This is an entry in the We Said Go Travel Writing Contest written by Corey Cart from the USA. Thanks for your entry Corey!
Flash floods saturated nearby fields as my plane slammed onto the runway. Disappointment flooded my mind. Maybe my friends knew something I didn’t? You see, my friends’ faces lit up at the mention of Mardi Gras but dimmed like a light bulb fades when I announced I was celebrating in Lake Charles instead of New Orleans.
With plans to attend the Krewe of Illusions Mardi Gras Ball in mere hours, squeaky sounds of wet feet rising from the airport floor heckled me at baggage claim. They shouted louder as an airline official informed me that the bag holdings my tuxedo was deep in the bowels of the Dallas/Ft.Worth Airport. Without formal attire, I would not be granted entry to the ball.
Traveling without food for 10 hours, a driver came to fetch me. In route to 121 Artisan Bistro, she called a tuxedo store who announced they would be closing in less than one hour for the evening festivities. So, between amazing bites of fresh grilled tilapia, parmesan-crusted fried shrimp, chicken & sausage gumbo and crusty bread, I sputtered my inseam and sleeve measurements. With each bite I said silent prayers for the presence of adjustable straps on the waistbands of the rented trousers.
Relief pulsed through my veins creating a second wind upon arriving at the stunning L’Auberge Casino and Hotel to find a tuxedo, of perfect fit, hanging in my closet. So, I boarded the Bon Temps Express which served as my carriage to the ball. Little did I know a five day mobile feast of simple, delicious food alongside some amazing locals had just begun.
Like most, I imagined streets engulfed by half clothed, drunken bodies fighting for cheap plastic beads. But, my preconceived notions were swept out the door. What I found in Lake Charles was a community who pushed aside judgments, fears, and worries for the opportunity to celebrate their community and each other.
“It’s not so much the celebration; it’s the cause of the celebration. People here develop relationships that are a part of the fabric of life, and its come one come all …doesn’t matter your race, age, creed or socioeconomic status,” said Mayor Randy Roach.
Later in the week at Taste de la Louisiane, an all-you-can-eat community Cajun feed, I met long-time volunteer Ruby Guidroy. When asked how long she had been giving of her time, she quipped, “Oh, not long, just about 20 years, cause this is the time of the year we act like kids and get away with it.”
On Tuesday, sun breeched the clouds, and I journeyed to rural Iowa, LA, (pronounced eye-oh-way) for the 33rd annual Iowa Chicken Run. Who knew a port-a-pottie, charcoal grill, DJ, ice chest and a few straw bales on a flatbed trailer could be life altering? Part of a town-wide processional, our float stopped each time the whistle blew. A chicken would be released, and children scurried to catch it. Live zydeco music emerged from the chaos and the adults would dance for the residents of each home.
“Adults run after the chickens when they get too sipped,” said Miss Berline, organizer of this more settlement oriented style of Mardi Gras celebration,“but it’s really for the children.”
Each home our float stopped in front of had celery, rice, and other ingredients needed for gumbo, and the best dancer at each stop was awarded one of the food staples as a prize. After hours of dancing and chasing chickens, the floats returned to the town hall where neighbors yarned stories, grilled meats and stewed gumbo.
“Mardi Gras is something everyone should experience once,” said Miss Berline, “It can change the way your family and you interact with each other and the world.”
While riding to Iowa on the
Joy Huval, who owns the bus with her husband told me,“Mardi Gras is messy,” as she applied glitter face paint to my face with her fingers.
If Mardi Gras is messy, then life could be considered down right nasty. After all, we are confined by standard’s of dress, morality, professionalism and conduct impressed upon us by society. The people of Southwest Louisiana and Mardi Gras taught me to reach beyond stereotypes and standards to celebrate the spirit of life and the human race.
Flying home, Miss Berline’s words haunted me as memories of new friends I’d made throughout the week, such as Martha and Ellen of the 12th Night Revelers, steeped in my mind. The people of Lake Charles had woven themselves into the fabric of my own life like Mayor Roach suggested.
Traveling to this region left me more patient and forgiving. Learning celebration should be a daily part of my life, I now sleep a full eight hours without waking up worried about unimportant nonsense. In fact, my only stress is whether or not I’ll catch a chicken next year for my own pot of gumbo, but then again, I’d have to be “sipped”.
So for now, I wake each morning repeating the Mardi Gras mantra, “Laissez les bons temps rouler!”, and the good times and memories of new friends keep on rolling every day.
* Laissez les bons temps rouler – (lay-zay lay bon ton rule-ay ) – a Cajun French expression meaning “Let the Good Times Roll”
About the Author: Texas-based travel writer, Cory Cart, celebrates great destinations by partaking in what the “locals” do in their own backyard. His stories focus on things you often will not find in a guidebook. You can read more of his material at www.seemybackyard.com.