Muses and beads: Happy Mardi Gras

When my now husband and I started seriously dating, the topic of Mardi Gras came up very early on in our relationship. I had always heard about this New Orleans celebration, I thought I knew what it was all about (beads, right?), but over the last few Mardi Gras, I have truly learned to appreciate the meaning of this special day, really, this special week-end.

Of course, the clichés about Bourbon street, beads, and what ladies (and gentlemen) are ready to do to get the really good ones are only partially exaggerated. But truly, Mardi Gras is about friends, about fancy beaded dresses, about celebrating life and its many pleasures, before the arrival of Ash Wednesday.

In learning about Mardi Gras, I have learned a few new English words, such as “krewe.” Prounounced as “crew,” krewes are the organizations that put on parades and/or a ball during the Carnival season. Being a member of a krewe has quite the social cachet, and is quite expensive. One of my best friends, Angie, is in Muses.

While most krewes are men-only, there are three that are exclusive to women. My favorite, of course, is Muses. First off, its symbol is a shoe, and it really has the best floats. And while strange things happen on Bourbon Street to catch beads, the excitement of seeing the parades on St. Charles Avenue has nothing to do with showing skin, and everything to do with catching the best possible bead.

My Mardi Gras started on Thursday evening, when Muses rode to kick-off to the really fun parades. The festivities continued on Friday, the day of my friend Angie’s annual Mardi Gras Luncheon. Hosted in a private room at Arnaud’s, Angie brings together 11 of her best friends for a 5 hour lunch filled with champagne, famous dishes such as Shrimp Arnaud and Turtle Soup, and lots of laughs. Arnaud’s (and Antoine’s and Galatoire’s, the other two classic New Orleans restaurants) is taken over by Mardi Gras festivities and ladies in hand-made beaded dresses.

After lunch, around 4 pm, we stroll through the French Quarter, with stops at two of my favorite bars, Lafitte’s Blacksmith Shop and Cosimo’s. Overall, the perfect ending to a Friday afternoon filled with more pleasure than work. Luckily, Cosimos’s is literally across the street from my New Orleans home, and while by then my feet hurt, I make it home thrilled to have experienced another successful start to Mardi Gras week-end.

The rest of the week-end was slightly mellower, with visits to Frenchman street for some fabulous live music and dinners (not 5 hour dinners) with friends. By the time you read this, it will actually be Mardi Gras, Fat Tuesday, the last day of Carnival. At midnight precisely, the New Orleans streets will be cleaned, broken beads will be thrown away, and people will focus on Ash Wednesday – and what to give up. I have only started giving something up for Lent since I have started partaking in the Mardi Gras celebration; if I do one, I must do the other, right? This year, I am giving up artificial sweetener in all its forms (Splenda, Equal, whatever is in Diet Coke). Wish me luck…

Lessons From a High School Graduation

Two nights ago, I attended my husband’s son’s high school graduation in New Orleans. I guess I should say I attended my step-son’s graduation… It was a warm Louisiana evening, filled with proud parents, happy siblings, and excited graduates. I couldn’t help as I watched the ceremony, listened to the speeches, and enjoyed the music, thinking back to my own high school graduation.

What I remember most from my graduation (back in 1995… yikes!) is the overall theme of “yes you can.” Our speakers (whether students or guests) spoke of ambition, of endless possibilities, of dreams coming true, and of changing the world. That day, there was nothing I couldn’t do. No goal was too far out of reach. No plan was too ambitious. If I wanted to do it, I could, and I would. Watch me. While I still believe in that feeling, it has been informed by almost 20 years of life, which in my case has meant entrepreneurial highs and lows, personal love and loss. Today, I still know I can do anything I set my mind to, but I also know it will probably be hard.

I was surprised that that was indeed the theme of Parker’s graduation Commencement speaker. Anh “Joseph” Cao, former U.S. Representative for Louisiana’s 2nd Congressional District (the first Vientamese-American elected to Congress, he served from 2009 to 2011) and a candidate for Attorney General of Louisiana, spoke of his life, of the lessons he learned along the way. He spoke of being born in Vietnam and leaving his home country at the early age of 8. He spoke of wanting to be a physicist, but then becoming a Catholic Priest. He spoke of realizing it was not his vocation and of becoming a lawyer. He spoke of losing everything during Hurricane Katrina, of having to rebuild everything. He spoke about life being filled with hope, but also filled with hardship. His three pieces of advice to the graduating class were:

–          Be prudent

–          Be disciplined

–          Be persistent

I listened, and nodded in agreement. This theme re-emerged at the very end of the evening, when the Principal granted the graduates their diplomas, and ended the night by quoting Winston Churchill: “Never, never, never give up.”

While I couldn’t agree more with either the former Congressman, or the Principal (these are lessons and words I live by every day), I still somehow missed the innocent naiveté of the messages I heard at my own graduation. Then again, I thought to myself, we aren’t exactly in 1995… the messages I heard Tuesday night were a stark reminder of the “different reality” we live in today.

Happy Mardi Gras!

It is 9:40 am and I just drove two hours from NYC to Delaware for a sales meeting with a fabulous beauty boutique. I love my work, and I love Alchimie for more than I can ever say – but today, I wish I was in New Orleans. Case in point, while at Cosi sipping on a large coffee (my third of the day), I just got a call from my husband who is walking around the French Quarter in a blond mullet wig sipping on a bloody mary. What? Well, of course, it’s Mardi Gras. Over the last three years, I have learned to love Mardi Gras. Mardi Gras season, Mardi Gras week-end (which I am still recuperating from), and Mardi Gras Day. In my heart and soul, I am in New Orleans today.

Driving south on the New Jersey turnpike, listening to whatever local radio station was on, I learned a few factoids about Mardi Gras (hopefully up here in the “North” they know what they are talking about when discussing Mardi Gras truths versus fiction). I already knew that the two words are French for “Fat Tuesday.” I also already knew that Mardi Gras represents the last day of Carnival season, the last day for fat foods and alcohol before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent (I am giving up diet coke for Lent this year). I also already knew that the three Mardi Gras colors are purple, green and gold (notice how purple and green are also Alchimie Forever corporate colors?). I did not know however that it was the krewe of Rex that made these three colors the official Mardi Gras colors. I did not know that the word krewe was first used by the Comus organization in 1857 (apparently this group of six New Orleaneans saved Mardi Gras, which was considered dangerous). I most surprising to me, I learned that Mardi Gras started in Mobile, Alabama.

Last night, the Mayor of New Orleans turned over the keys of the city to King Zulu, who is in charge until midnight tonight. New Orleans, are you ready? To all New Orleaneans out there, born or adopted, happy Mardi Gras. Happy costuming. Happy parade watching. Happy King Cake (we have some in the Alchimie Forever showroom today, so stop by for a bite). And of course, happy drinking. Brandy milk punch for me please!

 

 

My Louisiana Sunday

This past Sunday was what I think of as a typical Louisiana Sunday. The day started off with an early lunch at Middendorf’s, a seafood restaurant and local institution that opened in 1934. Broiled catfish, shrimp, and oysters, and the best coleslaw I have ever eaten. “No crawfish,” the waitress sadly announced, as the BP oil spill has caused such a price increase that the restaurant can’t afford them. That brief mention of the oil spill led to an hour long discussion of what could have and should have been done to prevent it, to fix it, and what the consequences will be for this magical area.