No doubt about it, there isn't another celebration of any kind that comes close to Mardi Gras. From Galveston, Texas to Pensacola, Fla., to points in between, towns and cities are
celebrating in their own style. And throughout Louisiana, perhaps the state most associated with Mardi Gras, parties and parades are going full force since the start of the season not only in New Orleans but also in places like Shreveport. Looking beyond the throws and costumes while chatting with locals, you can tell Mardi Gras is a culture of sorts.
"Inasmuch as my godfather was a member of Rex and other New Orleans krewes, I grew up connected to Carnival in several ways," comments Robert Trudeau, author of How to Mardi Gras
. "Eventually I understood that outsiders knew little about the holiday's background, so I wrote the book. Before writing, I saved clippings from the NY Times and various New Orleans publications for 10 years."
"I also accept the fact that Carnival is a dynamic event. Mardi Gras looks a bit different in
Shreveport, Galveston, Texas, and Sydney, Australia."
While Trudeau’s book is only 36 pages with 36 illustrations, it is a comprehensive guide to Carnival season in Louisiana. According to him, "you can literally produce your own Mardi Gras party or parade after reading HTMG."
In Shreveport, on Dimanche Gra
s (Fat Sunday), he has marched for years with a krewe, Blanc et Noir Marching Society, that he helped establish.
"We have a brass band and a gang of people doing the second line around the band. We dress in home-made costumes, wave home-made umbrellas and keep alive some of the traditions of Crescent City Carnival."
"Shreveport has adopted Mardi Gras which is mostly thought of as a south Louisiana thing," says Levette Fuller. "While Mardi Gras is a French celebration of the carnival, pre lenten season, the krewe culture was started, ironically enough by an elite group of new residents to New Orleans that were originally from Mobile, Ala.
"With that said, I feel that it's great the carnival is observed in Shreveport because it brings
communities together as well as tourists to our area, looking for something slightly more low key."
Serving as captain of Krewe of Highland
, he says he loves it because it celebrates his neighborhood.
"I love the sense of revelry and high spirit on parade day. I enjoy seeing the neighborhood kids having so much fun in their front yards. I also like that parents don't have to worry about the crowds and mayhem of some areas of the night time parades. Our entire route is kid and family friendly."
As for krewes in general, Fuller says in New Orleans there was a time when only men were krewe members and the membership would be inherited in some cases. Now anyone can join any krewe they like, if they pay dues and comply with what ever rules are set up by the krewe.
"For the most part krewes in Shreveport are inclusive groups. Some krewes have specific missions, for instance Justinian is a law careers krewe consisting of mostly lawyers and their spouses or anyone working in the legal field. Aescelpius is a local medical career krewe. Barkus and Meoux is all about animals and animal rescue."
Krewes organize parades and sometimes balls. They elect representatives of the who act as ambassadors for the krewe and its traditions. The representatives of most krewes are king, queen and captain, he says. Some krewes have a complete royal court with dukes and duchesses, and princes and princesses as well.
He adds that being royalty means dedicating some of the carnival season to visiting schools civic groups and nursing homes to offer good cheer, and perpetuate the culture and traditions of your krewe.
What about the throws?
"Everyone likes to have throws with a little personality. In fact, I think there may be some competition for originality within our krewe. Sure we throw, beads cups and frisbees, but the Highland's signature throw is the hot dog that comes from the sub krewe, “Krewe of Barbecue."
Fuller explains early on in the Krewe of Highland’s inception, the “Krewe of Barbecue” started as a rogue group that cut into the parade route when it reached their krewe’s lieutenant’s home.
"They grilled hot dogs on their float, wrapped them in foil, and threw them to the crowd. When parade organizers found out about the rogue group, rather than disciplinary measures, they invited Jeff Clark, the float’s lieutenant, to join the krewe and be the king.
Krewe of Highlands has also thrown SPAM sandwiches, Ziploc bags of spaghetti and meatballs (made by a gourmet chef), tacos, Moon Pies, candy and stuffed animals.
"Two years ago our queen was Queen Poulet, and she threw marshmallow peeps and packages of chicken flavored ramen noodles. I think the only motivation for the throws is audience amusement. Now there is the sense of curiosity on the route: what will they think to throw this year?"
Of course, it's not a celebration without food. Angie White, president of Slow Food of North Louisiana
, describes Shreveport’s culinary scene as "a little country and a little rock-n-roll."
"We have influences from Louisiana and Cajun Country, of course, but also a lot of representation and influence from Texas with barbecue, steakhouses and Tex-Mex galore."
When it comes to traditional Mardi Gras, the first item comes to White’s mind is King Cakes.
“We have lots of local establishments that carry King Cake’s from famous New Orleans bakeries, like Gambino’s, but several local restaurants are now highly celebrated for their own King Cakes, such as Julie Anne’s Bakery
and Southern Maid Donuts."
She adds, "Pretty much any kind of Cajun dish that feeds a crowd is what you’ll find on Mardi
Gras party buffets: gumbo, jambalaya, red beans and rice, muffaletta’s. For parade watching I always make the ham salad finger sandwich recipe found in the Mardi Gras section of the Marcelle Bienvenu cookbook, Who’s Your Mama, Are You Catholic and Can You Make a Roux?
My friends now demand it actually. As you walk the parade route before our big parades – Centaur, Gemini and Highland – you can see lots of gumbo pots set up for pop up parties."
"Really, any food good at soaking up adult beverages is acceptable."
For more information on Mardi Gras in Shreveport, such a parade dates, times and routes, check out Mardi Gras Ark-La-Tex.
photo credits: top right, Shreveport-Bossier CVB; top left, Trudeau; middle right, left and bottom right, Shreveport-Bossier CVB.