A few weeks ago, I was interviewed by my friend Frank Roche. Frank is the mastermind behind The Postcardist podcast. He and I met on Instagram (you can follow me on Instagram too, @rubbertrampartist), and we stay in touch via social media and good ol’ snail mail. When Frank was looking for folks to interview for the second season of The Postcardist, I didn’t just raise my hand, I waved it around and squealed, “Me! Me! Me!”
Well, ok, the raising of my hand and waving it around and generally calling attention to myself is all metaphoric for my excitement at volunteering to do something I suspected would be really fun. I did offer myself up for an interview, and to my delight, Frank accepted my offer.
On the appointed day, Frank called me and we had a long conversation about postcards, my blog, and the state insect of New Mexico, the tarantula hawk wasp. As I suspected, talking with Frank was really fun.
If you want to hear the whole interview, you can find it on episode 75 of The Postcardist podcast. While you’re there, you can stick around and listen to conversations with many cool, nice people who love postcards as much as I do.
I took the photos in this post. Both are available as postcards. Ask me, and I’ll tell you how to get them.
National Postcard Week is an annual event to promote the use of postcards, held in the first full week of May since 1984. Started in the US, it is also celebrated by deltiologists in other countries. Special commemorative postcards have been printed for Postcard week by various organizations, especially postcard clubs, since as early as 1985.
…on February 27, 1861, the US Congress passed an act that allowed privately printed cards, weighing one ounce or under, to be sent in the mail. During that same year, John P. Charlton copyrighted the first postcard in America.
Author Jessica Biondo goes on to say that over time postcards
became colorful, collectible and more complex, and they were even used as prizes and travel souvenirs!
Postcard styles changed and developed over time. Here are the three eras of postcards as laid out by Biondo:
The Early Modern Era of postcards was 1916-1930, known as the white border period. American printing technology had advanced, creating higher quality postcards with white borders around the featured picture.
The Linen Card Era of postcards was 1930-1945, enabling publishers to print postcards on linen paper stock with brilliant colors…
The Photochrom Era of postcards is 1939-present, remaining as the most popular era of postcards today when it comes to quality print reproduction.
I couldn’t find much about National Postcard Week 2020 online. A seller on eBay has a couple of National Postcard Week 2020 postcards for sell, and there is a National Postcard Week swap on Swap-bot. Maybe the COVID-19 global pandemic is overshadowing postcards this year.
I did find out a little more history of National Postcard Week from the aformentioned swap on Swap-bot.
National Postcard Week was the brain child of: John H. McClintock; DeeDee Parker; Roy Cox and Richard Novick and others. It began in 1984 as a way to promote our hobby.
Cool! It’s nice to be able to link some fellow deltiologists to the origins of the celebration.
Deltiology (from Greek δελτίον, deltion, diminutive of δέλτος, deltos, “writing tablet, letter”; and -λογία, -logia) is the study and collection of postcards. Professor Randall Rhoades of Ashland, Ohio, coined a word in 1945 that became the accepted description of the study of picture postcards.
So if deltiology is the study and collection of postcards, a deltiologist is a person who studies and collects postcards. I don’t actually study or collect postcards, so I guess I’m not actually a deltiologist. I am a postcard enthusiast, but I don’t have a formal collection, and I don’t study the cards I receive or send. I enjoy the social aspects of postcards. I like sending and receiving mail. I like brightening people’s day with postcards, and I like having my day brightened too, but nothing about postcards is serious or academic to me.
I first heard about National Postcard Week last year on Instagram. I swapped postcards with a couple of people who had created special cards for National Postcard Week. I was impressed by folks who went to so much trouble to celebrate the week.
I decided last year that I wanted to create my own postcards for the 2020 National Postcard Week. In February I started the process. I went to Vistaprint and figured out how to upload my photos to my account. Once I picked out the right template for my card, I added my photos and appropriate text. It was all really easy.
I ordered 100 copies of my postcard. I ended up sending out about 65 of them. The rest I gave to people I suspected would otherwise not send out postcards during the special week. It was fun to send my cards out into the world one way or another.
