Rainy Days and Tuesdays Wednesday, Mar 12 2014 

For the first time in years, we had a full bore, no doubt about it rainy day. Needless to say, our group did not go back to siding Steve’s house in Backatown. Instead, we went to John’s house on Deleray Street, literally across from Jackson Barracks. The other groups were already working indoors, stherein work was not affected — or so we thought.

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John’s house

John has been renovating this house for about a year. He has done a loving and meticulous job at bringing out its beauty and promise. However, working alone, he literally hit the wall when it came to, we’ll, the walls. Between installing awkward sheets of board, taping, mudding, sanding, etc. it is extremely time consuming and not a one person job. And that is where lowernine.org comes in.

We were able to bring a group in of largely inexperienced students to do work that takes a while but is easy to learn. While the guys installed Sheetrock, the rest of the group worked throughout the house doing multiple layers of prep work. It didn’t take long to see substantial progress made. Both John and Bob, our crew chief, seemed pleased. The other grounds continued to work at tiling and installing Sheetrock in other parts of the Lower Ninth.

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Chalmette National Battlefield

And while we worked in poured. Clearly, this would not be a levee lunch day, so I proposed we meet at the Chalmette National Battlefield. Even in the rain, we could go through exhibits and drive around the site of the Battle of New Orleans. Inauspiciously my car was parked on the side of the street in what had become a five inch deep puddle. As a result, I had to remove my shoes in order to get into the car. The battlefield, which is marshy on the best of days, was not much better. We ate lunch; some walked around in the rain and mud; but evyone got a lay of the land, at least.

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Ronald Lewis with students

Everyone returned to their respective tasks and had productive and rewarding afternoons. About four we broke for the day to make our annual pilgrimage to Ronald Lewis’ House of Dance and Feathers. And just as in our visit to Kajun’s pub, it was useful that we had just finished reading Nine Lives. So, they got to meet Ronald AND gain a better understanding of the lace where they are working and staying.

Everyone went back and cleaned up. We ate our first dinner at Camp Hope which was not bad. After dinner everyone descended on a small Baskin Robbins in Chalmette where they overwhelmed the poor young woman running the place alone. They were patient, and from what I understand, tipped generously. Some went back to Camp Hope to chill while the rest of went into the City.

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Aura Nealand and the Royal Roses

I walked about for a while before settling in for a couple of sets at the Spotted Cat. It has become so crowded I don’t get there as often as I used to, but one of my favorite New Orleans musicians, Aurora Nealand, was performing. It was crowded, but not wall-to-wall people. Her band was tight and she was her bright and exuberant self on the clarinet and soprano sax. A wonderful close to a day that some might call a washout, but to us, it was anything but.

Trying Something New Monday, Mar 10 2014 

The New Orleans class and I are once again in The Crescent City for our annual service learning trip. I got in just before noon on Saturday. The three vans started arriving about 1:00 pm. For me, it is my ninth spring break in New Orleans. For most of them, it is their first time here; and that is the fun part.
I have a tendency to fall into old routines and do many of the same things over and over. However, I have vowed to get out and try new things. And so far, I think I am off to a good start.
Once I picked up my rental car (a bright red Toyota Yaris, if you care) and picked up Kyle in Treme. Instead of heading over to Domilise’s or Parkway for a po’ boy we drove out to New Orleans East for some Vietnamese food. Pyle took me to Dong Phuong Restaurant and Bakery. We had some beautiful spring rolls followed by a bowl of noodles and shrimp. Magnificent. We followed that up with a visit to one of the local Vietnamese groceries.

