Saturday, February 21, 2009

Fat Tuesday

Top, Rio de Janeiro Carnival 2004, photo released to public domain by photographer Alan Betensley.
Bottom, author Alice Duncan’s wiener dogs are decked out in their Mardi Gras necklaces.
By Pat Browning

It’s summer in Rio de Janeiro. Some people have all the fun. Oh-well. Put on your swim suit and hum a few bars of “The Girl from Ipanema.” Carnival starts today and winds up on Fat Tuesday, and then it’s "farewell to the flesh” for the 40 days of Lent.

“Flesh farewell” is a translation of the Portuguese word CARNAVAL.
Portugal has a long history with Brazil. In fact, the language is Portuguese, not Spanish. I call it Portuguese with a Spanish accent because it’s spoken trippingly on the tongue, as opposed to continental Portuguese. Continental Portuguese, when spoken, is lush and plush and almost impossible to understand.

My vast experience in that matter comes from a year of night school Portuguese, which led to a trip to the Iberian Peninsula, which is a whole other story. How did I fall onto that tangent? Let’s move on to New Orleans.

New Orleans takes Mardi Gras seriously. According to a history published last month in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, Carnival begins Jan. 6, on the Feast of the Ephiphany.

Quoting from a bylined article by Becky Retz:

Also known as Kings' Day or Twelfth Night, Jan. 6 celebrates the arrival of the three kings at Jesus' birthplace, thus ending the Christmas season. And in New Orleans, simultaneously starting Carnival. This festival of fun finds its roots in various pagan celebrations of spring, dating back 5,000 years.

But it was Pope Gregory XIII who made it a Christian holiday when, in 1582, he put it on his Gregorian calendar (the 12-month one we still use today).
He placed Mardi Gras on the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. That way, all the debauchery would be finished when it came time to fast and pray.

Much of the first part of the Carnival season is invitation-only coronation balls and supper dances hosted by private clubs known as krewes.
The public portion comes to life a couple of weeks before Mardi Gras when the krewes hit the streets, staging more than 70 parades in metropolitan New Orleans.

Mardi Gras arrived in North America with the LeMoyne brothers, Iberville and Bienville, in the late 17th century, when King Louis XIV sent the pair to defend France's claim on the territory of Louisiana.The explorers eventually found the mouth of the Mississippi River on March 3, 1699, Mardi Gras of that year. They made camp a few miles upriver, named the spot Point d'Mardi Gras and partook in a spontaneous party. This is often referred to as North America's first Mardi Gras.

A couple of decades later, Bienville founded New Orleans and soon Carnival celebrations were an annual event highlighted by lavish balls and masked spectacles. Some were small, private parties with select guest lists, while others were raucous, public affairs.
Collectively, they reflected such a propensity for frolic in the local citizenry that historian Robert Tallant wrote in his book “Mardi Gras” that natives would step over a corpse on the way to a ball or the opera and think nothing of it. Parades officially began in 1838.

There’s more but that gives you an idea of how seriously New Orleans takes Mardi Gras. Parades are going on even as we speak, with costumed revelers tossing beads to bystanders who call out, “Throw me something, mister!”

A little footnote: In comments posted to the article, there’s quite an argument going on among people who insist that Mobile, Alabama held the first Mardi Gras, long before the LeMoyne brothers showed up. I can’t say for sure. I wasn’t there.

In New Mexico, author Alice Duncan got into the spirit of things by decking out her wiener dogs with necklaces. Alice is a former Californian who also writes as Anne Robins, Emma Craig, Rachel Wilson and Jon Sharpe, sets her whimsical Southern California novels in the 1920s.

To give you an idea, the first one is HIGH SPIRITS and she blurbs it this way:

**Daisy Gumm Majesty, spiritualist to folks with more money than sense, can scarcely believe that her best client wants her to get her spiritual control, Rolly, to appear at a séance in a speakeasy. Bad enough that Daisy made up Rolly when she was ten, but now Rolly has to perform for a bunch of murdering gangsters? When the place is raided, Daisy’s troubles multiply.

Add to the mix Daisy’s nemesis (and her husband’s best friend) Detective Sam Rotondo; Vicenzo Maggiori, leader of the bootlegging racket in the area; and Flossie Mosser, befuddled floozy; and you have a rollicking adventure that Daisy isn’t sure she’s going to survive. **

I like it already!

You can read more about it at Alice’s web site:


Joanne Sundell said...

This is too much fun! I love Alice Duncan and her books, no matter her pen name! Her dogs are adorable in their beads and Mardi-Gras-wear.

I also enjoy New Orleans whenever I visit. My last trip was right before Katrina. Whether roaming Jackson Square or Bourbon Street ... it's always a party. The cemetery is one of the most amazing places I've ever been. A not-to-be-missed adventure.

Lucky for me, I just got my copy of HIGH SPIRITS and am enjoying Daisy's exploits, on the edge of my seat, a little scared of being so close to any seance`. Told ya ... too much fun!

Celebrate the moment, beads and all!

Joanne Sundell

The Parlor House Daughter, LP 4/09
Meggie's Remains 7/09
The Quaker and the Confederate coming soon

Mark W. Danielson said...

Interesting history on Mardi-Gras, Pat. Although the New Orleans adaptation may have evolved beyond its original intent, the benefit is this party brings smiles that override any past tragedies.

Jean Henry Mead said...

Interesting history, Pat. I love Mardi Gras! One year we drove the Gulf Coast states from Texas to Florida during Mardi Gras and even wound up in some of the parades. I still have a large box filled with beads, coins, hats and Tee shirts we acquired along the way.