An expatriate of New Orleans – and professional chef – who has lived in Los Angeles since her childhood, blogs about the journey from New Orleans to Los Angeles back to New Orleans, and points along the way.

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Mardi Gras, Mom and a Love of Beauty

By on Feb 5, 2013, 5:09 pm in Celebrations, Personal Reflection | 14 comments

Harry Shearer, a couple of weekends ago, began his weekly radio show, Le Show, (with the smell of melted Mardi Gras beads emanating from the cubicle next to him, he tells us, as a member of his crew was beading purses), by saying, “It’s Carnival season in New Orleans. I was reminded last night, at the first parades, of the thing that always amazes me about this thing… so many hundreds and probably thousands of hours, days and weeks, spent by thousands of people, working on stuff- beading purses, glittering shoes, creating costumes, building floats- not to make Minute Maid look good on national television, you know, but just to create beauty, satire and raunchy fun for themselves, their neighbors, the rest of the city, and whoever else wants to come by.”

In New Orleans, the Carnival season has been going on for several weeks now, culminating on Mardi Gras Day, a week from today.  It is so all consuming that the whole city, and much of the Gulf Coast, for that matter, will be shut down on Lundi and Mardi Gras. There will have been a steady calendar of the largest of the parades and balls for several day before then.

It is also the anniversary of my mother’s birthday tomorrow, so of course, she is on my mind. My mother, in spite of being a wife, mother and full time elementary school teacher, always made time to hand make Mardi Gras costumes for my brothers and me. Later when we moved to Los Angeles, where Mardi Gras wasn’t a city wide celebration, she made Halloween costumes for us, even until I was well into my teens. And when her children  were grown and out of the house, her Creole community in Los Angeles began throwing their own Mardi Gras balls. She and my father, of course, worked diligently on creating costumes they would wear to them.

I am so grateful to have grown up in and been nurtured by a community that loved ritual and tradition, and that celebrated beauty and sensuousness just for the pure joy of it. And in a culture that took days to prepare a special meal, and hours to enjoy it. I am grateful that because of that culture, I live and work today with an understanding that food should be prepared with great care, presented beautifully, and served lovingly. And that food is not porn, preparing it is not a competitive sport, but rather nurturance (not only of the body, but of the soul), tradition, ritual and joy.

Here are a few of the costumes Mom made over the years:

 

Reiss, Baby Nell & Gi

 

My first Mardi Gras at only 6 months old. I was a bunny rabbit. Mom said every baby was a bunny rabbit for their first Mardi Gras. If you look closely, you can see my bunny ears.

 

GISELE___AL_

 

A couple of years later, my brother, Al, had come along. Here we are as clowns-archetypal New Orleans figures. And thanks to Facebook friend and scholar of all things Creole and Cajun, Christophe Landry for pointing out that our clown hats are les capuchons, traditional and ceremonial Carnival season hats.

 

MardiGrasMamaDear

 

Another couple of years down the line and my brother, Ric, seated on my grandmother, Mama Dear’s lap, had come along. See- his first Mardi Gras he was the bunny, Al had grown into my clown costume, and I was an Indian- another New Orleans archetypal figure.

 

Giselecostume

 

So much work went into this one- a proper young lady dressed for a ball.

 

Grown Up Bunny Rabbit Costume

 

Mom even made me a grown up bunny rabbit costume many years after that first Mardi Gras.

    14 Comments

  1. What adorable costumes. Who knew there were Mardi Gras balls in Los Angeles? Are they still going on?

    Judy Herman

    February 5, 2013

  2. Judy- there was a big Mardi Gras ball here until 2 years ago. The older generation who put it together, is sadly passing on, or to old and tired to do the work, and none of our younger generation has taken it up.

    Gisele Perez

    February 5, 2013

  3. How did I miss the LA Mardi Gras ball during the 15 years I lived there?!! Now I’m in Austin, so I can conceivably drive to New Orleans to get my fix of Mardis Gras beads this year. Of course, it goes without saying that I’m now craving a big bowl of gumbo after reading your post!

    Kee Kee

    February 6, 2013

  4. How appropriate a tribute on her birthday

    Al

    February 6, 2013

  5. Nice piece, memories and tribute. The interesting thing is, the same costume was never worn twice. We had new ones every year. Of course, as kids, we outgrew them but it was just not acceptable to wear the same costume again. One of the great joys for your mom and for me was when Mardi Gras fell on our birthday. 1951 was on your mom’s birthday. 1947, 1958 and 1969 were on mine. I remember, well, walking through the city in my costume with your mom on Mardi Gras Day when I was too young to wander out on my own.
    Unc.

    REISS

    February 6, 2013

  6. Your mom was a fantastic seamstress.

    HeatherL

    February 9, 2013

  7. I love the costumes. The only ones we got were the poisonous ones that used to come in the boxes. I probably lost a number of brain cells from inhaling the fumes and suffocating inside the plastic mask.

    Rich

    February 13, 2013

  8. This is wonderful! Your mom was so talented and a teacher too! Wow, so glad you posted this!!!!

    Joya

    February 5, 2015

    • Thanks, Joya. Yes, my Mom was quite a wonderful lady- and a really great teacher.

      Gisele Perez

      February 5, 2015

  9. My mom’s 89th birthday would have been on Monday 2/2. She would be the first to admit she was a terrible seamstress and would have so admired your mother’s amazing talent. Our mothers were so special – they will never leave us!

    Lizthechef

    February 5, 2015

    • Yes, Liz. Our Moms were indeed special, and I fear never quite enough appreciated while they were here with us. I’ m glad they are still always with us.

      Happy Birthday, Moms!

      Gisele Perez

      February 5, 2015

  10. Always enjoy your writings, G! And your pictures are fantastic! I know your mom is proud.

    Denise

    February 5, 2015

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