Tuesday, February 18, 2014

"Laissez les bon temp rouler"

Carnival and Mardi Gras


An intrepid and brave group of members of the Merry Weather Garden Club braved the melting ice and snow and met on Thursday, February 13th, 2014, in the Fellowship Hall of the Greenville United Methodist Church. “Laissez les bon temp rouler” or “Let the good times roll” was more than just the “joie de vivre” of the moment because the ladies were released from the housebound bondage of three days of ice and snow, but because the club learned and celebrated Jeudi Gras (Fat Thursday) as a homage to the Carnival season and the upcoming Mardi Gras, March 4th.

Hosting the meeting were two with Louisiana roots: Ros Gabriel, from the Rayne, Louisiana, the Frog Capital of the World and Babs Gordon,  who grew up in New Orleans. Ros and Dan Gabriel’s presentation began with the history of Mardi Gras going back to Rome and Venice to France and the Bourbons. In the US, Carnival was celebrated in the early 1700s, but it was not until 1856 when the first Krewe, or Mardi Gras paraders, began.

Dozens of Carnival parades are held from January 6th Twelfth Night’s Feast of the Epiphany which marks the end of the Christmas Season to Ash Wednesday which marks the beginning of Lent. The parades peak during the weeks prior to Mardi Gras with different parade routes running throughout the day. With the beginning of the Lenten season, frivolities like chocolate, alcohol, and “fat” foods are often given up until Easter so hence the great feasting finale on Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday.

 Ros Gabriel explained that the different krewes throw different items.  While many think of beads, food, candy, and doubloons as common even coconuts and shoes are thrown by certain krewes.

The colorful beaded and feathered costumes are worn by the native Mardi Gras participants with their krewes while some krewes are specifically for celebrities and others feature very techie floats. Some krewe names are Krewe of Bacchus, Rex, Endymion, there is even a Krewe of Barkus, featuring man’s best friend!

In 1872, the Grand Duke of Russia, a Romanoff, was visiting and was allowed to choose the official Mardi Gras colors: green, gold, and purple. Purple represents justice; green represents faith; gold represents power-colors you may see in LSU and Tulane colors! Babs Gordon brought two King Cakes to the club meeting that were colorfully decorated with the three colors.  Explaining the legend, Babs told the group that a baby Jesus was baked in the cake and the lucky one to have it in their slice of cake hosted the next Carnival party.

Babs explained when she was growing up in the forties, they enjoyed King Cake parties every Friday night and they used a bean not a baby in the cakes. They attended the lovely parades not known for the bawdy drunkenness you often see now in New Orleans. The floats then were pulled by horses that were draped in white attended by grooms dressed in white carrying flambeaux torches that made for a magical experience and a beacon for parade attendees and party goers.

The fleur de lis is the official emblem of Mardi Gras and Ros Gabriel explained its lily originals. Club members shared their Carnival experiences with stories about being in Venice’s during its elaborate Carnival season, Rio’s rowdy parades and simple Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday dinners in the United States.

The club enjoyed nonalcoholic Bloody Marys and Hurricanes, classic New Orleans beverages along with Ros Gabriel’s delicious pot of gumbo, Babs’ King Cakes, and Dan Gabriel’s beignets hot out of the grease!

The next meeting will be in March when the club joins the Talisman Club with Patricia Stribling of Blue Meadow Farm as guide and tours the gardens and home of Bisham Manor in LaGrange.