In New Orleans French, that means: Let the good times roll! It's Fat Tuesday!
Today is, indeed, Fat Tuesday, more commonly called Mardi Gras. It's time to get your celebration on; time to party hearty; time to get down with your bad self; you know, time to eat, drink and be very merry.
Mardi Gras is always the day before Ash Wednesday, which is the first day of Lent and the beginning of 40 days of fasting and sacrifice.
The tradition of Mardi Gras dates back to medieval Europe. It made its way to the New World with French explorers and settlers, and the first Mardi Gras on our continent was observed in 1703 at Fort Louis de la Louisiane.
In modern times, throughout the greater New Orleans area, Mardi Gras is more than just a day; it's a season. While today is the big day, the season begins during the weeks leading up to Fat Tuesday, with many parades to recognize the Mardi Gras season, or Carnival, beginning in January, but most parades are in February.
My family and I were lucky enough to live in New Orleans for two years, when my two children were very young. They loved the Mardi Gras parades, and we had at least 60 to choose from in the New Orleans area. There were even more than that if you included the entire greater southeast-Louisiana region.
In 1987, our second Carnival there, Mardi Gras fell on March 3. The first parade that year was held Jan. 6, just as it was this year, 2014. I worked in New Orleans, but we lived in the suburb of Kenner, home of the New Orleans International Airport and the annual Okra Festival. Next door was Metairie, home to most of the east-bank parade routes. Each parade was sponsored by a krewe – a krewe is like a Carnival group or social organiztion – and 15 Metairie-area parades entertained us between Feb. 8 and March 3 in the year 1987, hosted by Little Rascals, Saturn, Atlas, Caesar, Rhea, Thor, Centurions, Mardi Gras, Aquila, Diana, Isis, Mercury, Napoleon, Zeus and Argus.
Why did I list them all? I know, my gosh, that was way back in 1987! Listen, I didn't want to leave out any of those krewes, because they took pride in their parades, as I'm sure they all do today.
When I first heard about the krewes, I thought that New Orleanians were talking about "crews." I don't know where the word "krewe" comes from, but I know they put on some great parades. Some of those private Carnival groups or social clubs also throw festive balls or galas for their members. Those we couldn't experience, but I love a parade, and we experienced plenty of them.
For right now, I'm living near St. Louis, and St. Louis puts on a Mardi Gras parade. I don't want to rain on St. Louie's parade, so I'll just say that the Gateway City ain't quite like the Crescent City when it comes to Carnival and parades. But that's OK. New Orleans has neither an iconic arch nor a famous, championship, Major League Baseball team. To each river town, its own.
However, today is Mardi Gras, and I wish I were in New Orleans. I'd snag a spot along the Krewe of Rex parade route and enjoy the colorful and creative floats, while catching some beads and doubloons. Then I'd grab some grub at Maspero's, probably eating fried seafood until it came out my ears. Then I'd have a drink at Lafitte's Blacksmith Shop Bar, sipping it appreciatively, while taking in the historic atmosphere in what's purported to be the oldest bar in America. Then I'd stop at Preservation Hall to hear some genuine New Orleans jazz, hanging on every note and loving them all. Then I'd stroll over to Pat O'Brien's and drink me a Hurricane. Pat's is still there, right? Of course, it is, and it's been there since 1933, right? Then, well, then I should head back to the hotel and not over do it. I don't want a hangover on Ash Wednesday. That would be like wasting a precious day in old New Orleans, a day that would be perfect with some wake-up goodies at Café du Monde, followed by, oh, a walking tour of St. Louis Cemetery No. 1.
Maybe next year. Today, at least, I can observe the Mardi Gras tradition of the beouf gras, or the fattened bull. Or it is a cow? Whatever it is, it won't appear to me as a symbol or as a parade float. It will appear on my plate, in the form of a big, juicy, thick piece of fatty beef and will be washed down with a smooth cabernet. Should I include pommes frites or baked potato? Doesn't matter. Let the good times roll!
Say, who ordered the king cake? Did somebody order the king cake?