Mardi Gras, that festival always connected with historic New Orleans, runs late this year, on March 4. But that doesn’t mean visitors wait till then for the fun—Fat Tuesday is actually the end of the event. Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, when all repent their sins and perhaps fast and pray is the day after Mardi Gras proper. So we want to talk about all those days adding up to that last Tuesday, those days when all the fun takes place!
New Orleans begins gearing up long before, the Krewes building their floats and decorating them with flowers and art, huge papier mache heads and more. This is a tradition that goes back 200 years, when the secret charitable societies paraded, masked, through the streets, even at night, as flambeaux lit their way. The societies adopted three colors as their symbols—purple, for justice, gold for power, and green for faith. Even today, when you travel a parade route, you’ll see those colors everywhere, and many of the souvenirs will be decorated with them as well.
The societies, or Krewes, are these days made up of local social and business persons, who mask and ride in the floats, tossing “throws” of all sorts to those along the parade routes. Some throws are simple plastic beads, some are “geaux” cups marked with that year’s theme of the Krewe, others are more expensive and elaborate beads, perhaps with embedded LED lights. It’s considered lucky to catch these special throws, the Zulu coconut perhaps the most valuable of all. (And no, you don’t have to take off your shirt to get any of these at all, as I found on my visit to the Crescent City several years ago. On the other hand, some people take the opportunity as a chance to exercise their inner stripper. What happens in New Orleans….often ends up on someone’s Twitter feed. What can I say?)
Krewes bear such exotic names as Proteus, Bacchus, Endymion, Le Krewe D’Etat and the Knights of Babylon. But the premier parade is that of Rex, or King, and the King of Carnival rides at the head of Rex. His identity is kept secret until the final night, when he leads the dances at the Rex ball. He is a local businessman, who is selected by the community for his charitable and philanthropic work.
Parades aren’t the only thing to do at Mardi Gras, of course. It is de rigeur to stop by Café Du Monde for some powdered sugar-covered beignets and the New Orleans coffee laced with chicory. The Aquarium of the Americas, right on the river, has a wonderful display of local fish and history as well as the more exotic. Museums like Mardi Gras World, across the Mississippi in Algiers, where so many of the floats are constructed, and the Voodoo Museum in the French Quarter, where another side of the dark history of New Orleans can be explored.
And whenever you’re in New Orleans, one of the best activities is experiencing their wonderful food. With oysters and seafood fresh from the Gulf, you can expect many delicious dishes to be served, whether you choose Cajun (more countrified) or Creole (definitely citified). Red beans and rice are standard fare, rib-sticking food before your nights of carousing. Most dishes are made with the basics of the Holy Trinity of staples– chopped celery, bell peppers and onion. Whether it’s jambalaya, beans or shrimp creole, you’re likely to find them.
And you can’t finish your meal without digging into a king cake. Decorated with the three Mardi Gras colors, the cake can be plain grocery-store bakery fare, or filled and iced at an upper-class bakery, but the important detail is always the small plastic baby inside. When the cake is served, whoever finds the baby will have good luck for the coming year. The lucky recipient may also be expected to bake the King Cake or throw the Mardi Gras party for the next year.
It’s across this broad palette that my latest novel, VOODOO DREAMS, is set:
When her big trial goes bad, corporate attorney Brianna Ward can’t wait to get out of Pittsburgh. The Big Easy seems like the perfect place to rest, relax, and forget about the legal business. Too bad an obnoxious–but handsome–lawyer from a rival firm is checking into the same bed and breakfast.
Attorney Evan Farrell has Mardi Gras vacation plans too. When he encounters fiery and attractive Brianna, however, he puts the Bourbon Street party on hold. He’d much rather devote himself to her–especially when a mysterious riddle appears in her bag, seeming to threaten danger.
Strangely compelled to follow the riddle’s clues, Brianna is pulled deeper into the twisted schemes of a voodoo priest bent on revenge. To escape his poisonous web, she must work with Evan to solve the curse. But is the growing love they feel for each other real? Or just a voodoo dream?
If you’re ready to visit this magical and dangerous land, check out VOODOO DREAMS on Amazon and at the Wild Rose Press site. For updates and special offers, visit my website. And laissez les bon temps roulez!
Mardi Gras float, CC by Infrogmation of New Orleans
King Cake, CC by Phil Denton
New Orleans, by Alana Lorens
Voodoo Museum, by Alana Lorens