Saturday, February 23, 2013

Cajun Mardi Gras 2013 - Experiences Beyond the Courir

My last several posts describe the experience of my friend David and me in Cajun Louisiana for Mardi Gras 2013 and our participation in the Faquetaigue Courir de Mardi Gras. This post will describe other aspects of our experience in Cajun Louisiana, besides the Courir.

RAYNE, LA. We stayed at the Best Western in Rayne LA. This turned out to be a good choice. Rayne is on I-10, just beyond Lafayette LA. A short drive north from Rayne are the towns of Eunice, Mamou, Church Point, Basile, Iota, and others - many of which have Courirs de Mardi Gras.

THE FROG CAPITAL OF THE WORLD. Rayne LA is the Frog Capital of the World! The frog motif is everywhere! David and I ate in the Frog Cafe across from the Best Western, where the breakfast menu features meals called Bull Frog Breakfast, Toad Breakfast, and Tadpole Breakfast, each with varying amounts of eggs and other breakfast items.

ZYDECO BREAKFAST AT CAFE DES AMIS. On Saturday morning, February 9, we got up early and drove to Breaux Bridge LA for the amazing Zydeco Breakfast held every Saturday at Cafe des Amis. The music is lively, and people dance right between the tables. The dancing gets wild and furious, and the floor actually shakes!

RICE FIELDS AND CRAWFISH. As we drove through the Cajun Louisiana countryside, we saw acres of rice fields, all flooded in order to catch crawfish.

ACADEMY OF THE SACRED HEART - GRAND COTEAU, LA. We drove into the grounds of the Academy of the Sacred Heart in Grand Coteau, LA, a beautiful boarding school in the country. This is a sister school to the Academy of the Sacred Heart in New Orleans, which I attended from pre-Kindergarten through 12th Grade.

LOUISIANA STATE UNIVERSITY EUNICE (LSU-E). I also drove around the campus of LSU-Eunice. It's a fairly small campus and was quite deserted due to the Mardi Gras holiday.

EUNICE BOUCHERIE AND BACKBONE STEW. On Sunday, February 10, we spent some time in Eunice LA, where a boucherie earlier in the day had yielded a variety of pork dishes. I tried a bowl of backbone stew, which was absolutely delicious! It relaxed me for the rest of the day!

PRAIRIE ACADIAN CULTURAL CENTER - EUNICE, LA. This Cultural Center has many resources to understand the traditions and culture of Cajun Louisiana. It is here that we saw the very interesting and informative video Dance for a Chicken: The Cajun Mardi Gras and met a woman named Bursia who crochets and quilts at the Center and has many pieces of her beautiful work on display and for sale. Bursia also provided information about the Courir de Mardi Gras, as she had grown up with the tradition.

THE MISSED CHURCH POINT COURIR DE MARDI GRAS. We thought we would watch the Courir de Mardi Gras held in Church Point LA on the Sunday before Mardi Gras, February 10, but when we arrived in Church Point, we found that the Courir had already passed. However, we had an even better experience! We saw a costumed Mardi Gras walking along the highway and asked him about the Courir. He told us that it was over and asked us if we could give him a ride to Higginbotham LA, a small nearby town. He had missed the bus that would have taken him home and was faced with walking for miles to Higginbotham! We gave him a ride - and enjoyed talking with a Mardi Gras from the Church Point Courir! He was eager to share his very conservative political opinions with us, to which we simply replied, "Hmmm" and "Ah." When we got to his home, he hopped over his fence and waved goodbye to us.

CHEF ROY'S FROG CITY CAFE. This is a recommended restaurant in Rayne where we didn't get a chance to eat because it was closed a lot of the time we were there. The hours didn't correspond to the times when we were actually in Rayne - plus Chef Roy's is normally closed on Mondays and was closed on Tuesday, February 12, for Mardi Gras. However, I would really like to eat there in the future.

