No Ordinary Time Tuesday, Jan 6 2015 

Haydel's King Cake, Super Bowl, 2010.

Haydel’s King Cake, Super Bowl, 2010.

Today is the Epiphany, which for Catholics marks the end of the Advent/Christmas season. Trees on the curb by December 26th notwithstanding. The period following the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord (the Sunday following Epiphany) and the beginning of Lent is called Ordinary Time in the liturgical calendar. So church-wise, there will not be a whole lot going on.

However, in New Orleans and in most Catholic-infused cultures, Epiphany marks both the end of Christmas and the beginning of the Carnival season; that is, the season ending with Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, the day of celebration before Ash Wednesday and the solemnity of Lent. So Christmas candles are replaced by King Cakes, while shopping and gift-giving and caroling are replaced by dances, masked balls, and parades.

Joan of Arc Parade, January 2015.

Joan of Arc Parade, January 2015.

So today, in addition to the first King Cakes of the Carnival season (Haydel’s Bakery had Uber delivering them all day), there was the Joan of Arc parade in the French Quarter. And Uptown, the Phunny Phorty Phellows commandeered the St. Charles streetcar line for an evening of frivolity. And as is true every year, this is just the beginning. Goodbye Christmas; welcome to Carnival.

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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.

minyard

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!

Of Kings and Carnival Saturday, Jan 5 2013 

In much of the United States, Christmas is over. Christmas trees on the curb the morning of December 6th.  However, according to the Romans Catholic liturgical calendar, Christmas does not start until Christmas Eve and ends on January 6th, known as Epiphany or Twelfth Night. And in Roman Catholic New Orleans, the Church calendar defines Christmas and the weeks beyond.

In New Orleans and much of the Gulf Coast, Epiphany or King’s Night celebrates the revelation of Jesus to the non-Jewish people of the world, represented by Magi or three kings. It is the feast of gift giving celebrated in much of the Roman Catholic world. For New Orleans, it marks both the end of Christmas and the beginning of Carnival.

Penguin Plunge & Super Bowl 2010 001

King Cake, Mardi Gras beads, and throws.

So, while it marks the close of the Christmas season, Epiphany is the beginning of the Carnival season. And as such, it marks the first appearance of the ubiquitous king cake, which is generally round in shape, with cinnamon flavoring, decorated with glaze or colored sugar in Carnival colors (purple, green and gold). It contains a baby (representing the baby Jesus), a bean, or other trinket. Traditionally, the lucky celebrant who finds this item must provide the next king cake.

Carnival season ends with Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday, which is followed by the 40-day Lenten season running up to Easter. King cakes may be served throughout Carnival or king cake season. However, much more goes on during the days leading up to Mardi Gras. In fact, the first Carnival Krewes emerge this weekend to mark a succession of balls, parades, and winter celebrations.

phunny phorty phellowa

Phunny Phorty Phellows, January 6, 2012.

On the evening of January 6th, a relatively new Krewe of Jeanne d’Arc  parades through the French Quarter to mark her birthday and Twelfth Night. The krewe also marks the historical ties between France and New Orleans. A little bit later in the evening, the costumed Phunny Phorty Phellows, the modern incarnation which began in 1981, take over the St. Charles streetcar line, thus marking the anarchic beginning of Carnival.

Thus in New Orleans, the end of one celebration coincides with first day of a new one. And one season of revelry begets another.

Mardi Gras Miscellany Wednesday, Feb 15 2012 

OK, I’ll be arriving in New Orleans three weeks, one day and 21 hours from now, not that anyone is counting. In the meantime, there is a lot going on in the Crescent City. A few days after the Grammy Awards, a few days before Mardi Gras; well, things are popping and in a blaze of randomness, I’ll try to capture it, in keeping with the season, without adding any unnecessary structure.

  • Rebirth Brass Band returns from the Grammy Awards — After nearly thirty years of producing great music, Rebirth scored their first Grammy for best regional roots album. Kermit Ruffins, one of the band’s founders, the Baby Boyz Brass Band, and other friends and musicians, greeted the band as they arrived at the Louis Armstrong International Airport. Here’s the video.

