Mysteries of Mardi Gras Solved

08:00 February 01, 2016

Professor Carl Nivale Resolves All Your Carnivale Conundrums

Professor Carl Nivale, reigning professor emeritus of Mardi Gras at the Kings' College of Carnival Knowledge, sits down with Where Y’at to share some tips and tricks for the carnival season.

Hi Professor, and thanks for visiting with us! For those of us not familiar with the Mardi Gras calendar, why is Mardi Gras so darned early this year?

Now that's an excellent question! And one of the most asked questions about the season. The dates of Mardi Gras, Lent, and Easter are what are called "movable feasts" in the Church's calendar. These holidays are determined by the lunar calendar rather than the traditional calendar. This year the Archbishop of Canterbury has started procedures to establish a fixed time for Easter on the calendar. This is a controversial issue, as most changes are. I feel that it would ultimately be beneficial for Carnival and to have a set day for Easter and, consequently Mardi Gras. One of the ongoing complaints from visitors is the difficulty of planning annually for a trip to New Orleans. It can only help to guarantee more tourism for the city. It is my assumption that should this happen in the next decade the day would be fixed like Thanksgiving, i.e. the last Tuesday in February every year.

Wow! That’s a great piece of history. Having a set day does seem like it would make things easier. You just dropped a lot of knowledge right there. When did you start educating people about Mardi Gras?

In 1996 the former producer of the WWLTV Morning Show Dionne Butler contacted me to appear on Mardi Gras to provide information and insights into the Carnival season and it became an annual date on Twelfth Night and Mardi Gras morning. We branched out into a website that gave way to FacebookTwitter, and Instagram. 2016 marks my twentieth anniversary with the Morning Show.

Besides WWLTV, where can we see you during Mardi Gras?

On Mardi Gras day one can generally find me in the morning on either St. Charles Avenue or in the Vieux Carré around Rue Royale. Between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. is my favorite time on Mardi Gras. I get to be out among all the revelers, tourists, and natives who've come out to enjoy the day. I get to talk to people and share their joy and happiness. Leading up to Mardi Gras, I have had the honor of calling Krewe of Freret from Gallier Hall every year since they started marching and will have the honor again on January 30th.

Mysteries of Mardi Gras Solved

Speaking of parades, what is your favorite new parade?

My favorite is every new parade! Having new krewes joining into the parading schedule means that Carnival and Mardi Gras in New Orleans is a thriving prospect. Of the parades that have debuted in the last five years, I do confess to a great fondness for the Krewe of Freret, of course. I'm also a great fan of the Krewe of Mid-City, Krewe du Vieux, and the microkrewe 'tit Rex.

Carnival and Mardi Gras are more than just a party. It's who we are as New Orleanians.

After partying at the parade route, what are some good after-parade hang out spots?

An excellent question, and a very personal one. Everyone has different needs after a day of revelry and throws. For a wanderer intent on finding personally relevant experiences, Rue Royale in the Vieux Carré is ideal. One block off the bacchanalia on Rue Bourbon, a host of street performers and artists assemble there from dawn until midnight, each one a memory in the making.  Weird and wonderful? The Moonwalk is the place to go for alternative Carnival revelry by the river. For something traditional and safe, definitely go to the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone. For the unique and unusual, walk over into the Faubourg Marigny and stroll the streets after Elysian Fields.  You'll see some of the best costumes there. Make Kajun's Pub your base. Joann & Lisa Guidos are the queens of hospitality, best watering hole in the area.  For sheer madness and camaraderie head over to Frenchmen Street and immerse yourself in the culture. The Three Muses is the place to be and tell Miss Sophie Lee the Professor sent you. 

Whatever you decide to do, always remember the three cardinal rules of Mardi Gras:

  1. Wear comfortable shoes, no matter what.
  2. For every alcoholic drink, a bottle of water next round.
  3. Keep an open mind and an open eye at all times

Mysteries of Mardi Gras Solved

Leading up to Mardi Gras, everyone is partaking in the sugary sweetness of king cake. Options abound! What are some of your favorite ones?

That's a tricky question! The politics of king cake is serious business in New Orleans. Folks are very dedicated to their favorite bakers and extol their virtues loudly. However, opinions are like heartbeats, everybody has one. With that in mind:

The ultimate traditional king cake available today is McKenzie's on Harrison Avenue. McKenzie's was the bakery that introduced the baby to king cakes in the late 1930s. Once a citywide chain, now only a couple of stores remain. For contemporary king cake my vote is for Haydel's. Every year they have a different porcelain figurine that stands in for the baby. Among the newer entries the king cakes from Cake Cafe are striking and delicious and the chocolate king cake from Bittersweet is reason enough for Lent.

Mysteries of Mardi Gras Solved

Besides king cake, what are some of your favorite Mardi Gras traditions?

I'm so glad you asked. Besides spending Mardi Gras morning with Eric and Sally-Ann on the stands at St. Charles, my favorite tradition on Mardi Gras is getting home to watch the Meeting of the Courts on WYES. Its old-fashioned and sentimental but I like watching the pageantry. The old line ball krewe customs, the dancing heads cavorting to entertain Comus, the maids and dukes on display. All living remnants of Carnivals past.

Finally, what's the one thing you want visitors during Mardi Gras to do?

Embrace our culture! Carnival and Mardi Gras are more than just a party. It's who we are as New Orleanians. It informs our everyday lives throughout the year. They say the best way to receive is to give, and that's what is ultimately at the heart of Mardi Gras. Be part of it. Mask and costume on Mardi Gras. Indulge in the chance to be someone else for the day. It's magic.

Mysteries of Mardi Gras Solved

Photos by Kathy Bradshaw.  Photo of Professor Carl Nivale by Roy Guste.

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