Pancake Day/Mardi Gras
Tonight is the climax of the Carnival season in New Orleans: Mardi Gras, which is set to be a vibrant, raucous, and rhythm-filled night. People will drink cocktails and dance in the street. Of course, over here, we will be flipping pancakes, but the origins of both celebrations are the same.
Traditionally, Christians celebrated Shrove Tuesday by eating the last of their rich foods before Lent , the six weeks of fasting and repentance that ends at Easter. Before this long period of discipline, Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, was the last chance to feast.
Holding a carnival stems from Roman times, when the period from Epiphany to Lent was a time for celebrating music and theatre, they slaughtered a fattened calf on the last night of their Carnival. In New Orleans today, Mardi Gras is an explosion of culture, a masquerade ball in the street and a time to celebrate the resilience of a city still recovering, 11 years later, from Hurricane Katrina.
Today, we thought, was the perfect excuse to celebrate the literature, music and history of New Orleans. Happy Mardi Gras.
A Confederacy of Dunces – John Kennedy Toole
This comic masterpiece, which won the Pulitzer Prize, is famed for its depiction of New Orleans, its exuberant people and its many dialects.
The Moviegoer – Walker Percy
Percy is a major voice of Southern Literature, and this is his dazzling debut; the novel is set in New Orleans and captures Mardi Gras in the 1950’s.
The Awakening - Kate Chopin
Chopin’s novel, set in and around New Orleans, caused controversy on publication in 1899 – never banned, it was censored for its depiction of female desire.
Coming Through Slaughter – Michael Ondaatje
This lyrical and experimental work by Ondaatje captures the last lucid days in the life of a jazz musician, Buddy Bolden.
A Walk On The Wild Side – Nelson Algren
Algren’s cult classic is a hymn to the marginalised and the lost, it also depicts New Orleans in striking, visceral detail.
Property - Valarie Martin
Winner of the 2003 Orange Prize (now the Baileys Womens Prize for Fiction), Property ventures into the dark past of the American South; centring on the wife of a plantation owner and the slave she is given as a present, this is a moving, troubling and fascinating read.
Vieux Carre – Tennessee Williams
Set in a dilapidated boarding house in the French Quarter of New Orleans in the 1930’s, this play depicts impoverished outcasts and society’s misfits, including an unnamed protagonist, said to be Williams himself.
Treme - Lolis Eric Elie
This is the companion to the HBO television series, which dramatized the rebuilding of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. Food is at the heart of the series and, of course, New Orleans culture. Real New Orleans chefs appeared throughout Treme and each has contributed recipes to this book, which features photography and essays on New Orleans as well.
In the Spirit – Michael P Smith
From 1970 – 2004, photographer Michael P Smith documented every aspect of the city, from its jazz funerals to its elaborate Mardi Gras costumes. This book is a collection of his remarkable photography.
Empire of Sin - Gary Krist
Take a walk through New Orleans of the 1920’s, a time described as the city's other Civil War – a seedy era of organised crime, decadent vices and brilliant music.
Talking New Orleans Music – Burt Feintuch
"In New Orleans, music screams. It honks. It blats. It wails. It purrs. It messes with time. It messes with pitch. It messes with your feet. It messes with your head." This comprehensive history of the Birthplace of Jazz spans before and after Katrina; read the vivid lives of the peculiar, obscure musicians and well-loved stars that made the city what it is today.
New Atlantis – John Swenson
A new title in New Orleans music history, New Atlantis charts the post-Katrina era, showing how music has helped heal its people and rebuild the city.
The New Orleans Voodoo Handbook - Kenaz Filan
Written by an initiated Voodoo priest, Kenaz Filan, this book illuminates New Orleans’ spiritual tradition of Voodoo, a religion as complex and free-form as Jazz. Discover the truth behind the many, sinister legends.