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Our View: Southern bits and the speed of Mardi Gras

By: Scott Thomas Anderson, Editor
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February offers two celebration options: One involves a vacuous, corporate-manufactured holiday aimed at wringing cash from depleted wallets while mercilessly preying on guilt and insecurity. This notch on the calendar is affectionately known as Valentine’s Day. The other festive possibility is Mardi Gras, French for Fat Tuesday, which honors glorious overindulgence and the crazed, all-consuming spirit of Carnival.

This week’s issue is focusing on the latter, happening Feb. 9. We’re far from New Orleans, but there are still ways for locals to feel that go-getting gluttony as they find their own Fat Tuesday experience.

Today’s edition takes you to South Placer’s new Crawfish Factory, which piles heaps of boiled, marinated shellfish in front of you in the style of cooks from Bayou Vista to Saint Bernard Parish. Our newest Detour Before Dark explores the Sacramento restaurant, South, where a New Orleans-born personality is serving comfort food the region can barely handle. And our travel feature brings readers to the swamps and rivers of Louisiana.    

Closer to home, there will be a big Mardi Gras party on the streets of Nevada City on Feb. 14, and then another beads-and-masquerade throwdown at Auburn’s fairgrounds on Feb. 21. 

With all this emphasis on Fat Tuesday, I’m sure a few health conscious readers will ask, “Is this really a good idea?” The short answer is no. In fact, I’ve almost done myself harm several times by traveling the speed of New Orleans. I was recently in the Crescent City and developed a wolfish Po Boy sandwich addiction. These were Bourbon Street Po Boys, meaning 6-inch long by 5-inch wide, open-faced buns slopped with a brown muddy mix of shredded pork, fried shrimp and chopped okra, all drenched in a reflective, half-neon bacon-like sauce. The first time I bit into one I was sitting on a balcony at the Chateau Hotel, looking over the ornate Spanish handrails beyond my room’s storm shutters at the lush rooftop gardens along Chartres Street. One bite into the Bourbon Street Po Boy and I feared I would be chasing the proverbial “dragon” of lethal food ideas until a coma ensued.

And there are more traps to New Orleans beyond culinary paralysis. It’s a city where almost any type of idea or behavior can, for a brief moment, seem like a good one. On one balmy afternoon I hopped off a streetcar near the Lafayette Cemetery. A group of Australians was standing by its locked gate in the misty rain. None of us could accept that America’s strangest collection of Gothic funerary art was closed. I looked around. “We can climb over it,” I told the Aussies.

“Yeah,” one said, taking a swig from a flask.

 I grabbed the wet steel rods, hoisting myself upward. My focus was on the century-old mausoleums ahead, but as I prepared to crane my body over I saw that I was basically balancing myself above a French pitchfork of high iron spears. Every inch of the gate was slick with Southern rain. I’d already discovered in Italy that once you tell an Australian you’re going to do something, you have to go through with it, even if it means drowning, catching fire, or, in this case, becoming a human barbecue skewer. I began to carefully swing my legs and chest over the sharpened blades.

And then my foot slipped.

When I opened my eyes, those grassy, concrete bone houses were looming over me. I thought I could hear the plague victims laughing in their chambers. My side hurt and my ankle was swollen, but I was still thanking Old Saint Louie that I hadn’t been impaled.  

During another dangerous moment in the Big Easy, I was in the courtyard of Pat O’Brien’s, dipping alligator nuggets in French mustard and drinking 12-inch hurricanes, better known as towering slurpees of rum, pineapple juice and grenadine. A harsh gale swept into the French Quarter, sending me stumbling back to my hotel’s patio. The California boy in me suddenly realized I’d never felt rain so warm. I plunged into the swimming pool to see what it would be like to do backstrokes in a genuine downpour. An unimpressed housekeeper walking by shouted, “Listen boy, you best get out of that pool before a lightning bolt comes by and fries you up Cajun style.”

The way I felt, that would have been just fine.

And so head out to the Fat Tuesday balls in Auburn and Nevada City this month, and remember that the idea behind Mardi Gras is about creating memories — but also surviving the adventures in the process.

Scott Thomas Anderson can be reached at standerson1@live.com. Follow him on Twitter at STA_reporter or on Facebook at www.facebook.com/STAndersonJournalist