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Afterwards, we drove in St. Bernard Parish to check into our housing at Camp Hope in Arabi, LA. We received a lowdown on the rules and go the lay of the land. By the time we left to head back into the City, two groups had arrived and were settling into the accommodations.
We kicked around the Marigny and French Quarter before heading out to a pot luck at Kyle’s house in Treme. Kyle and his roommate Matt are renting half of a 1830s Creole cottage just off of Claiborne. Great evening with friends, family and food. The latter Kyle’s jambalaya, Matt’s homegrown collards, grilled fish, kale salad, mashed cauliflower, and too much more.
Afterwards, Kyle and I waddled over to Siberia for a late night of bounce music. Another first for me. It was a major disappointment. Katey Red was there, but by 1:30 am had not dressed. Big Freedia, who was central to all advertising for the event, was performing in Minneapolis. Given the onset of daylight savings time, we muttered under our breath and went back to his place.
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20140310-073757.jpgThe next morning, I walked the few blocks over to meet the students at St. Louis #1 Cemetery. I started off the tour, much to irritation of some of the tour guides. In time, a personable guide cooped part of class and the rest of us soon joined in. For the next hour we were entertained and educated (I think) by our guide. With the looks we got from the some of the other guides, I’m not sure he an official guide, but what we might have missed in veracity, he made up for with humor. On mayor “Dutch” Morial, who died while visiting his mistress: “he literally came and went.” He also removed a brick from on of the vaults and one by one carefully inserted our cameras to take pictures of the contents. Ghoulish fun that I’m pretty sure is not authorized.
After parting ways, I took the students over to Armstrong Park before turning them loose in the Quarter. I got some coffee and some lunch and walked around myself. A beautiful day, reflected by both the weather and the crowds. At 3:00 pm, I met up with the students at Kajun’s Pub — another first. It was not for alcohol, but to drink in the stories and wisdom of owner Joann Guidos, who was colorfully portrayed in Dan Baum’s wonderful Nine Lives. For hour she regaled us with stories of her colorful life, struggles to stay open during Katrina, and insights into the diversity of New Orleans.<

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As if that was enough, we all raced out to Orleans Avenue to catch the end of an enormous second line parade. Three brass bands, several social aid and pleasure clubs — although we only caught the end, it gave the students a flavor of what happens here. We then turned around and went back to Treme, where we were treated to a fabulous buffet dinner at L’il Dizzy’s Cafe on Esplanade. We had fried chicken, fried catfish, collards, macaroni, and some wonderful bread pudding. And, oh yes, sweet tea.
The students walked out of the restaurant into a beautiful evening, but the past 48 hours had been too much. 1600 miles, a day running around in the sun, topped off by a heavy meal. Predictably, everyone was back at Camp Hope to shower, rest, and prepare for work.

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New Orleans Music Saturday, Mar 1 2014 

It’s that time of year again. I got excited today because the March 1st temperature in New Hampshire climbed above freezing. I eat well, actually too well, on a regular basis, but the food I normally eat is nothing like that found in New Orleans. But the magnetic pull that I feel in the week before I head to the Crescent City is not the warmth or the red beans and rice: it is the music.

John Boutte, d.b.a., March 2011.

John Boutte, d.b.a., March 2011.

This is when I WWOZ’s Livewire daily to see what will playing while I’m there. I look at Nola.com, Gambit, and sites for individual music venues to see what will be happening. Te tragedy is that it will be more than I can take in; but that is the beauty of music of New Orleans. It is an embarrassment of riches.
I hear the drums and tambourines of the Mardi Gras Indians. I hear the funky growls of the brass bands. I see the nonverbal glances that jazz musicians pass to one another as they hand off the next solo. I am swept up in the joy of locals two stepping to zydeco at the Rock n Bowl. I see people twerking on front porches and dancing on roofs. And it makes me want to be there even sooner.

Most visitors to New Orleans miss the real music. They are to busy accepting that the crap on Bourbon Street is what there is to hear. They never experience Frenchmen Street because it is three blocks outside of the French Quarter. They miss out on Rebirth at the Maple Leaf. Kermit at Bullet’s. Big Freedia at Siberia. Or John Boutte at d.b.a.

Rites of Swing, Sunday afternoon at the Spotted Cat.

Rites of Swing, Sunday afternoon at the Spotted Cat.

As tragic as it is, I will not lose any sleep over their ignorance. I know it that as they are crowding some bar on Bourbon Street, drinking a watered down drink out of a plastic green hand grenade, listening to bad classic rock; I will be somewhere somewhere else. Listening to some of the best live music America has to offer.

Five Ways People in New Orleans are Different from Us — 2014 Update. Tuesday, Feb 25 2014 

I posted the following nearly three years ago. It was an attempt to inform my students of the different attitudes and sensibilities that awaited them in New Orleans. It has been instructive for my students, but it apparently struck a nerve. It is far and away the most viewed posting I have ever made. Happily, most of the comments, especially from those in Southern Louisiana have been extremely positive. And then there are those who will never see anything positive happening in Orleans Parish. I am reposting with a few minor changes and some new photographs, but it remains largely the same.

