Friday, March 7, 2014

Saluting carnival worldwide -- Rio to New Orleans

This happy reveler resides in Harrah's, a popular New Orleans casino, completely decorated in Mardi Gras motif.

Cookie and keller take time out from Carnival 
in Rio, for a water break with a new friend.



Balloons, treats and masks
mark carnival time in Rio.

 WE'VE ENJOYED FUN Mardi Gras in Germany, in Rio, in New Orleans and in our winter base here in San Diego. This year’s Mardi Gras comes just a few days before Saint Patrick's Day -- which we've had the pleasure of celebrating in Chicago, Dublin, and Butte, Montana! Humans, it seems, need to celebrate, whether in festivals marked by feathers, elaborate costumes, balloons, beads and booze -- or in parades, feasts and dancing.
Mardi Gras signals that spring is coming and that frenzy -- after our brutal North American winter -- is underway.
MARDI GRAS is one of the craziest and largest parties in the U.S., and no city takes Mardi Gras more seriously than New Orleans.  Even during our visit two months ago, hotels were fully booked for this week.   Every year, partygoers by the hundreds flock to New Orleans to partake of  the floats, festivities and food, and leave their money and mark on the Big Easy.  We were happy to find the city party-loving spirit intact, despite an arduous recovery from Hurricane Katrina.
A Rio street vendor serves up a Mardi Gras coconut. 
MARDI GRAS means “Fat Tuesday” in French, and is observed in many places around the world, including Rio, which we also visited on an eye-opening Brazil trip. The day's origins are in medieval Europe and ancient Rome. Like Christmas, it has its roots in pagan traditions. Again, as with Christmas, religious leaders hedged their bets and let the pagas party and dance, incorporating pagan traditions into Christianity. EVENTUALLY, the celebration spread from Rome across Europe to the New World. Those party-loving southerners made Mardi Gras a legal holiday in Louisiana in 1875, where parades and celebrations continue right on through Ash Wednesday and Lent, past St. Patrick's Day and into Easter. Then it's spring and an excuse for more partying to July Fourth!

WHILE MARDI Gras is not universally celebrated across the U.S. many cities and regions in the U.S. have flashy celebrations, because of the French, Spanish, and colonial influences through the settling years of their history.

The earliest documented Carnival celebration in North America was on the west bank of the Mississippi river about 60 miles downriver from present-day New Orleans.

THAT MARDI GRAS was March 3, 1699. In honor of this holiday, Iberville named the spot Point du Mardi Gras, or Mardi Gras Point. Other early celebrations occurred in Mobile, Biloxi, Pensacola and on the east coast in New York and Boston. Chicago has a rollicking Mardi Gras.
The partying usually extends several days and has become known as "the Carnival season" a last hurrah before the days of penance observed by some between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
CRUISE SHIPS celebrate Mardi Gras with all the trappings of land-locked revelry. The familiar traditions include bead throwing, mask wearing and coconut painting, all widely practiced today.The mask tradition derives from revelers' desire to escape constraints of class and society. Mask wearers could easily mingle with people of different classes and be whomever they desired, at least for a few days.
Cookie and Keller direct traffic with "King Neptune"
on a shipboard passage through the mid-Atlantic.

IN NEW ORLEANS, float riders are required to have a mask on. On Fat Tuesday, masking is legal for all Mardi Gras attendees – although   store owners often post signs asking those entering to kindly remove their masks first.
Torch bearers date way back.

FLAMBEAUX or flaming torches, dates to the pre-electricity days when celebrants carried rope soaked in pitch then set alight.
That way, party goers could continue merry-making past dark.
Slaves were the original torch bearers and earned coins tossed their way as thanks for lighting the way for the floats.
Today's torch bearers often dance and spin their kerosene lights, earning sometimes hundreds of dollars during a parade.
The good times roll down the crowded streets of New Orleans last Mardi Gras.
THE THROWING of beads was the idea of the king of the a carnival in 1872. He chose royal colors: purple for justice, gold for power and green for faith. The plan was to toss the color to people exhibiting the color’s meaning. The beads were glass! Today's beads are mostly plastic and the color-coded meaning has gone by the wayside but beads live on as a staple of Mardi Gras worldwide.
This carnival king directs his way through the crowds. 
MANY CARNIVAL towns name a king.  He is usually called Rex.  The first New Orleans king was crowned in 1872, and that he was the Grand Duke Alexis of Russia, who during a visit to the U.S. befriended U.S. Army Col. George Custer.  The Civil Was hot shot met his end in my native state of Montana four years later.

Oak Alley Plantation boasts 28 300-year old oak trees.

COMING SOON: While we're in a New Orleans frame of mind, we visit Oak Alley Plantation and tackle the complex issue of slavery with a consideration of what we might learn from preserving this beautiful plantation. Remember to explore, learn and live, and visit us Wednesdays and weekends at

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