What Chivalry Built
Mark Twain did not think much of the building in Baton Rouge that we refer to as the Old State Capitol. Twain called it one of the ugliest buildings on the Mississippi. The building, he said, was representative of Southern men of that day who read too many novels by Sir Walter Scott and were too overcome with notions of European chivalry. The capitol he saw as Baton Rouge’s attempt to have a castle.
Twain had a point, not necessarily in his architectural criticism but in his judgment of Southern men of the Victorian age. That attitude was certainly reflected down the river in New Orleans by the men who molded the Mardi Gras celebrations. There would be kings, queens, dukes, maids and their courts, just like in Europe of old.
“Mardi Gras” is a French term for a festival that was built by Americans, but European style permeates. The senior of all surviving Carnival parades is that of Rex, King of Carnival, whose parade marches on Mardi Gras morning. Rex does everything right. Maskers wear original costumes – not sweatshirts and jeans – and no one is boozing as they ride by. The floats are all originally designed for the parade. Pictured here is a Rex float from the 2011 parade. The theme that year was “This Sceptered Isle,” a phrase taken from the Shakespeare play Richard II, glowingly used to describe England. Twain would have certainly been amused by the appropriateness of the knight figure.
Carnival in Louisiana is celebrated in many ways including, as our Courir de Mardi Gras story shows, chasing chickens, as well as dancing in town squares. But the season became important because of the 19th-century men who had a touch of grandeur and chivalry, who made in special. Castle-building is not just with stones, but with passion, too.
Correction: In our November/December 2013 issue, it was incorrectly reported in "The Good Life" article about Baton Rouge that former governor Huey P. Long was assassinated at the Old Louisiana State Capitol. In fact, Long was assassinated at the newer State Capitol. We regret the error and thank several of our readers for alerting us.
We introduce our new cover logo this issue with the words “Louisiana Life” boldly drawing the eye. Nearby is our new slogan, “Embrace the Culture.” We also have a new department, “Louisiana Labeled,” exploring the state’s industries. There’s more to come in future issues as we live up to our pledge to “Embrace the Culture.”