Friday, February 13, 2015

Laissez les bons temps rouler - Let the Good Times Roll

It's Mardi Gras in Mobile! Yeah, New Orleans throws a big ta-do, but since we Alabamians like to say Mobile had the first Mardi Gras, I'll be talking about how we do it up. Purple, gold and green colors are everywhere, even on the gigantic wreath on my own front door. Parades with masked revelers throwing moonpies, beads, and huge stuffed animals are held nearly every night for about three weeks. Balls with ladies in beautiful long dresses and guys in tails wearing so many beads they look like Mr. T.

On Fat Tuesday, the Knights of Revelry ladies wear spring suits and fancy hats like you see at the  Kentucky Derby. Most have on tennis shoes with those designer suits. Half the children running around wear French hand-sewn dresses and john-johns. The other half are raggamuffins with Walmart sacks filled with throws. The most serious parade goers have folding chairs, ice chests, and giant umbrellas they flip upside down to catch goodies. Plus, the bigger the umbrella, the easier for the drunk dude on a float to make the target. Folks even have those trash picker upper things to pull beads from the branches of crape mertles and enormous live oaks lining the streets. Campers fill the grassy area by the civic center for weeks on end because even if you live in Mobile, you don't go home - especially when your attending 5 to 8 balls.
I've been in the parades and watched them. The first parade I watch when I was 15. I got sprayed with mace when some doofus near me got into a fight with his buddy. Luckily, I'd ridden in the Joe Cain Children's Floral Parade earlier that day. In the middle of it, this super cute guy ran up to my float and gave ME a rose. That's my favorite Mardi Gras memory. 

Earlier this week, I experienced MG as an adult, attending the Order of Venus ball with several girlfriends because who needs a better reason to wear a ballgown than a Girls Night Out?
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To start a ball, the calvary makes a processional followed by the court and finally the queen (or king if it's a men's organization). The members of the organization are wearing masks and costumes that they had on the float prior to the parade. The whole ordeal of introductions takes an hour while guests watch. Then the band comes in and everyone dances until midnight - unless you're a badass and can party til 2:00. 
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The band last night was "The Molly Ringwalds" from Europe. They plays all 1980's cover songs. It was AWESOME!!! They were dressed like PeeWee Herman, Twisted Sister, and other icons from the 80's. The but dress behind is one of costumes a member had. Most had their faces painted with a mask and lots of bling and rhinestones. 
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The attire is "costume de rigour" meaning girls wear long dress, but some organizations like this one lets you get away with skimpy dresses (but not two pieces so I had a panel added to center of my dress). Guys are required to wear tails and a WHITE tie. This is a dear friend I ran into (along with his boyfriend - I know, right? All the cuties bat for the other team!). BTW - I came out of my heels but had brought flats for dances. Some had flipflop and a few went barefooted - gross bc there are drinks spilled everywhere. 

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Each organization member is responsible for selling tickets to her table. She also has to decorate it. Most of the money for membership dues and tickets pays for the ball and parade, but some is often donated to a charity. I'm not a member of an organization and honestly have no desire to be. Like most Mobilians, I go snow skiing and get away from all the tourists during Mardi Gras, but it sure was fun to have a little hometown rivalry last night even as the sober designated driver!

So there's your first hand account of Mardi Gras. Here's the official version:

Mardi Gras is celebrated in Mobile, New Orleans and other Gulf Coast cities. This festive event was started in Mobile and according to some accounts, dates back to 1703. The celebration was originally called Boef Gras (Fat Beef).

The well-known Mardi Gras in Mobile was begun by Michael Krafft. On New Years's Eve, 1830, Krafft and his friends were reluctant to end a dinner party at the customary time. They raided a nearby hardware store, took up rakes, hoes and cowbells and proceeded to wake the town. They soon formed the Cowbellion de Rakin Society, the first of Mobile's many modern mystic organizations. The Cowbellions presented their first parade, complete with floats and theme, in 1840.

The Civil War brought revelry in Mobile to an abrupt halt. Joseph Stillwell Cain, on Fat Tuesday of 1866, donned full Chickasaw Indian regalia, dubbed himself Chief Slacabamorinico. Cain and six friends set out to raise the morale of citizens in the defeated city. Dubbing themselves the "Tea Drinkers", and fired up by drink much stronger than tea, they took to the streets in a decorated coal wagon pulled by a mule. Cain was a founder in the Order of Myths, the organization which today holds the final Carnival Season parade Mardi Gras night. He also helped organize many more parading societies. Cain's role in reviving Mardi Gras is observed each year on the Sunday before Mardi Gras Day, "Joe Cain Day." On "Joe Cain Day" thousands of Mobilians in costume and on individually designed floats parade through the streets of downtown Mobile.

The date of Mardi Gras is determined by the date of Easter. Mardi Gras Day, or "Fat Tuesday," is the Tuesday before the Ash Wednesday which begins the 40 days Lenten season. Nighttime parades and other public festivities begin about 10 days before Mardi Gras Day. Carnival Season balls, receptions and other private functions begin in the fall and continue through Mardi Gras Day.

Laissez les bons temps rouler,
Casey Crow

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