I encourage you to send out postcards this week too. They don’t have to be specially designed cards that you paid to have printed. Just use any postcards you have or can buy. (I sometimes buy touristy postcards at larger supermarkets and even Wal-Mart.) Heck, you can even make your own postcards from food packages you have around the house.
(If you want to make your own postcards, keep the postcard requirements from the United States Postal Service in mind. According to Mailing.com, to qualify for the postcard rate of 35 cents,
a mail piece must be rectangular and meet these dimensions:
At least 3-1/2” high X 5” long X 0.007” thick
No more than 4-1/4” high X 6” long X 0.016” thick
Meet those requirements, and you’re got yourself a postcard!)
Whatever postcard you end up with, write “National Postcard Week 2020” on it somewhere, and you’re good to go.
Is it strange to be celebrating postcards in a time of global pandemic? I think not. Sharing postcards makes total sense in these difficult times. Now more than ever I think people want tangible proof of their connections with others. They want to hold on to something that says, “I love you”; they want to be able to sleep with some small token of affection under their pillows.
Happy National Postcard Week from the Rubber Tramp Artist.
I got my first (and only until now) suitcase when I was a sophomore in high school. I’d written an essay and won a trip, and now I needed to pack my bags so I could board an airplane for the first time in my life.
I do not come from a nuclear family of travelers. We did not take a yearly vacation. We occasionally spent weekends at the beach or stayed overnight at the home of one of my grandmothers. I usually packed my little girl necessities in a tote bag.
My father had a small suitcase he used on the rare occasion of a business trip. It must have been deemed too small for my week-away-from-home needs because one day I came home from school to find a massive piece of luggage waiting for me. It was brown and made of some synthetic material. It certainly had room for a week’s worth of clothes and shoes and contact lens solution.
I went on two more major trips during my high school years, and my big suitcase came with me. It was cumbersome and heavy and lacked wheels. I left the suitcase behind when I went to college, but collected it from my parents when I went away to summer school in Europe. I stuffed the suitcase with enough clothes, toiletries, and textbooks to last six weeks.
After the trip to Europe, the suitcase fades from my memory.
In the ensuing years, when I went on a trip, I packed my things in duffel bags and backpacks. Suitcases seemed unnecessarily heavy, bulky. Of course, sometimes I found my backpack was wet or dirty when I pulled it out of the baggage compartment under a Greyhound. I wondered if the tiny lock holding the zipper pulls together was really protecting my gear from thieves. Did I need a suitcase to protect my belongings from liquid and dirt and unscrupulous baggage handlers?
A couple months ago I was approached by a representative of CHESTER
a NYC-based lifestyle brand dedicated to making travel more seamless…with carry-on luggage.
The representative asked me if I was interested in a partnership with CHESTER. He said he’d send me one of the company’s suitcases if I agreed to review it. Heck yes! Of course I let him know any review I shared would include my honest opinion.
[t]hough you might find an inch or two of a difference with various airlines, the standard domestic carry-on luggage size is 22” x 14” x 9”, which includes the handle and the wheels.
I’m pretty excited that my CHESTER bag fits within the standard domestic carry-on luggage restrictions. I haven’t flown for a long time (not since my dad died in 2016 and I had to make a quick trip down South), but I like knowing that if I have to get on an airplane, my bag can travel in the cabin with me.
Of course, if you need a bigger bag, CHESTER also offers the Regula suitcase. Meant to be checked, the Regula weighs a bit more at 9.5 pounds and measures 26″ x 18″ x 11″ to give you additional room for your gear. (Wondering what your other checked luggage options might be? Check out these reviews of the Best Checked Luggage 2019.)
When I pulled my Minima from the box it was shipped in, the first thing I was excited about was its wheels. After dragging along a suitcase with no wheels, followed by years of lugging a variety of backpacks on my shoulders, I was glad to finally be able to pull a suitcase smoothly by my side. The Chester website says that both the Minima and the Regula have “quiet, 360° multi-directional double spinner wheels.” These wheels are supposed to glide effortlessly over a variety of terrains.
