Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Mardi Gras - Gulf Coast Style
Last week I had the pleasure of being down on the Gulf coast at Gulf Shores, Alabama for Mardi Gras. I know, the words Mardi Gras conjure images of New Orleans, drunks, and extreme parties but there are other celebrations on the coast that aren't so raucous. Most of the parades in other areas are more family-oriented and quite civilized. I lived in Mobile for years and attended quite a few parades. Mobile boasts some pretty good ones that rival those in New Orleans. I enjoyed it, catching beads and Moon Pies until a fellow lawyer on a float threw an entire box of Moon Pies at me, nearly rendering me unconscious. I went to parades thereafter with more trepidation.
According to Wikipedia, the term "Mardi Gras" is French for Fat Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday. The tradition is a reference to the last night when people can eat rich, fatty foods before the Lenten Season. In other parts of the world, the season is also celebrated - like in Brazil where it's called Carnival and in the United Kingdom where it's called "Shrove Tuesday." A little history for Kathy is that Mardi Gras originated in Mobile, not New Orleans. In 1703 the French colonists in Mobile had just survived a nasty bout with yellow fever so they decided to celebrate. The men painted their faces and acted crazy for a few hours. They had so much fun that they decided to make it an annual event. Mardi Gras in Mobile was transformed into a parade in 1840 by a group known as the Cowbellian de Rakin Society. In 1857 the Mobile "mystics" travelled to New Orleans to help them set up Mardi Gras in the Crescent City. So, you see, Mobile is the true Mardi Gras, though less famous.
Mardi Gras was put on hold during The War of Northern Aggression because Mobile was occupied by Northern troops. In 1866, a man by the name of Joe Cain wanted to bring back the fun. He dressed himself in full Chickasaw Indian regalia, proclaimed himself Chief Stacabamorinico ( I have no clue what this means so don't ask me), climbed into a coal wagon with six other men and road around town. Mardi Gras was reborn. To this day, Mobile still celebrates Joe Cain Day which is a parade for the people. It's fun and a bit more rowdy than the regular Mardi Gras Crewes.
I should also point out that I previously mentioned "Moon Pies." Yes, in Alabama, they are tossed from the floats and are prized more than the lovely, ten-cent beads and doubloons. Prior to 1974, food was thrown from the floats. Most of the time it was Cracker Jacks because it was a cheap alternative to beads. But, people kept getting injured by the boxes so Mobile outlawed them as a throw in 1974. The Maids of Mirth decided to throw Moon Pies and a grand tradition was born. Moon Pies are made in Chattanooga and special ones are made especially for Mardi Gras. They are smaller and have purple, green and gold decorations on their packages. The flavors are also unique - chocolate, banana, coconut, orange, vanilla, strawberry and apple. Yes, I know but they are good. If the pies are not Moon Pies, you have to call them Mardi Gras pies and NOT Moon Pies. You must follow proper etiquette.
So, you see there are lots of things about Mardi Gras in Alabama of which we should be proud. We were the first and we still celebrate. Few people know about this and I thought I would share the parade I attended in Gulf Shores. It was at ten in the morning, attended mostly by families and was quite sedate. Except for that Yankee standing next to me who kept sticking his hand in front of my face, catching the beads that were thrown to me. I almost declared another Civil War when I tried to tell him about proper Mardi Gras decorum - You do not SNATCH beads from another person's hands and live to tell about it. Extreme violence can occur over plastic beads, especially the larger ones. He backed off and hid behind his wife from then on.
This was the first float by the fire department. I was amazed by the smoking house as it went through. You can see one guy in aqua was all aghast over it too.
If any of you have been to Gulf Shores then you know about Lamberts - The Home of Throwed Rolls. This was their float and they actually threw their famous rolls wrapped in celophane. I didn't catch one because the kids were snatching them too quickly. Which reminds me, the next time I go to a Mardi Gras Parade, I am renting a kid - they get more stuff.
The Crewe of Misfits. My kind of guys. They were wearing bicycle helmets with brooms attached on the top like Roman Soldiers.
And what parade on the Coast would be complete without Pirates? This guys was a bit older than what Kathy would have in her book but he was great. He threw me a big necklace (not one of the small ones he's holding in his hands) so I liked him.
The Pirate Ship. I thought Kathy would like this so I put it in. LOL
These guys were from an RV park. I just like the Showboat float. They also threw me a big handful of beads.
The Chamber of Commerce. I liked the float and thought it was very well done.
The King and Queen. Every Mardi Gras parade has to have them.
These were the veterans and they looked grand!
Another Chamber of Commerce Float. I can't remember what city, but it was one of the local communities. I liked the shrimp on front with the jester hat.
Lulu's Float. Lucy Buffet, Jimmy Buffet's sister, owns this restaurant. It's got great food, good live bands and a great atmosphere set on the Intercoastal Waterway. I love the place!
Now, if you have suffered through all these pictures, you deserve a prize. I am giving this lovely COCONUT purse away to some lucky commentator. It is actually a coconut, artfully decorated and with all the shiny, ten-cent appeal of Mardi Gras. I just had to buy it for the blog (the picture was taken on the balcony of my condo - great view!).
So have you ever been to a Mardi Gras, Carnival, Shrove Tuesday or such a celebration? Have you ever caught a Mardi Gras bead or, be still my heart, a Moon Pie? Share your stories with us!