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Published:March 4th, 2014 13:22 EST
The Times-Picayune Offers of Rich Archive on Mardi Gras and New Orleans` History!

The Times-Picayune Offers of Rich Archive on Mardi Gras and New Orleans` History!

By John G. Kays

New Orleans in its golden age of spectacular wickedness gained full stature as a city of sin and gaiety unique on the North American continent. Contributing to that sinful stature  were gamblers, pirates, Creoles, politicians, practitioners of voodoo, and the ladies of Basin Street and Storyville. Back cover blurb to The French Quarter, by Herbert Asbury

My Mardi Gras for Dummies definition (since, all my life, I`ve neglected to study its real history) is, just squeeze in as much sin and decadence as possible before Ash Wednesday, when it will be necessary to include a bit more prudence and abstinence in your daily schedule. Somewhere along the way, this distortion of what Catholicism originally intended, has become common practice, if not the law of the land (according to Southern Louisianan mores -see True Detective). 

This street take on Mardi Gras may contain a grain of truth to it, yet its two-dimensional simplicity, along with a nasty blast of latent winter weather, is compelling me to mend my ways, and to engage in a study of the rich traditions of Carnival in the Crescent City (in earnest), as well as an inkling of city history. Your best way to learn about New Orleans is by way of the fertile archives of The Times-Picayune; the online version of the newspaper ( is featuring quite a few reprints, resurrected from their vaults.

Just to back up a teeny bit (to 4 AM this morning), I saw a great article in CNN Travel, 15 New Orleans must-dos, by Sara Roahen; this is an absolutely fabulous way to get the lessen started! Afterwards, you`ll probably want to make a beeline over to The Times-Picayune, which has more calorie-loaded stuff on Fat Tuesday than you`ll ever possibly be able to read. Not to bring you down too much, but I started off with the weather report, which tells us today is the coldest day on record for Mardi Gras (when it falls precisely on March 4th). 

But recover quickly my friend, and checkout the seductive sidebar, Mardi Gras News, where you might scout around, until you find what you want to concentrate on; I was favoring Lundi Gras in the French Quarter: Revelry to Rival Fat Tuesday, since it includes ordinary participants, tourists enjoying the holiday in high style, and making the news to boot! Once you`ve worked your way through this maze of contemporary coverage, if your curiosity is up to travel even further back in time, hit the sidebar link: Special report: Mardi Gras history.

Begin by reading Meet the first Rex, King of Carnival, about Lewis J. Salomon, a young banker who got the ball rolling back in 1872, making it a costume affair, filled with mysterious pageantry, and beau coup, excessive merriment and abandonment. I found myself sinking deeper yet into the fathomous catacombs of The Times-Picayune, by chasing the link: New Orleans through the Years, As Covered by the T-P. I know you`re going to go crazy now; Hubig`s Pie Co., Red Beans & Rice, Calas, John Kennedy Toole, and most of all, Josie Arlington, the most famous madam ever of Storyville!

I`ve never had a Hubig fried pie, so I`ve been going nutso over the thought of eating one of those little babies. Then, I don`t remember ever eating one of those rice cakes (Calas), which were sold by older black women in The French Quarter (in the early Twentieth Century); they would walk around The Quarter carrying baskets on their heads, saying: get your hot rice cakes! I want one right now, so come on over yonder. And then I indulged in a history lesson on King Cake; I`ll have to make a run for King Cake later today, but fear I can`t get it as authentic (NO) as I would like here in Austin.

As for what New Orleans` folk are calling beans and rice, these recipes look more like a gumbo or a seafood stew to me, than a simple mixer of the stuff that grows in the ground, but I`m a bit of a prude, so I better take a closer look at some of these spices, making sure they`re not of a Voodoo extraction. You`ll probably get lost in this link, but if you want to traverse the Mississippi even further, and get hopelessly lost, sojourn over to The Historic New Orleans Collection, or over to Your New Orleans Story for genuine artifacts.

I own only one genuine artifact that relates to New Orleans` intriguing history; it`s The French Quarter (An Informal History of the New Orleans Underground),  by Herbert Asbury (1936), which fleshes out for you (literally) sundry items you`re not likely to encounter anywhere else, when pursuing the Usual Suspects, as far as avenues of research go. The volume is probably hard to find, but well worth it! Mardi Gras =s Sin & Graft! That`s the Law of the Swamplands!