"Carnival in Louisiana: Celebrating Mardi Gras from the French Quarter to the Red River," Brian J. Costello, LSU Press, $29.95, hardcover
On the cover of Louisiana historian Brian J. Costello's new book is an image of the state embedded entirely in colorful Mardi Gras beads. Fitting, considering the book takes readers to Carnival celebrations all over the state.
Perhaps those elsewhere in the country think the merriment and mayhem of the season is reserved for New Orleans, but locals know better.
In this extensive work, Costello not only provides an extensive history of the Big Easy's many krewes, parades, balls and the like, but does the same for each and every organized celebration in the state between Twelfth Night (Jan. 6) and Shrove Tuesday (the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent).
Moreover, he lists each parade and when and where it rolls, and records the 60 parading krewes in the Greater New Orleans area that formed and disbanded, with their routes and the years they first and last paraded. Atlas, for example, rolled in Metairie for 35 years (1969-2004), while Ashanti-Vesta, partied through Uptown but once, in 1997.
He also covers truck parades, walking clubs and other street traditions, and what we eat and drink during the season.
With New Orleans taken care of in the book's Part 1, it branches out to Acadiana, Southeast Louisiana (including Baton Rouge), and Central and North Louisiana in parts 2, 3 and 4.
Here's where the story of the country party, or Courir de Mardi Gras, is told. Going back as early as the 1780s, these Acadiana Mardi Gras morning events consist of costumed men on horseback riding door to door collecting ingredients for a community gumbo. The most well-known of these is in Mamou, where as many as 20,000 have converged on the little town on Fat Tuesday.
Costello's book is full of interesting tidbits, such as the Zulu Social Aid and Pleasure Club not having a set parade route until 1968. Prior to that, Zulu rolled through predominately African-American neighborhoods, stopping at random bars and other businesses for toasts. Sometimes the parade made it to crowded Canal Street, sometimes it didn't.
Near the book's center are pages of photos from older and more recent Carnivals. The older photos are, understandably, in black and white, but I would have liked to have seen at least some of the more recent years in full color. Otherwise, this is a solid survey of "one of the greatest celebrations on the globe."