D.I.'S RESTAURANT. We didn't manage to eat at D.I's, either, but this is also a place where I would like to eat in the future. It's on Highway 97 in Evangeline LA, but really it's a restaurant out on a country road in the middle of rice fields - yet I hear it's always crowded. (It reminds me of Middendorf's Restaurant in Manchac LA - closer to New Orleans - sitting out there on the shore of Lake Maurepas. The directions page of Middendorf's website includes instructions on how to get there by boat. And it's always crowded.) We were told that, near Mardi Gras, D.I.'s has a dinner event where Mardi Gras from one of the nearby town Courirs come through and interact with the diners.

L'ACADIE INN. I want to end with a word about the very friendly family-owned and -run L'Acadie Inn on the outskirts of Eunice LA. The proprietors, Kelly and Lance Pitre, are incredibly welcoming and hospitable. They facilitated our participation in the Faquetaigue Courir de Mardi Gras. If I stay in Cajun Louisiana again, I would love to stay at L'Acadie Inn. I could tell that the Pitres really take care of their guests.

Cajun Mardi Gras 2013 - Further Reflections on the Courir de Mardi Gras

My last post described my experience participating in the Faquetaigue Courir de Mardi Gras 2013 in Cajun Louisiana. In this post, I will reflect further on the Courir.

In case you haven't read the previous post, a Courir de Mardi Gras, or Mardi Gras Run, is the Cajun way of celebrating Mardi Gras. Costumed and masked participants (each participant called a Mardi Gras) trek from farm to farm, on foot or on horseback, to beg ingredients for a community gumbo to be cooked and shared later in the day. Below, you see the Mardi Gras walking from one farm to another.

Mardi Gras participating in the Faquetaigue Courir walk from one farm to another.
I would call the Courir de Mardi Gras a form of high play. As I understand it, it is an acting out of the peasant, or perhaps even the serf, role in a society where the wealthy land-owners held the power.

On Mardi Gras, the peasant grabs some of this power. Unrecognizable in costume and mask, the Mardi Gras represent peasants begging for food and coins from the wealthy land-owner. But the peasants have the power of anonymity and the license granted by the mis-rule of the day. In complete disguise, they are free to threaten and play tricks on the land-owner as they over-run his farm, chasing chickens and creating mayhem.

I could tell, from my participation in the Faquetaigue Courir de Mardi Gras, that this re-enactment provided huge fun, great release of energy, high entertainment, and joyful celebration for the participants, both Mardi Gras and farm hosts. The Mardi Gras vied in chasing and catching chickens, engaged in mock fights, provoked the "vilains" (who were armed with whips of rope to "keep order"), and danced energetically to the Cajun music of the Courir musicians. Everyone seemed to be having a marvelous time!

Mardi Gras in Cajun Louisiana is a most lively celebration in preparation for Lent. Cajuns are mostly Catholic, so Lent is observed. I got up early on Ash Wednesday and went to Mass at Saint Joseph's Church in Rayne LA. I found the church about 3/4 full for the 6:30 a.m. Mass.

One thing that is quite different from New Orleans Mardi Gras is the deep connection with the land. From what I saw, many Cajuns still live on and from the land, and life is closely connected with the land. It was probably not so long ago that, when the land did not produce enough, starvation became a real possibility, and life was in jeopardy. In fact, I think that life was often hard, making life precious and worthy of celebration.

The Mardi Gras in each Courir walk across the land, on foot or on horseback, stopping at the farms of their neighbors. It is a great celebration of the land, of the food that the land yields, and of the community that lives on the land.

I was incredibly impressed with the friendliness, openness, and hospitality of the Cajun people. The young people on the Faquetaigue Courir de Mardi Gras (most participants were in their 20s and 30s) were welcoming and happy to share with my friend David and me about their lives and their culture. We are especially grateful for the hospitality of Kelly and Lance Pitre of L'Acadie Inn just outside Eunice LA, who opened the door for us to participate in the Faquetaigue Courir.

I will conclude with a list of several sources that David and I found helpful in informing ourselves about Cajun Mardi Gras.