The second thing I liked about the Minima was the built-in TSA approved lock. The CHESTER FAQ page says,
CHESTER’s integrated TSA lock uses zipper pulls to secure your luggage from unwanted access. Authorized TSA personnel will always be able to open your case for inspection, if necessary.
…you are not required to have a TSA approved luggage lock on your bag to fly.
You can use any luggage lock you want but if your lock is not TSA approved, then if the TSA does search your luggage, they have the right to cut off your non-approved TSA lock because they do not have a key to open it.
By using a TSA luggage lock, you can avoid having your baggage lock cut off because the TSA has a key to open your suitcase.
I like that the Minima’s lock is built in. When I’m ready to travel, I don’t have to try to remember where I’ve stored the tiny little lock and the tiny little keys that go with it. I’m glad that if TSA decides to search my bag, an agent can use a key to open my lock and won’t have to damage my property. I appreciate that I can also set the combination to my own three digit code. WARNING: Write your combination down, or be sure you remember it. When I went to unlock my Minima three months after setting the code, I couldn’t remember what three digits I’d used, much less what order they were in. Ooops! I had to try over two dozen number combinations before I hit upon the right code!
The Minima is currently available in seven colors (black, charcoal grey, aluminum grey, ocean blue, sky blue, pink, and sand); the Regula in two (charcoal grey and ocean blue).
Chester luggage is covered by a 10 year warranty. WOW! That’s confidence. The company explains,
[t]he CHESTER is covered by a 10-year limited warranty, which covers any damage to the shell, wheels, handles, zippers, or anything else that functionally impairs the luggage…If anything breaks, we will fix or replace it.
Another great feature of the company is their return policy. CHESTER offers a 100-day trial. Again, the company explains,
We are confident in our product and want to give everyone the opportunity to make sure they really love their luggage before they decide to keep it, so we offer a 100-day trial (if purchased through our website). If at any point in the first 100 days you decide it’s just not for you, return it for a full refund—no questions or gimmicks.
All of these features are great, but you’re probably wondering, as I was, how much will the CHESTER Minima hold? Unfortunately, I wasn’t taking a real trip anytime soon, but I was going to spend the night at a friend’s place. Even though I wasn’t going to be away from home for long, I did get to pack my Minima and try it out.
I unzipped the Minima right down the middle and folded the bag open. I had plenty of room for my slippers, fuzzy leggings, sweatshirt, socks, undergarments, long sleeved shirt, hat, toiletries, sleep mask, and a couple of notebooks.
The nice thing about this little trip was having the opportunity to test the Minima in the snow. When my friend picked me up, the bed of her truck was full of snow! Well, this thing is supposed to be waterproof, I thought as I tossed the suitcase in the back of her truck. When I unzipped the bag nearly an hour later, nothing inside was damp, much less wet.
Once we got to my friend’s place in the mountains, I also got to pull my suitcase through the snow and test those “360° multi-directional double spinner wheels.” They worked great! The Minima glided through the snow with no problem.
Packing for my short trip really didn’t allow the Minima to show me all it could hold, so I decided to pretend I was going for a longer trip and pack as if I was leaving tomorrow. I was able to pack all of the following items in my Chester suitcase:
flannel pajama set
pair of Crocs
pair of pants
3 long sleeve shirts
short sleeve shirt
pair of tights
6 pairs of socks
5 pairs of underpants
can of dry shampoo
Note: I’m a big gal, and I were big clothes. Smaller people with smaller clothes are going to be able to fit even more items into a bag from CHESTER.
I was disappointed when I couldn’t fit my hiking shoes in the Minima. Although they are not boots, they were simply too tall to fit in the Minima without getting crushed. I decided I’d pack the Crocs instead. Those shoes had just enough give to allow the barrier to be zipped over them.
Each cloth barrier has one or more zipper compartments built in. Those compartments give a bit of additional space for packing, but really hold only a minimal amount. I found packing bras and underpants in those compartments made the most sense.
Once items were packed into the slightly bulging middle zipper compartments, I was afraid the suitcase wasn’t going to close. However, once I pushed down from the top, the sides of the zipper came together, and I was able to slide the zippers with ease. The zipper pulls locked in place, my suitcase was secure, and there were no bulges or bumps.
