TV & Radio
Mardi Gras is global, from Moscow (Idaho) to Moscow (Russia)
The Associated Press
Sunday, February 18, 2007
In New Orleans, people throw strands of beads from parade floats. In Louisiana's Cajun country, they ride from farm to farm, clowning and singing to beg ingredients for a communal gumbo — a local delicacy. Louisiana's Carnival sweet is the king cake, a coffee cake frosted in purple, green and gold. In England, it is pancakes, and the day is called Shrove Tuesday.
Worldwide, hundreds of cities and towns hold a final blow-out on Fat Tuesday before the austerities of Lent — or just because.
In Sydney, Australia, it started as a gay rights protest and is now a huge festival celebrating all aspects of gay culture. In Moscow, Idaho, it started as a foot parade and bar-based fund-raiser for the University of Idaho's art museum and is now a non-parading festival to benefit children's charities.
You can even find it in India — Carnival has been celebrated since the 1700s in Goa, a former Portuguese colony.
Cities and towns throughout Europe and all along the U.S. Gulf Coast have Mardi Gras celebrations. So do Chicago and Vail, Colorado.
The Gulf Coast parades and balls spread east and west from New Orleans and Mobile, Alabama, where they started in the 1800s. Mobile claims (to some dispute) to have been celebrating since the 1700s. Plaquemines Parish, Louisiana, claims the first celebration in North America: Pierre le Moyne, Sieur d'Iberville, came ashore there on Mardi Gras of 1699 (March 3).
Although Mardi Gras has been a state holiday since 1872, the celebration itself arrived only recently in Louisiana's oldest city. Natchitoches, founded in 1714 — four years before New Orleans — saw its first Mardi Gras ball about 30 years ago and its first Carnival parade in 1999.
The parade exists largely because Dianne Winningham was itching for something to do after she and her husband retired there from Shreveport, Louisiana.
"I asked about Mardi Gras. They said, 'We don't have one.' I said, 'We're going to,'" she recounted. The city did have a Mardi Gras krewe, the Krewe of St. Denis, but its formal ball and other events all were private.
The Krewe of Dionysos' first parade, in 1999, had three floats, about 120 riders, and a few marching bands. This year's parade will have 10 or 12 floats, and crowds have grown every year, Winningham said.
Moscow (pronounced MAHS-koh) had a parade from the early 1980s until about five years ago, when the highway was rerouted, blocking the parking lot where it had started, said Jerry Schutz, who for about 15 years was a board member for Moscow Mardi Gras Inc.
The Russian capital (MAHS-cow) also celebrates the holiday, known there as Maslenitsa, or Blini Week. For 85 years, there was little or no public celebration, but an advertising firm took it up in 2002. "The people are letting the long-annoying winter out and the long-awaited spring in," the "Maslenitsa Pride" Web site states.
Cold is the reason that Chicago's Karnevalsgesellschaft Rheinische Verein, established in 1890 by German immigrants, has never held a parade, spokesman Hans Wolf said. It has held a masked ball every year since then, even during World Wars I and II.
Nobody's really sure just when Cajun towns began the "courir de Mardi Gras," costumed men riding from farm to farm to sing, clown and collect ingredients for a communal gumbo, says Larry Miller, an instrument-maker and amateur folklorist.
He said the courir in Tee Mamou ("Tee" is the Cajun shortening of "petit," or "little"; Mamou, sometimes called Big Mamou, is in another parish) just west of Iota has been studied by many folklorists because its song and other traditions, handed down in the same families for generations, are well preserved.
It has one non-traditional tradition: the Mardi Gras, as the costumed riders are called, ride in trucks rather than on horses.
"Tee Mamou never stopped running during World War II. Since there were not enough horses, they resorted to wagons and trucks and trailers," said Miller. That enabled each participant to come up with required fee — $2 in those days, now $15 — without having to own a horse, Miller said. "If you're required to have a horse, it's too expensive for the average person."
On the Net:
Sydney, Australia: http://www.mardigras.org.au/
Tee Mamou: http://www.iotamardigras.com/main.html