bloody Mary’s in hand for half a century.
Mardi Gras Day itself is the LAST day of the blow-out. The “Burbs” start 2-3 weeks out with neighborhood parades, about 50 in all, some grand, some small, some with dogs and some with Star Wars theme. The Metro area of the Crescent City gets rolling about two weeks out, with the bigger parades the weekend just before the Big Day.
So, when you are planning to come down to see this crazy show in person, be sure to come a little early. Showing up on Mardi Gras Day will have you missing most the fun.
If you come to Mardi Gras, you will discover that various groups have their own celebrations: There is a gay Carnival, with the French Quarter hosting a drag queen costume contest in the street. The Mardi Gras Indians in the Treme neighborhood, who design and sew their own amazing headpieces covered in beads, sequins, and feathers along with equally beautiful costumes. You can’t cover it all, so pick a friendly bunch of people to hang out with, who might have a view of a parade, and, please God, a toilet.
The day after is Ash Wednesday and traditionally you will see any good Catholic heading to church for ashes, forgiveness, and an entire year to recover.
Laissez les bon temp rouler!
DuxWare is still working that day, just do not talk too loud.