Vendredi Gras

Last night around 2 AM, I completed what was probably the biggest graphic design project I’ve ever tackled.  It’s the 2014 Mardi Gras edition of The Jambalaya News.  We publish twice a month, but once a year we build this special edition celebrating one of the strangest holidays in America.

It was actually thanks to the Mardi Gras edition that I first became acquainted with The Jambalaya News.  Darrell, a member of my ghost hunting team, SWLA Paranormal Investigations, was their graphic artist, and he would throw me side-work occasionally.  Because the Mardi Gras book has to be built at the same time as the regular edition, he would get overloaded.  I helped build it for a couple of years in a row.  I was actually on a ghost hunting expedition at The Jambalaya News’s office when I met the owners, Phil and Lauren, for the first time.  Last year Darrell took a teaching job, and I took his place permanently at The Jam.

The last month here has been hell.  I built a 56 page book, and a 52 page book, while at the same time building this 68 page Mardi Gras book.  It has consumed my life.  I took naps in my office.  My dogs forgot my name.  But as of last night, my weekend of rest and recovery has begun.  Meanwhile, the Mardi Gras revelers will get drunk and be merry.

“What is Mardi Gras?”  Well, first I need to explain, “What is Louisiana?”

Louisiana is different from all the other states in the union.  There are little differences, like the way we don’t have Counties; we have Parishes.  You’ll see many of our street names are French.  It’s less common as the older generation passes on, but it used to be common to hear people speaking French when I was younger.  My great-grandmother didn’t even speak English.  Common last names around here are Boudreaux, Thibideaux, and Fontenot.  That’s because we were originally founded by the French.  Then we were handed over to the Spanish.  Then we were blended in with the Native Americans, and eventually the African Americans.  Louisiana’s culture and genetic makeup is truly a microcosm of the American “melting pot”.

Mardi Gras is a bizarre concoction of a holiday that only Louisiana could have embraced and nurtured properly.  Sure, other states have their parades and such, but none have mastered it to the extent of Louisiana.  Where most calendar holidays like Christmas and Easter had Pagan roots that were morphed into Christian holidays, Mardi Gras originated as a Christian holiday that seems to have been dragged down into a pit of drunken debauchery.  Catholics would take part in Ash Wednesday, where the practice of fasting from eating meat was observed.  “Mardi Gras” is French for “Fat Tuesday”, the day before Ash Wednesday.  That’s the day you live it up, eating and drinking anything and everything you want.  Basically, a “cheat day” that has turned into a phenomenon.

Mardi Gras revelers band together in clubs or societies called Krewes.  There are something between 60 to 75 Krewes in Southwest Louisiana alone.  Each Krewe has between 25 to 1000 members.  They come and go, but some have been around for decades.  Each year, the Krewe throws a Ball, complete with fancy dress, live music, and an election of annual Kings and Queens, and their Court of Dukes and Duchesses.

As a kid, my experience with Mardi Gras was limited to parades, catching candy, beads, and whatever else they chose to throw.  I remember a children’s parade when I caught free beer tokens for a local casino.  As I grew older, my friends and I would caravan from city to city from Friday to “Fat Tuesday”.  Schools and offices are always closed Monday and Tuesday for the week of Mardi Gras, effectively creating a five-day weekend.  I grew out of the “parade scene” years ago.  Puking on street corners just doesn’t hold the same allure for me anymore.

I don’t belong to a Krewe, but I usually get invited to a couple of Balls every year.  A member of a Krewe has a table at the Ball, and they can invite their friends and family (no kiddies of course) to join them.  Each table is basically an open bar, loaded with liquor and snacks.  We’re all decked out in ball gowns and tuxedos.  (Minor Flash Fact; I actually own two tuxedos.)  The Royal Court is dressed in something way more elaborate, adorned in… outfits?  Gear?  I’m not sure how to explain it.  Just think Comic Con without super-heroes, with a shitload of feathers, rhinestones, sequins and glitter.  And that’s not just the ladies.  The entire Royal Court is blinded out in splendor that wouldn’t fit through a door.

My first experience with Mardi Gras Balls was as a photographer’s assistant.  He would shoot 6 to 8 Balls every year.  I got to see a wide variety of Balls.  (Good God, I can already hear all the ‘that’s what she said’ comments.)  Some were very regal and stuffy; no fun at all.  Others were a big, laid-back wild party.  Some were actually pretty family friendly.  Each Krewe has it’s own particular vibe, and you really should shop around before joining one.

Now that you have a better understanding of Mardi Gras, please take a moment to browse through the 2014 Mardi Gras   book. I worked hard to capture the style of each Krewe, or at least the theme of their Ball.  You’ll also find some articles explaining the origins of Mardi Gras traditions like “The Second Line” and “The Chicken Run.”  Enjoy, and “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”  (Let the good times roll!)

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