A note to my students:

Most of you have never been to New Orleans. I grew up in the South, but only geography makes New Orleans part of the South. The people are different and that is wholly a good thing. Most of you are New Englanders. The differences between the two are about as far apart as the 1600 mile van trip you are about to undertake.

I am still learning, but I’m willing to share some of the insights that I have gained over the years. I may not be entirely fluent, but let me try my best to interpret.

Jennifer Jones, March 2013.

Jennifer Jones, March 2013.

People in New Orleans are naturally polite. It’s not artifice; it’s who they are. They smile. They hold doors for you. They call you “baby,” or “shug,” or “darling” because that’s the way they were taught. There’s nothing in it for them, but consider it a good thing for you. Picture a situation in Boston’s North End. You park your car a bit too close to the car behind you. When you come back, the other driver says: “Hey asshole, why’d you block me in?” And there would be gestures. In New Orleans, that exchange might translate to something like this: “Hey bro’, would you mind pulling forward a little so I can get out?”

People in New Orleans are seldom in a hurry. That does mean that they don’t speed on I-10, because they do. But at the same time, they will slow down to let someone merge. At a traffic signal, they might linger a moment – while the New Englander behind them is laying on the horn. The checker at the Rite Aid may be a lot more interested in telling a co-worker about her date, than in ringing out your order. And the more impatient you get, the slower she’ll get. In New Orleans, Friday lunches can take all afternoon. Don’t expect the smaller aspects of life to move any faster.

A conversation on Hickory Street, March 2011.

A conversation on Hickory Street, March 2011.

People in New Orleans will talk to anyone at anytime about anything. In New Orleans, speech is not a mode of communication; it is an art. New Englanders are famous for their economy of words. New England produced President Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge. Enough said. New Orleans produced Danny Barker, jazz musician and story teller. He returned home to help carry on the jazz traditions, as much through his words and stories, as his banjo and guitar. In New Orleans, when people ask you “where y’at?” i.e. “how are you?” they really want to know. It is not a pleasantry, it is a conversation starter. And you have to do your part.

People in New Orleans never apologize for having a good time. Remember the Friday lunch. Life in New Orleans can be like that. It’s unmistakable and I think it stems from New Orleans’ precarious existence on the edge. From the beginning, whether it was from spring flood, summer pestilence, fall hurricane, or the threat of attack from another world power, life was fragile. “Hey 8,000 people died of yellow fever this summer, have another drink!” Let’s parade, let’s dance — let’s live for the moment.  This sensibility hasn’t always served New Orleans well, especially in the eyes of the puritanical nation in which it resides. In March 2010, I was at a second line parade on a brutally raw and windy Sunday afternoon in a struggling part of the city. As we waited for the procession to come to us, I asked the woman next to me why she out on such an unpleasant afternoon. She opened her eyes and arms wide for expression and said: “this is what we do!

Mazant Street, March 2009.

Mazant Street, March 2009.

People in New Orleans still appreciate the work of volunteers. When I first came down in 2006, there were few residents to talk to. It was like a war zone and it was clear that any effort was an improvement. Over the years, I’ve been waiting for the welcome to wear off, but at least through August 2013, it has not. In New England, be prepared to be asked: “why are you going down there? What do you mean they haven’t fixed it yet?” On the other hand, people in New Orleans know that 80% of the city was covered in water. The city has lost nearly 30% of its population since 2000, and that is largely from the lack of affordable, livable housing. Be prepared, because New Orleans people will still stop to thank you for what you are doing.

Red Beans and Rice Monday, Jan 27 2014 

Growing up in the South, I grew to understand that both of my parents had eaten their share of beans during the Depression.  With dried beans, cured pork meat, and some rice, you had an inexpensive  meal to feed a dozen. And I suspect they did it with some frequency.

Red beans in progress.

Red beans in progress.

It was probably for that reason that we seldom had dried beans. We ate our fill of green beans, butter beans, field peas and snaps, but never dried beans. It was not until I was adult that I grew to know and love beans. My late mother-in-law was a master of the split pea. And I got to know lentils, and navy beans, and those colorful bean blends that Mainers love. But, it took numerous trips to the Gulf Coast for me to fall in love with red beans and rice.

