in New Orleans
Orleans, the great city at the mouth of the Mississippi
of the most colorful, most cosmopolitan and most European of American
Though very few people in the city now
speak or understand much French, New Orleans prides itself on its
French heritage. The historic center of the city is known as the French
Quarter, and the city is famous across the United States for its
restaurants and its "Mardi Gras" celebrations.
It is still one of America's great
ports, where goods that have traveled down the Mississippi valley by
barge or by truck or by train are offloaded and trans-shipped, to be
exported all over the world.
Gras parade in New Orleans
By John Robillard
Mardi Gras, meaning literally
"Fat Tuesday" was first celebrated in Louisiana by French colonists in
the eighteenth century. It was, in those days, a day of feasting before
the start of Lent
the 40-day period leading up to Easter.
As the last "normal" day before the
austerity of Lent, "fat Tuesday" was a day to make the most of
a day of carnivals, eating, drinking and revelry
. It has
remained a day of carnival ever since; but the original French
celebrations are just a small part of today's festivities. Mardi Gras,
New Orleans style, owes as much to Afro-Caribbean customs
Latin American carnival tradition as it does to the French colonists
who established it in their new city.
The Mardi Gras celebrations actually last
weeks. About a month before the main carnival, a season of elaborate
balls and parties begins: the official Mardi Gras program is published,
and shops start selling the very sweet and colorful "King Cake", a
delicacy that can only be found during this holiday season.
In other parts of Louisiana, the first
Mardi Gras parades actually take place three to four weeks before the
big carnival in New Orleans, and even in the city itself, smaller
parades begin two weeks before the big day.
My first Mardi Gras party took place in
a friend's apartment in New Orleans a few days before the parade. The
apartment was decorated out in the season's traditional colors of
green, gold and purple; the hi-fi system pounded out carnival music,
while the guests danced, talked, and ate King Cake, washed down with
"Blackened Voodoo Beer", another specialty brewed
in a local
On Fat Tuesday itself, I joined the
hundreds of thousands of local people and visitors, to watch the
processions wind their
through the streets of New Orleans. The processions
are organized by groups called "Krewes", which each have mythological
or historic names, such as Proteus, Endemion, or Bacchus. The one I
liked best was Zulu, a parade organized by members of the city's black
with its colorful ornate floats
and costumes based on African themes.
Perhaps the most astonishing aspect of
Zulu and other parades was the "throws". As the floats move slowly
through the crowds, tradition has it that those on them should throw
all kinds of trinkets
into the crowd — plastic necklaces, engraved plastic cups,
plastic medallions (a coveted
prize) and other souvenirs. Most parade-goers do all they can to catch
these materially worthless items, and I found myself quickly caught up
in the frenzy
scraping on the sidewalk among the surging
spectators to proudly pick up my plastic prize. In the heat of the
moment, it's hard not to be caught up in the madness of this ritual, in
spite of the worthlessness of the prizes!
Traditionally, people in New Orleans use
the "throw cups" they pick up, and decorate their cars or homes with
the other souvenirs they take home.
As a Yankee spending my first Mardi Gras
in New Orleans, however, I made some mistakes in planning my time.
There is so much going on at Carnival time, that you can't see
everything, and I was disappointed not to see more of the city's famous
bands parading through the streets, but obviously I was
often in the wrong place at the wrong time.
After a year, I know that I still have a
lot to learn about the customs, cultures and traditions of Mardi Gras
in New Orleans. This year, I'll try and restrain myself during the
throws, so that I won't come home with a bagful of plastic objects that
I simply have to recycle. I'll let someone else have that pleasure!
to make the most of
: to take maximum advantage from, to enjoy - revelry:
: habits, traditions - to
: to endure, to survive - to brew:
to make beer - wind
their way :
move and turn - resplendent
shining, colorful - floats
wagons, carts - trinkets
kitsch, worthless objects - coveted
desired, wanted - frenzy
excitement - surging
all moving together
► Mississippi Music
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ADVANCED ENGLISH - STUDENT
Gras in New Orleans
do you remember from the article?.
What does Mardi Gras literally mean?
2. What is the name of the 40-day period
leading up to Easter?
3. Historically speaking, how was the
last "normal" day before this period spent?
4. Nowadays, when do the Mardi Gras
5. What is the name of the delicacy
specific to this holiday season?. Where is the big carnival held?
7. What are the season's traditional
8. What is the name of the special beer
people drink in New Orleans?
9. Who organizes the processions?
10. What are "throws"?