If you are not already in some stage of Carnival frenzy, or if you have not already left town to escape the craziness, get ready to take your respective position.
What is difficult to explain to someone who has never experienced a multiple-week, all-out attack on the senses, including a partial but not full leave of good sense, is the multiplicity of Carnival in New Orleans. The season is not about one thing. It is about many things.
We are surrounded by parades and processions of every size, with every manner of theme, and peopled by normally sane members of society who are anything but sane at this time. If you like massive, multi-float extravaganzas, you shall have them. Like something more in keeping with the neighborhood? Sure, we got ‘dat.
How about a family gathering where someone or all ones really put together a feast? Done and being done. Can you be a spectator? A participant? A contributor? Do whatcha’ wanna’.
You not only can approach Carnival and its climax, Mardi Gras, completely on your own terms, but you can also leave it, and town, on your own terms.
In those respects, Carnival is the most democratic of all the holidays on the calendar. No one will be judgmental of your decisions about levels of participation, or lack thereof. Whether you choose to ride Rex or take advantage of a holiday where the entire rest of the country is at work and you mow your lawn, it’s all okay. Better that you join in, but that is entirely up to you. When we return to normalcy – or what passes for normalcy in this town – on Wednesday, we’ll all be walking around together, with dusty foreheads.
So it makes perfect sense for me to cover a few disconnected topics here, all having to do with Carnival.
- New Krewe Alert! The Krewe of Lafcadio, named after a great writer and cookbook author, Lafcadio Hearn, who spent much time in New Orleans during the late 1800s, will stage its inaugural parade on Saturday at 2 p.m. through the French Quarter. Made up primarily of culinary luminaries like Susan Spicer and John Besh, this new group will bring to food what Krewe of Cork brought to wine.
The parade starts at Galvez Restaurant in the French Market, then heads over to St. Ann and down to Ursuline on Chartres, turning over to Royal Street, on to Bienville and up Bourbon, back to St. Ann. Key throws will be wooden spoons, quite appropriate.
Incidentally, Hearn was a world traveler and spent a decade here during the misnamed Reconstruction period following the Civil War. He penned for the Daily City Item and Times-Democrat newspapers. He wrote, among other pieces, these famous observations about New Orleans, which were sent to newspapers and magazines around the world: “The city is crumbling into ashes …. Its condition is so bad that when I write about it, as I intend to do so soon, nobody will believe I am telling the truth. But it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes than to own the whole state of Ohio.”
- On Mardi Gras, keep an eye out, assuming you are in the Quarter, for Chris Hannah. The terrific bar dude over at Arnaud’s French 75 will be walking around pushing a cart heavy with a Tiki Drink, Coronado Luau. Chris will have free samples. That’s unique but it is his annual tradition. Check out my "Last Call" article in this month’s New Orleans Magazine.
- While we are on the subject of drinks, which after all is supposed to be the subject of this blog (hey, it’s Carnival – cut me some slack!), the folks over at Cure on Freret, namely Neal Bodenheimer, have created a really interesting cocktail that may make some part of your Mardi Gras quite specia:
- Absinthe Suissesse (Variation)
1.5 oz Lucid Absinthe
1 egg white
1 oz heavy cream
3/4 oz simple (cold prep 1:1)
Barspoon white mint float
Shake egg white without ice vigorously. Add absinthe and cream; shake with ice vigorously. Double strain into a cocktail glass and float a bar spoon of white crème de menthe on top. Grate nutmeg on top to garnish.
- On the wine front, you may want to think about what would work for you and your version of Mardi Gras. My guess is that if you spend most of the day on the street, you will not want to be pulling hard on an expensive/special wine as you stroll along or watch the passing parade. As for a white, maybe something from the Alto Adige region of northeastern Italy, like a pinot grigio, or maybe the new Alois Legeder unoaked chardonnay. Both go down easily and won’t tire your palate. Also the bonus is they are in screw-cap so no hardware is required to open the bottle.
Reds present a few more possibilities, like a decent pinot noir from the Carneros region of California (Artesa or Domaine Carneros). Heavier reds include syrah from the western area of Paso Robles in central California (J.Lohr or Runquist), and the merlots from Sonoma (Sebastiani or Rodney Strong).
Sparkling wine is always festive, and the cavas of Spain are easy-drinking, with an attractive price point (Codorniu and Freixenet). That is also true of French sparkling wines – not true Champagnes – which usually hail from the Loire region (Monmousseau).
- Sage (?) words: Have fun and act nicely. There is a tremendous amount of latitude for behavior during Carnival. Many, many communities have tried to emulate New Orleans on this activity and the result has been abysmal failure. After all, what town would not want to have a mid-winter festival that attracts hundreds of thousands of visitor and locals? Well, there is more to it than that. What we bring to the concept, besides the ability to stage a huge extravaganza – mostly with private, not public, funds – is the understanding by those in attendance that even in the commotion, there is structure. We don’t infringe on the space and the rights of those standing next to us. We don’t pee in public. We don’t carry glass. We don’t throw stuff back at the float riders. We don’t expose ourselves just for a few pieces of plastic. When you see others doing such things, chances are they are not from here.
True New Orleanians know how to party and have a great time, within respected bounds. When a policeman tells you to do something, anything, do it. No questions. No smart-ass responses. If you accidently intrude into another person’s activity or space, say “excuse me,” and then correct your intrusion and/or behavior.
It’s all fun because we want it to be. And it’s all fun for everyone. The enjoyment of alcoholic beverages does not give you an excuse to be a boor, to be mean, or to act like a jerk. There is never an excuse for any of that. I hope you don’t need to be that way to have fun.
If you are coming to the Greatest Free Show on Earth with an attitude, don’t. Carnival activities and the parades are broadcast on local television all day. A good way to enjoy Carnival as your ungracious self is at home.
One more thing: Mask! Do it! Put yourself in some sort of costume and really add to the fun of the day. Becoming someone or something other than you is a blast. Suddenly the greatest party on the planet evolves into a much better affair. You won’t regret it.
Happy Carnival! I’ll see you at the parades and in the Quarter.