Even fully packed, I was able to lift my Minima over my head to mimic sliding it into an imaginary overhead bin.
Overall, the Minima is a great suitcase. I can easily fit a weekend’s worth of clothing in it. Depending on where I was going and what activities I would be participating in, I could probably get enough for a week or two into it if I was committed to rewearing clothes. It rolls easily and smoothly, and it keeps my clothes dry in the snow.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a free, gently used Minima suitcase from CHESTER in exchange for this review. I only review/recommend products or services I use personally. This review reflects how I honestly feel about the product. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
I wrote the following in early 2013 while I was spending winter months with friends in Austin, Texas.
Last night I got a free ticket to see Lucinda Williams perform at The Paramount Theater. When I lived in Austin [in the summer of 2000] I would go to the Summer Movie Classics at the Paramount. It was so wonderful to go there after a long day in the heat and humidity and sit in the coolness, surrounded by such beauty and watch movies on the big screen. I saw Easy Rider there, and Yellow Submarine (when I left the theater after that one, I felt like I was trippin’ even though no drugs were involved), Harold and Maude, Fast Times at Ridgemont High (for the first time), The Princess Bride, and Altered States.
I look at Craigslist a lot these days. That’s how I got my house/dog sitting job that has evolved into a housecleaning and cooking job. I got my temp job giving free samples from a Craigslist ad. I got the study at the UT neuroscience lab from Craigslist.(And I have another study with another UT department lined up, this one related to emotions. I am the control subject, matched up to a depressed 42 year old white female.)
As of the first of the year, I had only looked at job ads and the ride share board. Then one night as I was coloring Shrinky Dinks, I watched a documentary on Netflix called Craigslist Joe. (In a strange and interesting aside, as I was watching the movie, my new friend D. came over. I did not mention that I was in the process of watching a movie. She said, “There’s this movie you should watch…It’s called CraigslistJoe…” I told her, “I am watching it RIGHT NOW!” She didn’t even believe me until I turned the computer around and showed her what was on the screen.)
In the documentary, Joe goes out into the world with only the clothes he is wearing, a cellphone (with no phone numbers of anyone he knows on it), a laptop, and his passport. He has no money in his pockets. His plan is to spend a month getting all of his needs met through Craigslist. He goes to free events, meets people, tells them what he’s doing, and strangers feed him and give him a place to sleep. He rides with people and helps them drive and goes from California (can’t remember if it’s San Fran or LA) all the way to NYC and BACK AGAIN all in a month! Of course, nothing in the movie really surprises me because I live a similar way of life, although in the past, I haven’t used Craigslist quite so extensively. But for someone who thinks Craigslist is full of nothing but murderers and scam artists, for people who don’t believe in the kindness of strangers, this movie could be eye opening and mind blowing.
In the movie, one of the guys Joe takes a class from talks about how he checks Craigslist repeatedly every day. He lists the order he looks at different postings. He mentions looking at Strictly Platonic. I didn’t even know that list existed, so I started looking at it.
(Don’t forget, this is all related to Lucinda Williams.)
So I was looking at the Strictly Platonic ads one day and saw this
“Lucinda Williams Concert wed night – m4w – 61 (N. Austin)
I have two tickets to the Lucinda Williams concert at The Paramount Theatre Wed Jan 16th @ 8pm, Looking for a Lucinda Williams fan and a music / concert fan in general to join me for the show. We can talk about where when to meet and exchange pictures in e-mails. My Name is Al 61 years old 5’8″ about 175 lbs.”
When I first got to Austin, Lou and I were flipping through The Chronicle and saw that Lucinda was doing this show. I mentioned that I had never seen her play and had always wanted to, then promptly forgot about it, as I knew I was not going to spend money on a show that wasn’t Furthur. Then a couple of days before the concert, I saw Al’s ad. I figured he’d probably gotten 400 responses and already had someone lined up, but I also figured what the hell, and sent him an email.
In the subject line I wrote, “I love Lucinda Williams!” and then said ,”Did you find someone to go to the Lucinda Williams show with? If not, let me know. I am interested. And I am a real person. My favorite Lucinda CD is Car Wheels on a Gravel Road. What a collection of songs of loss and longing.”
