Monday, February 27, 2017

Fat Tuesday Run: Courir de Mardi Gras

Tomorrow is Mardi Gras! Ellen Byron joins us today to tell us about the Fat Tuesday Run on Mardi Gras Morning. Ellen's debut novel, Plantation Shudders, was nominated for the Agatha, Lefty and Daphne awards and made the USA Today Bestseller list. Body on the Bayou, her second book in the series, is nominated for the 2016 Lefty for Best Humorous Novel and the Agatha for Best Contemporary Novel. She's published everything from magazine articles to plays to TV shows, like Wings and Just Shoot Me. Now let's hit the Fat Tuesday run with Ellen...

New Orleans’ Mardi Gras, with its over-the-top parades and festivities, is legendary. But small towns throughout Cajun Country celebrate Mardi Gras with a unique and completely different tradition, one that will take center stage in the fourth book of my Cajun Country Mystery series.

Courir de Mardi Gras translates to “Fat Tuesday Run.” On Mardi Gras morning – or the prior weekend for some runs – people meet at a central location. Some walk, some ride horses. Others travel along the run on flatbed trucks. All are masked and dressed in vibrant costumes sewn together in patchwork style, sporting fringe and appliques. Many of the Mardi Gras – yes, for the courir, Mardi Gras also a proper noun – wear capuchon, pointed hats resembling dunce caps. The face masks, usually created from wire mesh, are a study in folk art with their creative “found” decorations. Bottle caps become eyes. Look closely and you’ll see that the hooked nose on a mask is recycled milk jug handle.

Led by a capitaine, who’s unmasked and un-costumed, the revelers party their way from house to house, pranking agreeable homeowners and begging them for ingredients to use in a communal gumbo. Musicians are an important addition to the runs, and Mardi Gras often break into a chorus of La Danse de Mardi Gras, also known as the Mardi Gras Song. At some point in the courir, a homeowner may release a live chicken that the Mardi Gras trip over themselves trying to catch. Many Runs are men-only, due to the drinking and carousing. But over the last twenty years, male-and-female runs, all-women runs, and family runs have sprouted up, and their ranks grow every year. 

The courirs culminate in communal gumbo parties featuring more music, dancing, and booze. Some Mardi Gras unmask, others don’t. These days, the gumbo is usually already made and the ingredients gathered from the run are saved for the future. Being that this is Louisiana, the partying usually doesn’t end with the gumbo festivities. Many communities have fais do dos – dances – in the evening, where the Mardi continue their playful charades.

My close friends, New Orleans artist Jan Gilbert and her husband, documentary film producer Kevin McCaffrey, are Courir de Mardi Gras vets, and have generously provided some great photos of their experiences. I can’t wait to join a Courir de Mardi Gras myself. Until then, I’ll be living vicariously through Jan and Kevin, counting on them to laissez les bon Mardi Gras temps rouler – let the good Mardi Gras times roll! Or run…

Photos courtesy of Jan Gilbert and