It’s Monday. And in New Orleans, Monday was traditionally wash day. If you are washing clothes, scrubbing them on a wash board, and hanging them on a line to dry, what could be better than having a pot of beans cooking on the stove all day? I thought it was cliché, and then I had them at restaurants all over town. I had them between sets at Vaughan’s Lounge. I had them on Monday nights in bars uptown. They are as New Orleans as beads on Mardi Gras, but you can enjoy them on a weekly basis.

Of course, over the years of my New Orleans sojourn, I have taken up cooking red beans. Not every week mind you, but regularly enough that I don’t really need a recipe. However, for the rest of you, I will share. Enjoy.

  • 1 pound red kidney beans, dry
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped (red makes a nice presentation)
  • 5 ribs celery, chopped
  • Garlic, I go for a lot, say 6 healthy cloves
  • 1 large smoked ham hock, substitute some cured ham, especially end pieces
  • 1 to 1-1/2 pounds mild or hot smoked sausage or andouille, sliced on the bias. I like to brown it before adding to the mixture.
  • 1/2 to 1 tsp. dried thyme leaves, crushed
  • 1 or 2 bay leaves
  • As many dashes of hot sauce as you like
  • A few dashes Worcestershire sauce
  • Creole seasoning to taste; or red pepper and black pepper to taste
  • Salt to taste
Red beans and rice.

Red beans and rice.

Soak the beans overnight or bring the beans to a rolling boil. Make sure the beans are always covered by water, or they will discolor and get hard. Boil the beans for about an hour, until the beans are tender but not falling apart.

While the beans are boiling, sauté the Holy Trinity (onions, celery, bell pepper) until the onions turn translucent. Add the garlic and saute for 2 more minutes, stirring occasionally. After the beans are boiled and drained, add the sautéed vegetables to the beans, then add the ham hock, smoked sausage, seasonings, and just enough water to cover.

Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to a low simmer. Cook for 2 hours at least, preferably more, until everything gets nice and creamy. Adjust seasonings as you go along. Stir occasionally, making sure that it doesn’t burn and/or stick to the bottom of the pot.

Serve generous ladles of beans over hot white long-grain rice, with good French bread and good beer.

YIELD: 8 servings

For vegetarians (I cook them this way about half the time)

  • Omit the ham hock, ham, and the smoked sausage.
  • Add 2 tablespoons vegetable oil along with the seasonings.
  • Add 1 teaspoon (or enough as you like, to taste) of liquid smoke seasoning. The vegetable oil helps replace the fat you get from the sausage, and the liquid smoke flavoring helps replace the smokiness you get from the smoked sausage and smoked ham hock.

Enjoy!

Zatarain’s Sunday, Jan 19 2014 

Emile Zatarain, Sr.

Emile Zatarain, Sr.

There are a number of trademarks that are inextricably linked to New Orleans and one of those is celebrating a its 125th anniversary. In 1889, Emile Zatarain, Sr. founded a business at 925 Valmont Street in New Orleans. His first product was root beer extract, but that soon grew to include seasonings and bleach. The product line continued to expand and included spicy Creole mustard and various pickled vegetables.

In 1922, Zatarain turned the business over to his son Emile Zatarain, Jr., whose wife, Ida May, contributed her own recipes for this such as remoulade sauce and olive relish to the company’s produce line. In time, was purchased by a succession of larger companies. The business moved to nearby Gretna, LA and less profitable products like bleach and pickled vegetables fell by the wayside. In the 1970s it concurrently grew into a regional food supplier and institutional food service.

zatarainsIn 1985, the company featured some 60 products, but began marketing boxes rice dishes for which it became known across the United States. Anyone could add Creole spice to their dinners with a box of Dirty Rice, Gumbo Mix or Jambalaya Mix. It temporary marketed some products as “Cajun,” but eventually settled on the more refined “Creole” image.

In 2003, Zatarain’s truly became national when it was purchased by McCormick & Company, the world’s largest spice and seasoning company based in Maryland. Coincidentally, it too began in 1889 as a purveyor of root beer flavorings. The purchase gave the company both national and international distribution, but at its heart, it remains New Orleans-centric. Many of its products, such as crab boil and Creole mustard are aimed at Louisiana chefs and a discerning local market. And as proof, it began a campaign a few years back to make Mardi Gras a national holiday. Needless to say, that has never caught hold, but cooks far and wide have nevertheless “Jazzed it up with Zatarain’s.”