  • BOOK. Carnaval! by Barbara Mauldin (2004). Gives a history of carnival and describes the carnival traditions of various cities in Europe and the Americas, including Cajun Mardi Gras and New Orleans Mardi Gras. Generously illustrated with gorgeous photographs - like a coffee table book.
  • BOOK. Cajun Mardi Gras Masks by Carl Lindahl (1997). Describes various types of Cajun Mardi Gras masks and shows how they are made. Generously illustrated with great photos.
  • BOOK. Mardi Gras, Gumbo, and Zydeco: Readings in Louisiana Culture by Marcia G. Gaudet (2003). Exactly what the title says.
  • VIDEO. Dance for a Chicken: The Cajun Mardi Gras by Pat Mire (1993). An excellent video about the Courir de Mardi Gras and its significance.
My next post will describe experiences other than the Courir de Mardi Gras during my visit to Cajun Louisiana.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Cajun Mardi Gras 2013 - Faquetaigue Courir de Mardi Gras

My previous post showed my friend David and me in our Cajun Mardi Gras costumes and masks. This post describes the Faquetaigue Courir de Mardi Gras, with photos by David.

In Cajun Louisiana, Mardi Gras is celebrated with a Courir de Mardi Gras, or Mardi Gras Run, in which costumed and masked participants (each participant called a Mardi Gras) trek from farm to farm on horseback or on foot to beg ingredients for a community gumbo, which is cooked and shared later in the day.

David and I spent Mardi Gras in Cajun Louisiana, expecting to watch a Courir de Mardi Gras as it departed or arrived in one of the towns. Serendipitously, we received an invitation to participate in a Courir! A woman named Andrea, with whom we chatted at the pre-Mardi Gras festivities in Eunice, told us about the events organized by her daughter and son-in-law, Kelly and Lance Petri, who own and run L'Acadie Inn on the outskirts of Eunice. We decided to drop by L'Acadie Inn, where we met Kelly and Lance - and where we received an invitation to participate in the Faquetaigue Courir!

To participate in a Courir de Mardi Gras, a proper costume and mask are required. David and I had already made Cajun Mardi Gras costumes and had those with us, so all we needed were masks. My previous post shows how David beautifully embellished two bare-bones Cajun Mardi Gras masks that we purchased in Eunice. Then, we were all set!

On Mardi Gras morning, we met at L'Acadie Inn, and then drove over to the gathering site for the Faquetaigue Courir. Faquetaigue, as I understand it, is the name given to a group of small communities on the outskirts of Eunice. The word "faquetaigue" means "turkey" in one of the Native American Indian languages. It is pronounced something like this: fack-ee-tie-yay.

Below, you see the Mardi Gras gathering in their costumes and masks prior to the Courir.

The Mardi Gras gather for the Faquetaigue Courir de Mardi Gras!
Babies gather, too, in the arms of their dads!
After instructions from the Capitaine, we got underway, walking from farm to farm on VERY MUDDY roads! It had rained hard throughout most of the previous day, and the ground was muddy, muddy, muddy!

The Mardi Gras walk from one farm to another.
Upon arrival at a farm, the Capitaine formally requested permission to enter the property. When permission was granted, a flag was waved, and the Mardi Gras poured into the yard. We fell to our knees (in the mud!) before our hosts and raised our hands to beg for the gumbo ingredients while singing, "Donnez quelque chose pour le Mardi Gras!" ("Give something for the Mardi Gras!"). Our hosts then walked among the Mardi Gras, handing out ingredients and even money. Usually a chicken was provided, but the chicken was loose and had to be chased down. Then, to thank our hosts and to celebrate, we danced to Cajun music played by musicians accompanying the Courir.
The Mardi Gras beg for gumbo ingredients on their knees!
Musicians with the Courir play Cajun music in a farmyard to thank our hosts!
The Mardi Gras thank our hosts and celebrate by dancing!
And more dancing!
At the mid-point, we stopped in a large field for a rest break, which included boudin (a Cajun sausage). I had been told that we would be having this boudin break, and I had imagined receiving the boudin in some sort of sandwich. I was surprised to be handed a big, long, fat sausage to eat by itself! It was delicious!