Well, guess who was chosen to be the recipient of the extra ticket? (You already know the answer.) Al told me he got a few other responses, but he chose me because I said right up front that I love Lucinda. I guess the other responders were lukewarm about Lucinda and that’s not the kind of person he wanted to spend the evening with. (If I’m anything, it’s not lukewarm.)
Al is a really nice guy. He told me about his long-haired hippie exploits before I was born. It was pretty cool. He’s from Michigan. He loves music, has seen Eric Clapton, George Harrison, just saw BB King at the Paramount. The list of musicians he’s seen is so long I can’t even remember most of them. I was pleased that I did get to impress him by telling about the time I won tickets to a Bo Diddly show in NOLA. (KJ was my companion that night, and if I remember correctly, we had a ball!)
The Kenneth Brian Band opened. They are from Alabama, and they are great.
There was an intermission after the opening act, then Lucinda took the stage. It was only her and her guitar player Doug Pettibone up there. No drummer, no keyboards, no bass. Doug is AWESOME, a really fantastic guitar guy. He played steel guitar and I think a mandolin too. He really impressed me.
They opened with “Lake Charles,” which is one of my favorites, but Lucinda sped it up a bit, and it sounded a little like she was just going through the motions. Then she ended the song in the middle of a line and I wondered if she were drunk.
She took a drink (of water?) and came back to the mic and admitted that was a weird place to end the song. “I had to cough,” she laughed, and my hope was renewed. She got better with each song she sang, her voice got stronger. By the time she did “Can’t Let Go,” (the third or fourth song of the set), it was ON! By the time she did “Drunken Angel,” she was on fire! I love her voice, so strong and raspy, just like the old broad singing the country blues that she is. Did her voice make her life or did her life make her voice? Before almost every song, she told a little bit of its story, when she wrote it, some little piece of information. I liked that part a lot too. And the fans were awesome, shouting “we love you, Lucinda” and similar sentiments between songs. It was nice to be in a venue small enough to really hear fan reactions and know she heard them too.
Last night was such a blessing. Thank you, universe, for sending me an angel named Al.
The Lady of the House treated me to a Puppet Slam at the Great Arizona Puppet Theater. The Puppet Slams are for ages 18 and up. No kids! The Lady had been to four of the slams herself, and she really wanted me to see one too. She’s been talking about the slams for years, and they sounded like fun. (One of the puppet skits she told me about featured Pinocchio, but it wasn’t his nose that grew!)
Here’s what the website of The Great Arizona Puppet Theater (http://www.azpuppets.org/Adultslam.php) has to say about the Puppet Slam: “Arizona’s best, quirkiest, edgiest slammers from across the country come together for some adult fun! Independent performers do short pieces which are funny and are sometimes poignant all geared to an adult audience.” The Lady also used the word “raunchy” to describe some to the pieces she’s seen at the Puppet Slams. I was in! There’s something about puppets in adult situations that cracks me up. (Consider Wonder Showzen. Think of the sex scene in the all-puppet cast Team America.)
The building the Theater is housed in is awesome. It is the former Phoenix LDS 2nd Ward Church, built in 1929. I thought it was funny that we’d see raunchy puppet shows in a former Mormon church
In the lobby, visitors can view puppets from previous shows. In the puppet theater, the ceiling is amazing. It looked like inlaid wood, very decorative.
The theme for the Puppet Slam was Shriveled Heart (in honor of Valentine’s Day, I guess), and was hosted by Daisy the Kitten, a sweet but foul-mouthed black cat in a pink tutu. Perhaps my humor level is that of a twelve year old boy, but I thought it was pretty funny every time Daisy let loose with an F-bomb. Daisy was sometimes joined onstage by Jingles, a large wild-furred and wild-eyed disembodied cat head reported to be forced to live at the back of the theater basement. Jingles seemed to be a little perverse and a little mentally off-kilter.
