Culture & Art

Feb 1, 2017

CARNIVAL IN NEW ORLEANS CHIC AND MYTHOLOGICAL

If you celebrate Carnival, you may have heard the French designation "Mardi Gras" ("Fat Tuesday" in English), that is, the day when this celebration happens, almost all over the world. Discover the history of Carnival and get behind the scenes of one of the most famous carnival stages on the planet - New Orleans, in the United States of America (USA).

"Bourbon Street" in the French Quarter of New Orleans, USA, is a street that doesn´t sleep, bustling at any time of day or night, and where music "wins a kind of soul" in the clubs, pubs and street corners. The jazz, blues and country music bands play permanently.

Surrounded by the Gulf of Mexico on one side, and the Mississippi River on the other, New Orleans is a city always in full swing. Here it can be said that it is always Carnival, because at any time of the year it is possible to visit the backstage of one of the biggest carnivals in the world, and to see in loco the cars, props and the artists preparing the parades, being one of the main tourist attractions and obligatory passage point.

Being a party marked by "goodbye to meat", it is noted that meat is a very present element in almost all Carnival celebrations, perhaps, to contrast with its deprivation in the days that follow, as we will see later.

Contrary to Brazilian Carnival, meat does not play the leading role in the New Orleans Carnival, nor are there kings, queens, or stars as protagonists. The parades are dedicated to mythological characters such as Endymion, Orpheus, Bacchus and to the King Zulu. The New Orleans Carnival is also known for plaster masks, shell necklaces and the bands that accompany the parade and cheer the revelers. Being a cosmopolitan city, with mainly Spanish, French and African influences, it is natural that these cultural manifestations have aspects of those civilizations. The purple, green and gold colours are prevalent in week-long parades and celebrations and include picnics along the Mississippi River and masked balls.

Imagine the work and logistics needed to make the Carnival happen, so when one is over, the next one starts to be prepared, so throughout the year you can visit the "shed" where are the costumes, allegories, the big dolls and the cars that will parade in the city´s Carnival. During the visit, you have the possibility to see the artisans sawing wood, painting, sculpting, measuring, gluing, that is, to create and shape the parades. In addition, the "World of Mardi Gras", as the space is known, offers visitors the opportunity to wear typical costumes of the local Carnival. The visit also includes a video and a tour of the Carnival history and customs. If you're addicted to goodies, try a piece of "King Cake", the traditional "Mardi Gras" cake made in honour of the "Three Wise Men".

Those who aren´t Carnival adept, will wonder why there is so much enthusiasm around this period, where dances, parades and the use of different costumes, often unusual and with bizarre characters, provide such folly.

As the name indicates, the word Carnival originates in the Latin "carnis levale", "carnis" means meat and "levale", to withdraw. Hence the expression "goodbye to meat", that is, the festival indicates a period of abstinence and fasting, which led people to make a sort of "goodbye to meat" with generally extravagant festivities, depending on the customs of each place. Although there is no unanimity about the origin of the word, the etymological interpretation of it refers to the beginning of the Lenten period, a 40-day break for spiritual reflection and deprivation in the excesses committed during the year, including, according with the Catholic religion, food like meat. To counter this period, the party is marked on "Fat Tuesday" or "Mardi Gras", the French word for Carnival, because the days of celebration were called "fat". This bound with France gave it a chic connotation as well. With Victorian society of the twentieth century it was rooted, but it is Paris that exports it to cities like Nice, in France, Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Spain, New Orleans, EUA, Toronto, Canada and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It is true that, except Greece, in the middle of the years 600 to 520 B.C., where it consisted in a form of gratitude to the Gods, Carnival always had a connotation with the search for pleasures. Activities and business were suspended, slaves temporarily released, and the moral restraints were relaxed. Gifts were exchanged, a king was chosen to rule the procession, and even the God "Saturn" was invited to participate in the revelry, because the wool straps that bound the statue's feet were removed.

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