    Rebirth Brass Band receiving the Grammy Award.

  • King Cake Crown awarded — for the last few weeks, Judy Walker, food editor for the Times-Picayune has led a team of king cake tasters throughout the New Orleans region to find the finest Carnival-season confection. The judges visited six bakeries that were picked from over 20,000 reader votes. nola.com provided videos from visits to the six bakeries, including: Gambino’s; Haydel’s; Manny Randazzo’s; Nonna Randazzo’s; Randazzo’s Camellia City; and Sucre. All bakeries put forward three King Cakes except for Sucre, which makes only one. The six top cakes were pitted against one another and the top three were separated by but 1.5 points. The winner, announced today was Manny Randazzo’s pecan praline king cake. A celebration ensued at the bakery.
  • New Galactic album — Galactic, the great New Orleans funk/rock band has a new album, Carnivale Electricos, coming out on Mardi Gras Day. Since the whole concept is a reworking of classic Mardi Gras tunes, it seems cruel to make us wait until the season is over. I have heard snippets, but not the whole album. Thankfully, Conan O’Brien and Team Coco are providing a full album stream for the album. For a listen, go here.
  • New Orleans City Councilwoman Dorothy Mae Taylor, 1992

    An Integrated Mardi Gras — And to all of this frivolity, let’s add a bit of history. Twenty years ago, City Councilor Dorothy Mae Taylor had the audacity to force old-time Mardi Krewes to abandon the racism and sexism that they represented. And while jail time was dropped as part of the ordinance, the new regulations  forced old-time krewes Comus and Momus off the streets. Rex and Proteus agreed to the new regulations and continue to parade. According to columnist James Gill, Taylor should receive credit for making Mardi Gras krewes more color-blind and the season as a whole, an all embracing celebration. It is good not to forget such achievements.

King Cake: “Yeah, there’s an app for that!” Friday, Dec 30 2011 

The tradition of serving King Cake as part of the New Orleans carnival season dates back to the 18th Century. The baked confection, which contains a trinket (often a plastic baby) or dried bean, has been decorated with purple, green, and gold sugar or icing since those colors became a part of Mardi Gras in the 19th Century. It is proper fare anytime from Epiphany (January 6th) through Mardi Gras. And you’d think the tradition could just rest with that, but you would be wrong.

King Cake from Haydel's, Super Bowl Sunday, February 2010.

For years, former New Orleans residents could have a King Cake shipped anywhere from a number of New Orleans area bakeries. The packages usually contain the cake, Mardi Gras beads and trinkets, and perhaps even a music cd. Most of those bakeries have websites where you can order your little piece of Carnival and increasingly, you can find Haydel’s,   various Randazzo bakeries, and others on Facebook.

Randazzo’s Camellia City Bakery has taken taken the King Cake tradition and social media to the next level. This year the bakery has launched an interactive King Cake app — King Me! So, if you feel the need to order a customized King Cake using your smartphone or tablet, you’re in business!

Yes, a new tradition for Carnival!


An Epiphany Wednesday, Jan 6 2010 

January 6th is the Catholic feast day Epiphany, which comes from the Greek for appearance. Also known as “Twelfth Night,” it marks the presentation of the infant Jesus to the Magi or Wise Men. And in much of the Christian world, it is day on which Christmas gifts are exchanged.

In New Orleans, which never shies away from an opportunity to celebrate, it takes on more meaning. While to many, Epiphany represents the end of the Christmas season, in New Orleans it is also the start of Carnival, which this year ends on Tuesday, February 16th, Mardi Gras day.

In a tradition that dates back to the 18th Century, It begins with “King Cake,” a baked confection decorated with purple, green, and gold sugar. The cake contains a trinket (often a plastic baby) or dried bean. The person who gets the prize may be required to supply the next cake. King Cake parties are common throughout the Carnival season.

While most focus on the Mardi Gras parades leading up to Mardi Gras itself, Carnival also features 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 mask and take over the St. Charles Streetcar Line to mark the beginning of the next season of festivities.