The first skit of the evening, “The Super Bowl Commercials You Didn’t See” (by Stacey Gordon and Mack Duncan of Die Puppet Die) was funny and mildly risque. It consisted of ten 15 to 30 second spots that would never make it on TV during the Super Bowl. The risque bits included two beer bottles getting it on, two puppets making out while a cutout of the Michelin Man was superimposed over them (yes, I thought it was kind of a stretch too), one puppet enthusiastically eating the other’s (held at crotch level) Snickers bar, and the Snickers bar eater offering to let her friend eat her Eskimo Pie. The piece ended with a little puppet with wings telling the audience all the things s/he would never get to do because s/he died of measles because his/her parents were “too fucking stupid” to have him/her vaccinated. (If too much time has passed since the Super Bowl by the time you read this post, I’ll tell you that this skit was a joke on both the insurance ad about the kid who never grew up because he died in an accident https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dKUy-tfrIHY and the outbreak of measles that was rocking Phoenix in the same time period.)
The second skit, “Love My Way” (by Dain Gore of The Catechumen) was neither funny nor risque. In this one, a Jesus puppet rambled about agápe, éros, philía, and storgē, the ancient Greek ideas about love. The whole piece needed more work.
The final act of the first half of the show, “All I Do Is Dream of You” (by Gwen Bonar of Rude Rabbit Productions), was lovely, but technically no puppets were involved. The action was a sweet sort of hand dance. The “puppeteer” acted out a love affair, using only her two hands, a scarf, and ring. Wikipedia says “a puppet is an inanimate object or representational figure animated or manipulated by a puppeteer,” so I guess if we can agree that Gwen’s hands were “representational figures” that she animated, we can make the case that this act did belong in a puppet show.
Intermission afforded me the opportunity to go outside, through a sort of courtyard, and into another part of the building to visit the cramped but clean restroom. Intermission afforded others in the crowd the opportunity to buy beer and wine, as well as water and soda, at the concession stand. (By the way, as many folks in the audience were laughing at some not very funny jokes, I think plenty of them were drunk. Or maybe my sense of humor is just different.)
The highlight of the second half of the show was Dan Dan the Puppet Man (Dan Dold). The Lady of the House was so happy when she saw his name on the program that she clapped her hands and bounced in her seat. He certainly deserved this enthusiasm. He made marionettes of Alice (of Wonderland fame) and Tina Turner (of Tina Turner fame) dance, sing, strut, and shimmy. Oh, it was fantastic! Mere words cannot adequately describe this performance. Music was playing, and Dan Dan the Puppet Man made his marionettes lip sync the lyrics. It looked like the puppets were singing! And they were certainly dancing! It was amazing! (And the funny part was that sweet little Alice was singing a dirty ditty about showing her snatch to the animals.)
The final act of the show was a very creepy (and perfectly executed) “Rumpelstiltskin Revisited” by visiting artist Drew Allison of Grey Seal Puppets. Rumpelstiltskin told his side of the story from the Maricopa County jail. It was a somber end to the night.
What came between Dan Dan the Puppet Man and Rumpelstiltskin was the lowlight of the show. Scott Gesser performed his “Songs of Wuv.” THERE WAS NO PUPPET!!!! Scott Gesser is a real live guy. He is not a puppet. He is also not a puppeteer. He’s not a ventriloquist. He didn’t even put a sock on his hand and pretend it was a puppet. I will repeat: Scott Gesser got on stage and there was no puppet present. Scott Gesser performed sans puppet. How can a performer without a puppet be allowed to perform during a puppet slam? It makes no sense!
Scott Gesser’s songs were fairly humorous. He might have been ok performing at a comedy club or even at an open mic. At a puppet slam, considering that THERE IS NO PUPPET in his act, he is a complete and dismal failure. The Lady of the House and I were both extremely disappointed by this guy and wondered who he’d had to fuck to get this gig. (The Lady has seen him perform without a puppet at the Puppet Slam twice before.) This act really tainted the whole show for me. I wish the show had been shorter and this guy left out.
Puppet Slams don’t happen on a regularly scheduled basis, so if you hope to see one someday, go to the Theater’s website to sign up for the slam mailing list. The slam I attended lasted about an hour and half–including intermission–and cost $12 at the door, $10 in advance.
