It's that time of year when people come back from their vacations, or leave Paris, so sad.... One thing I really don't like is seeing a Christmas tree in the gutter before Epiphany. Ça va pas, non? There are Twelve Days of Christmas, just as the song says; the last one is called Twelfth Night and people used to celebrate it with lots of good food and games. I love those old traditions. Anyway, one of mine is not taking down the tree until January 7th. It is still proudly standing in its German stand with a water supply, and beautiful on the dark evenings with its lights!
Today we are going to buy the galette des rois. It is a cake that appears in France after New Year's Day, sold with a crown, and inside is a little porcelain figure called the fève, or bean, because in the old days it really was a bean. Whoever gets the piece with the fève is the King or Queen for the day. Nowadays people collect the porcelain fèves and one of the ways most people choose their galette is by the fèves that are featured in that bakery-- they compete to have the most interesting fèves. I don't collect them, but I do keep them, and over the years there is quite a collection. Astérix le Gaulois, a golden crown-ring, the Virgin Mary, and all sorts of other personnages.
One of the reasons I care about Epiphany is that it was a big deal in Louisiana too. There the cake is called a King Cake and there is a "baby" inside. In New Orleans, the appearance of the King Cakes at Epiphany was the signal for the Mardi Gras season to begin. I never had a chance to go to a Mardi Gras ball, since I didn't live in New Orleans, and you have to be invited by a member of a Krewe [New Orleans social clubs that revolve around Mardi Gras...all year]. This year, I was so excited. One of my uncles who is in the biggest Krewe, Bacchus, had invited us to come for the 2006 parade and ball. The men ride on one of the floats-- you have to fork over a lot of money for this privilege-- and throw necklaces and trinkets to the screaming crowds. (Notice how the woman's hand on the right in the photo has painted her nails purple in honor of the Mardi Gras colors of purple, gold and green.) Traditionally they yell, "Throw me something, Mister!" At the end of the parade, the floats drive to the Convention Center-- the same one that was a disaster area after the hurricane-- and inside, park all around the dance floor, which becomes an immense ballroom for the Krewe's ball, with the floats providing the decor.
Poor New Orleans. And poor people of the city. And my poor uncle, whose family suffered its own disasters from the double hurricanes, and who can't ride in the parade this year. I know that Mardi Gras is frivolous and the least of New Orleans' problems, but it is still so sad that it won't ever be the same again. It was a joyful time (and I'm not talking about all the obscene nonsense down in the "Quawtah", which New Orleanians have been forced to avoid for the past twenty years). School got out for days, and everyone dressed up, and business stopped, just to have the world's best party. I remember my uncle laughing at the idea that businessmen from other cities would try to combine business with a trip to New Orleans during Mardi Gras time! Business!
This year the city is trying bravely to keep its Mardi Gras, though. Have a thought for the great city that was lost and is trying to live again.