The Cajun Mardi Gras courir was something I’ve always wanted to see. I’d had that sort of fascination that comes of being deeply scared of it–something about the costumes, I think. Something about preconceptions of The Rural South.
Backing up, Mardis Gras is a series of events spread over many days and sometimes weeks leading up to Lent (or Ash Wednesday). We were in Lafayette, not New Orleans. Lafayette bills itself as more family-friendly than NOLA’s bacchanal; it’s still the second largest Mardi Gras in the state. In Lafayette, we spend a wonderful night with friend Suzanne and her family in their annual tent on the fairgrounds, catching beads and eating gumbo that her father made and enjoying their enormous Cajun hospitality. We compared accents (yes, Suzanne, you have an accent), and talked about how maybe Catholic cultures know how to have more fun–perhaps balanced out by guilt and penance. We watched high school marching bands strut their stuff. The end of the parade is a tow-truck. That’s how you know it’s over, the equivalent of the fat lady singing.
The next day, we headed out to Iota, out in the country, to see a courir. Our Air BnB host counselled us to arrive early, perhaps fearing for the relative state of the chicken. For those who don’t know, a courir de Mardi Gras involves a group of revellers going house to house, the homeowner throwing a chicken from the roof (they can sortof fly, right?), running after the chicken, catching the chicken (this becomes harder the longer the courir takes, as participants indulge in more and more beer) and encouraging the home-owners to give them money and/or food items in a version of the stone soup story.
We waited amidst lots of semi-sober people, locals and tourists alike, listening to a kick-ass band, avoiding the stares of the motorcycle gang lounging about on one corner. We ate hot-from-the-fryer beignets, dusted with icing sugar and I chatted in French with a traditional Cajun Mardi Gras mask-maker.
We caught the revellers’ return–a colourful, rag-tag group of people in traditional costume, drunk as lords, swinging a couple of half-dead chickens around. The band took a break as the parade passed the viewing platform in the middle of town.
Then, all the costumed revellers got out and approached the crowd en masse, some caked with mud (I assume the chicken gave them a little trouble during certain chases), holding out and pecking at their hands (hard to do when balancing a beer), wanting a donation.
It was..uhm…disconcerting? Let’s stick with that. I’m not sure what transpired for the rest of the festival–I think the band might have started up again–but it was time for us to go. I’m pretty sure Lent started with hangovers for everyone, as any good Mardi Gras celebrant will tell you.
On the way out, we spotted a cage full of chickens. A local fellow said that these ones were spared from the gumbo pot–I asked if they’d gotten a presidential pardon, like the Thanksgiving turkey. That led to an interesting discussion on politics and why Trump was the candidate best suited for leading America into battle.
A somewhat fitting end to a really weird day.