For those of you who don’t know, Mardi Gras is the French term for the time of celebration on the day before Ash Wednesday. The English term is Fat Tuesday. Ash Wednesday (in the Catholic church, at least…I don’t know much about other Christian faiths) is the beginning of Lent, a period of 40 days of fasting and penance prior to Easter. So the idea is that one goes out on Mardi Gras and has fun eating and drinking and doing all the decadent things one will then give up the next day for Lent.
The term “Mardi Gras” can also be used to describe the entire season starting on January 6th (also known as Twelfth Night or the Twelfth Day of Christmas) and ending at the stroke of midnight when Fat Tuesday becomes Ash Wednesday. This period of parades, King Cakes, and partying is also (and more accurately) known as Carnival season or Carnival time.
Sometimes people think that Mardi Gras day kicks off the Carnival season. That is absolutely wrong! If you arrive in New Orleans (or Rio, for that matter) on Mardi Gras day and think you are in for a few days of partying, you will be sorely disappointed. In New Orleans (in the 90s at least, but I suspect it’s still the case), when the clock struck midnight and it was officially Ash Wednesday, the cops would herd everyone out of the French Quarter streets. People could still hang out in bars, but the public partying was over.
So Mardi Gras is a day, (always the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday) and Carnival is a season. Got it? (I’m being technical here. The terms “Mardi Gras” and “Carnival” are in reality used interchangeably, but I think it’s important to know the distinction between the two.)
If you can’t be in New Orleans today, but you’re wondering what’s happening down on Bourbon Street, check out the Mardi Gras EarthCam. The camera is mounted on the corner of St. Peter and Bourbon Streets. When I checked it out on Saturday (2-14-15) morning, it was all still pretty tame, but folks were strolling past, and there was a Lucky Dog vendor across the street. (If you don’t know what a Lucky Dog is, look here: http://www.luckydogs.us/ or read A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole.)
I mentioned King Cakes, and probably not everyone reading this knows what they are. King Cakes are pastries eaten exclusively during Carnival season. If you make your own, you can eat one whenever you want, I suppose, but that would be sort of like eating fruitcake in June just because you like the taste. And perhaps in this age of internet ordering it may be possible to buy a King Cake at any time of the year. But I’m telling ya, you’re flying in the face of the spirit of Mardi Gras to eat them outside of Carnival season.
Traditionally, King Cakes are kind of like coffee cakes with a cinnamon-y filling and decorated with (sometimes) white icing and (always) purple, green, and gold sugar sprinkles. (I must admit, at the risk of losing any New Orleans cred I may have left, I have never much enjoyed traditional King Cakes. They’re too dry and not sweet enough for me.) Of course, these days, one can buy King Cakes with all sorts of delicious fruit and/or cream cheese fillings. (These newfangled King Cakes I like quite a bit.) One of my family members makes King Cakes with frozen crescent rolls for the dough, then fills them with cream cheese and pie filling. I know they’re not traditional, but they are sooooo delicious.
The really important part of a King Cake is the baby. The King Cake baby is made of plastic and is tucked into the cake, usually from underneath. I’ve read that the baby represents the Christ Child. What it definitely represents is the person who has to provide the next King Cake. Here’s how it works…People gather in the office break room or at a King Cake party and everyone has a slice of the King Cake. The person who finds the baby in his/her slice is expected to bring the next King Cake to work for everyone to enjoy or to host the next King Cake party. (No fair waiting until next Carnival season. Everyone wants the next King Cake soon.) So while it’s an honor to find the baby, it’s also an obligation. (And yes, maybe it is a little bit dangerous to have a small plastic object hanging out in your pastry, but everyone knows it’s there and is being careful not to swallow it. Although anyone who’s gotten the baby and hasn’t wanted to buy a cake has considered gulping it down.) (To learn more than you ever thought you wanted to know about this topic, check out Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/King_cake.)
I’m probably not going to do anything to celebrate Mardi Gras this year. What’s the point if I can’t get drunk and get laid? Since I’m no longer 24 years old and not likely to pull off the celebration I want, I’ll just stay home.