UNH Museum to Celebrate Mardi Gras Early Tuesday, Jan 14 2014 

Mardi Gras Indian, Super Sunday 2013, New Orleans. Photo by Gary Samson.

Mardi Gras Indian, Super Sunday 2013, New Orleans. Photo by Gary Samson.

Mardi Gras does not come until March 4th this year, but the University Museum of the UNH Library is allowing the public to celebrate early…and in New Hampshire.

The University Museum, in part with grant funding from the New Hampshire Humanities Council, is hosting an exhibit and related programs entitled “The Beat on the Street: Second Lines, Mardi Gras Indians, and the Photography of Gary Samson.” The exhibition of photographs and folk art will focus on the Mardi Gras Indians of New Orleans. This working class, African American tradition is distinctively part of New Orleans’s parade culture, and more broadly related to black Carnival celebrations throughout the world.

The exhibit will run from Monday, February 10th through March 28, 2014 with its formal opening on Wednesday, February 12, 2014. The opening includes the showing of the film, Bury the Hatchet, which traces the Mardi Gras Indian tradition through the eyes of three “big chiefs” or leaders of these Mardi Gras Indian gangs. The event will feature special guest Big Chief Alfred Doucette of the Flaming Arrows, who also appears in the documentary. He will answer questions about the film and this centuries old tradition in a discussion moderated by Professor Burt Feintuch of the UNH Center for the Humanities. Chief Doucette’s visit and the exhibition are underwritten, in part, by the grant from the New Hampshire Humanities Council.

Big Chief Alfred Doucette. Photo by Gary Samson.

Big Chief Alfred Doucette. Photo by Gary Samson.

The film and discussion will take place from 3-5:00PM at the UNH Memorial Union Building, Theater I. An opening reception will follow the program at the University Museum, Dimond Library, Room 101, 5:30-7:00PM. The exhibit will feature Mardi Gras Indian suits and art work, as well as the photography of Gary Samson, chair of the Photography Department of the New Hampshire Institute of Art. The exhibit, film, and reception are free and open to the public. Refreshments will be served at the reception.

The New Hampshire Humanities Council nurtures the joy of learning and inspires community engagement by bringing life-enhancing ideas from the humanities to the people of New Hampshire. They connect people with ideas. Learn more about the Council and its work at http://www.nhhc.org.

For more information, contact Dale Valena, 603-862-1081 or Bill Ross, 603-862-0346. Dale.valena@unh.edu, bill.ross@unh.edu

Al “Carnival Time” Carson Monday, Jan 6 2014 

Today is Epiphany, which marks the start of the carnival season. In recognition of the season, one of the mainstays of New Orleans music. From his induction into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.

Carnival 2014 Sunday, Jan 5 2014 

Epiphany_WordleTomorrow is January 6th, the Catholic Feast of the Epiphany, the Twelfth Night, the end of Christmas. It comes from the Greek, epiphaneia, or manifestation, the moment Christ was revealed to the Gentiles as represented by the Three Magi. And in much of the Catholic world, which certainly includes New Orleans, it marks the beginning of Carnival.

Carnival is the period between the end of the Christmas season and beginning of Lent, so this year it runs from January 6th through Mardi Gras, which this year falls on March 4th. In fact, the timing of Mardi Gras means that Carnival will run for 58 days, which is just a few days short of the longest it can be. Nevertheless, the festivities come to a raucous conclusion over the days leading up to and including Mardi Gras. Immediately following, at midnight to be exact, comes Ash Wednesday and the more somber, reflective season of Lent.

Phunny-Phorty-Phellows-RouteIn between the Epiphany and “Trash Wednesday,” the Roman Catholic Church returns to “Ordinary Time,” but in New Orleans, it is anything but ordinary. While most folks are aware of the Mardi Gras parades leading up to Mardi Gras itself, Carnival also features numerous dances, masked balls, and debutante coming out parties. And even though most krewes and social clubs parade over the days leading up to Mardi Gras, there are some parades sprinkled throughout the season. In fact, on Epiphany itself, the members of the Phunny Phorty Phellows, the “Heralds of Carnival,” will mask and take over the St. Charles Streetcar Line to mark the beginning of the festivities.

