Saturday, February 11, 2017

MY KIND OF MARDI GRAS

Karen & Darrell's house
It's that time of year again — Mardi Gras in French Louisiana. If readers want the full Monty about this celebration, a foray into Lyle Saxon's Old Louisiana provides an extensive account of this season preceding Lent. Saxon, one of the brightest raconteurs of his day, lived most of his life in New Orleans and devoted the first six chapters of Old Louisiana to Mardi Gras, explaining that the very name New Orleans "brings to mind a Mardi Gras pageant moving through the streets at night: crowds of masqueraders, rearing horses, great decorated floats glowing with color and glittering gold-leaf. Aboard the swaying cars are centaurs, mermaids, satyrs, gods and men, illuminated by flaring torches carried by strutting negroes robed in red..." Saxon sat on a balcony in front of the St. Charles Hotel during Mardi Gras, 1946, and described the first Mardi Gras to occur after WWII over a national radio broadcasting chain. Readers could say that he was talking about Mardi Gras while dying; a few days after his broadcast, he was hospitalized with cancer and died.

Darrell, Diane, Karen
For the tourist, New Orleans is the place to be during Mardi Gras activities, but, of course, Cajun Country has its own Carnival balls, parades, and private celebrations. At my age, I prefer the latter, especially when it takes place in the home of the Bourques in Church Point, Louisiana. Like Saxon, Darrell Bourque, the former poet laureate of Louisiana and his wife Karen, a glass artist, have an abiding interest in "living well." When we get together with them, the atmosphere is charged with the energy of two accomplished artists — books are stacked on desks, in bookcases everywhere; regional art fills every room in their home and studio. The studio is an old shotgun style house the Bourques renovated to resemble a Creole cottage, complete with heavily-battened blue shutters, facing the cobbled New Orleans style courtyard. A new addition is a wrought iron fence enclosing the cottage that adds to the Creole ambience.  Each time we visit the studio, I discover glass pieces I've viewed before, but see them as new, in every corner. I find different displays of their grandson William's paintings, perhaps a new poem lying on the tall table where the two artists create both glass work and poems — everything is viewed as new. I tease my friends about my becoming a permanent guest holed up in their studio to write.

Thursday, a Mardi Gras centerpiece decorated the dining table where we dined and talked for two hours. The food! Darrell cooks a magnifique pork roast with homemade sauce of roasted peppers and onions; Karen, a sweet potato casserole, fresh asparagus salad with homemade dressing, and Darrell always insists that we have nahn, which he knows I learned to love while living in Iran. "This is our Mardi Gras," Darrell said, and we toasted our long friendship as a way to celebrate that which is fun-filled and gracious in our lives. No loud fanfare, parades, costumed folks, no dancing in the hall — just lots of talk and doubling-over laughter.

Vickie @ Mardi Gras table
We got up from the festive table and went outdoors, where I usually insist on taking photographs so we can reminisce when we return to Sewanee for the spring/summer season. Four or five shots of us are required for me to look decent, linked with these two handsome artists, and Thursday we posed in front of one of Darrell's prize camellia bushes. Darrell, a consummate gardener, also raises grapefruit, lemons, and oranges and usually has a bumper crop of ginger but the last freeze destroyed these beautiful plants. His white camellias would rival the prize camellias in the gardens of Jefferson and Avery Islands, Louisiana.

No Hail Rex and his royal court, no bursts of music, little parades of glittering floats, or the unrealness of a Mardi Gras scene... but the realness of a good time enjoyed by all. We came away feeling well-cared for following our celebration in the prairie country of St. Landry parish, a region of Louisiana I've learned to love after viewing it through the eyes of these elegant south Louisiana artists.

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