Just in time for Carnival comes “New Orleans Mardi Gras Moments,” a new book by Peggy Scott Laborde and photographer Judi Bottoni.
It’s less than 100 pages long but filled to the brim with color photos depicting all aspects of Carnival, including parades, marching bands, Mardi Gras Indians and king cakes.
Although locals will enjoy “New Orleans Mardi Gras Moments,” (Pelican Publishing, $17.56) as a Mardi Gras recap and reminder of why the celebration is central to New Orleans culture, visitors will be the real fans. For them, it makes a perfect introduction to this many-faceted festival.
The book begins with a brief history of New Orleans Mardi Gras traditions, starting with the 1872 visit of Grand Duke Alexis Romanov then following Carnival’s evolution through the ensuing decades to the present day.
An early chapter is devoted to explaining the king cake tradition, with an emphasis on the Jan. 6 appearance of the Phunny Phorty Phellows on a streetcar and St. Joan of Arc on horseback.
Additional text and images cite the parading krewes, with a focus on distinctive features of each parade: the dragon mega-float for Orpheus, the toilet throne for the King of Tucks, foil embellishments on Mid-City’s floats, the mule-drawn king’s float for Babylon.
“Sub-Krewes” — including the Rolling Elvi, the Laissez Boys (who ride motorized recliners) and the Pussyfooters — command as much attention as the krewes themselves. One chapter explains the Zulu, Mardi Gras Indian, Skull and Bones Gang, and Baby Dolls traditions.
Don’t think that if you’re a lifelong local you can’t learn something: Do you know who “The Tramps” were and what their significance is? You will once you read the book.
Throws merit a chapter of their own. The coveted Zulu coconut may have been the first signature throw associated with a krewe, but Muses and Nyx have followed suit with decorated shoes and purses, respectively. As the text explains, many krewes now toss beads with identifying medallions, the blinkier the better. Doubloons? That’s so last century!
The most arresting image in the book appears in the chapter titled “Let There be Music,” all about the marching bands that accompany the parades. The photograph spreads across two pages and depicts the St. Augustine Marching 100, a band that excites paradegoers with its strong horn section and booming drums. In a sea of purple uniforms and gold helmets, the young musicians hold their heads high, intent on their marching steps.
Missing from the book is much of a discussion of how closely the old line krewes and the city’s debutante set are intertwined. It’s hard to understand Carnival, however, without taking into account both its elite and democratic components.
Locals might also wish that the parting photograph had been of police officers on horseback herding revelers off Bourbon Street at midnight on Mardi Gras. That tradition speaks volumes about the city’s Roman Catholic heritage (and pagan practices) and a photo of the procession would have made a fitting conclusion.