So cut the king cake, break out the beads, and get ready for the Carnival season.

New Orleans Miscellany for a New Year Friday, Jan 3 2014 

We are three days into the New Year. I’m sitting in my home in New Orleans looking over a foot of fresh snow. The temperatures are expected to be double digits below zero tonight. Little wonder that my thoughts are on New Orleans, where I’ll be with my class in 66 days; not that anyone is counting.

I have been an exceedingly negligent blogger. Last year was a banner year for this blog, but I have fallen down on the job since the spring. I even returned to New Orleans in August, yet wrote very little about it. However, the eighth installment of the New Orleans class will be starting in a few weeks and I have to get my head in the game. Therefore, I hereby resolve to blog at a rate commensurate with the interest shown past entries. Well, this is a start anyway.

There have been a number of big New Orleans stories in the past few months, but in honor of the New Year I’ve decided to graze among a few topics that fit a new beginning. Some are significant; some are silly; and hopefully all are interesting.

armstrong arrestNo Falling Bullets – Traditionally, folks in New Orleans fired guns into the air to celebrate the New Year. In fact, a young Louis Armstrong landed in the Colored Waifs Home when he was arrested for firing his father’s gun into the air on New Year’s Eve. However, what goes up, must come down. So, after numerous injuries and even deaths from falling bullets, the New Orleans Police Department has slowly brought a halt to the practice. I looked everywhere and could not find an incidence of an injury or arrest for the practice this year.

number-of-new-orleans-murders-1990-2013-b43bc1ecb825188aDrop in New Orleans Murders in 2013 – For the second year in a row, New Orleans experienced a drop in the number of murders and overall gun violence. This is in spite of some high profile incidences, such as the Mother’s Day second line shootings, or several horrific murders involving the accidental shooting of children. In a trend that mirrors that of other cities, New Orleans had 155 murders in 2013, which represents a 20% drop from 2012. And while its murder rate is still high relative to the population, the total is a far cry from the 424 recorded back in 1994. The city likewise experienced a 15% drop in the number of people shot and wounded, which went from 378 in 2012 to 321  last year.

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Dr. Frank Minyard honoring the victims of Katrina, 2008.

Coroner Frank Minyard Will Not Serve 11th Term – After qualifying as a candidate for the upcoming election, the 84 year-old New Orleans Parish coroner has decided to call it quits after 40 years. The colorful coroner’s selflessness during Hurricane Katrina was profiled in Dan Baum’s Nine Lives, but in recent years, he has been criticized for not listing the cause of death on a number of high profile murder cases. Moreover, in a city with such a high murder rate, he has been faulted for running an antiquated facility on a meager budget. Three candidates remain on the ballot for the forthcoming election.

Who Dat “Rocky Run” Cancelled — A band of New Orleans Saints fans have dropped their plan to run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art while in town to attend the NFL playoff game. They were looking to relive a scene from the movie “Rocky,” in which actor Sylvester Stallone runs up the steps as part of his training routine. The Saints fans cancelled the run after a large number of Eagles fans threatened them via social media. It seemed like such a cool idea for visiting fans; however, they did not take into account the fact that Eagles fans would actually hurt them. Eagles fans have already been warned that Philadelphia police officers may attend the game dressed as Saints fans as an attempt to curb violence.

Penguin Plunge & Super Bowl 2010 001

King Cake, Super Bowl 2010.

58 Days of King Cake – The Times-Picayune reminds us that Carnival season is quite long this year. In fact, there are 58 days between Epiphany (January 6th) and Mardi Gras (March 4th). There seems to be little need to encourage New Orleans folks to celebrate during Carnival; however, the T-P entertainment staff has valiantly agreed to take one for the team. Among other things, Carnival is marked by the consumption of King Cake, a multi-colored confection that first appeared in 1871. These brave souls have decided to try a different King Cake every day during Carnival. They will then report on each one, every day throughout the season. It is not clear rather they will rate them, but I figure that is not the point. Come to think of it, what is the point?

Well, that should be enough to get all of our thoughts turned to New Orleans and the New Year. If not, I promise more in upcoming weeks. And, Happy New Year!

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