One of our last stops was at the grave of Dennis McGee, one of the first Cajun musicians to be recorded, and his wife, Gladys. Out of respect for Dennis and Gladys and their contributions to Cajun culture, the Faquetaigue Courir musicians played at their graveside, and a priest led us in prayer: we said the Our Father, the Hail Mary, and the Glory Be.

At the end of the Courir, David and I were exhausted! We didn't have the energy to stay around for the gumbo, but went back to our motel and crashed!

ADDITIONAL INTERESTING POINTS about the Faquetaigue Courir de Mardi Gras.

  • TREME. The Faquetaigue Courir de Mardi Gras is the one shown in Season 2 of the television series Treme.
  •  MUSIC. The Faquetaigue Courir is one of the most musical Courirs. Cajun musicians accompany the Courir and play as the Mardi Gras walk from farm to farm and then dance in each farmyard.
  • PROPER COSTUME AND MASK. Everyone in the Faquetaigue Courir must wear a Cajun Mardi Gras costume and mask. No beads, trinkets, or other items specific to New Orleans Mardi Gras are allowed.
  • PARTICIPATION. Participation is required! Everyone in the Faquetaigue Courir must help in begging for gumbo ingredients (and sometimes chasing chickens) and must thank the hosts by dancing! No spectators!
  • LES VILAINS. The rules are enforced by "vilains," who wield whips made of rope with which they actually hit any Mardi Gras who gets out of line! There is a lot of good-natured "provoking" of the "vilains" and engaging in mock fights, which the "vilains" run to break up with their whips!
  • MY TREATMENT BY THE VILAINS. Much to my surprise, far from being flicked with the whip, I was treated quite respectfully by the "vilains," who several times offered me their arm to step over an especially muddy puddle!
  • AGE. The Faquetaigue Courir is relatively new. It was founded in 2006. Also, the Mardi Gras on the Faquetaigue Courir tend to be young - in their 20s and 30s. David and I were the oldest participants, but we found the young people very friendly and happy to talk with us.


  • A huge thank-you to DAVID for creating our awesome masks and taking the wonderful photos in this blog post!
  • A huge thank-you to the very generous and hospitable KELLY AND LANCE PITRE OF L'ACADIE INN just outside Eunice and to Kelly's mother, ANDREA. Check out L'Acadie Inn at its wonderfully named website: !

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Cajun Mardi Gras 2013 - Our Costumes

My friend David and I spent Mardi Gras 2013 in Cajun Louisiana, where we had the marvelous fortune to be invited to participate in a Courir de Mardi Gras, or Mardi Gras Run. This involves costumed and masked participants trekking from farm to farm, sometimes on horseback and sometimes on foot, to beg ingredients for a community gumbo to be cooked and served later in the day. Each participant is called a Mardi Gras.

My previous post describes how I made my costume and shows photos of the costume itself. This post will show David and me in our costumes, and future posts will describe additional elements of the Courir.

David and I had arrived in Cajun country with Cajun Mardi Gras costumes, but without masks. Both a proper costume and a proper mask are required to participate in a Courir.

The Cajun Mardi Gras mask is typically made of wire mesh. We were able to buy masks in Eunice LA, but these were very plain - just simple suggestions of eyes, nose, and mouth painted onto the wire. David was eager to embellish the masks, so we bought some art supplies, and David went to work with awesome results! We took the photos below in our motel rooms on the evening before the Courir.

Me in full costume and mask

Me, showing mask up close
Me, without mask
David in full costume and mask
David, showing mask up close
And finally, here is a lagniappe photo (below), This shows costumed and masked Mardi Gras gathering for the start of the Courir, with me (back to camera) in the foreground! You can a see a bit of how David's and my costume compared with those of others.

Costumed and masked Mardi Gras gather for the Courir! That's me in the foreground!
A huge thank-you to David for creating our fantastic masks! My next post will tell more about the Courir de Mardi Gras itself.