A LIQUORED-UP AND LASCIVIOUS LEXICON
KING CAKE — Pastry into which a coin or some other token has been baked. In France it was traditionally shared on the feast of Epiphany. In Louisiana, it is Mardi Gras fare.
Throughout the southern US, there is a long tradition of staunchly upholding, well, long traditions. Ostensibly, one of the most obvious – and delicious – symbols of Louisiana’s colonial past is the King Cake. For visitors looking to savor the flavor back home, some area bakeries are happy to offer express delivery around the world and throughout the year. Many locals would consider it something of a faux pas to indulge in such a repast out of season. But in this custom, as in many others, the situation in New Orleans is more complex than it may at first appear.
King Cake, or Gateau des Rois, remains popular in France, even in those regions where the observance of Carnival has been abandoned. The name derives the Magi – three kings or wise men said to have paid homage to the infant Jesus as he lay in Bethlehem, bringing with them tributes of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Liturgically, their visit is commemorated with the feast of Epiphany on January 6th, the last of the twelve days of Christmas. In many Latin cultures “Three Kings Day” rather than December 25th is set aside for the exchange of gifts; Rosca de Reyes, similar to King Cake, is eaten in Mexico and other countries.
The French gateau has two regional versions. According to Larousse Gastronomique the Mediterranean practice is to bake a yeast dough ring, similar to a brioche, while a flaky pastry prevails in north of the Loire river. In both cases it has been the custom to hide a small trinket somewhere in the cake. Historically this was la feve, a dried broad bean, but sometimes a nut or coin was used. Eventually, commercial bakers began including a small porcelain figure of a baby; in recent times it is more commonly made of plastic. Whoever finds the figurine in his or her serving is proclaimed “King”. Yet with power comes responsibility – the lucky sovereign is expected to supply the cake next time around.
Combining, as it does, the trappings of monarchy and the rites of the church, the Gateau des Rois did not sit well with the most radical leaders of the French Revolution. In 1794, complaining that those who partake “dare to honor the shades of the tyrants”, the mayor of Paris attempted to ban the cake, urging national authorities “discover and arrest the criminal patissiers and their filthy orgies”.
Though his exhortations were largely unheeded the delicacy was briefly renamed Le Gateau des Sans-Culottes to honor the garb of the working classes. The journalist Layla Eplett points out the name can be translated as “The Cake of the Men-Without-Pants” — appropriate enough for a Carnival fare.
Across the Atlantic, the Gateau would have been part of Louisiana’s cultural legacy, but the pastry seems to have been forgotten until the 1870s. That is when a cake, similar to that baked in the south of France, began to appear in New Orleans. The snack and its attendant rituals were embraced by the descendants of Creoles and Anglo-Americans – with one important difference.
In France – as well as in Quebec, Belgium, and the francophone cantons of Switzerland – the eve of Epiphany is seen to mark the end of Christmas festivities. Conversely, in New Orleans Twelfth Night is hailed as the start of preparations for Carnival. In other words, King Cake season on the Gulf Coast begins just when it is ending in other lands. The sharing of sweets – and the joyful hazard of choking on a plastic baby – is a group activity. There should never be leftover slices.
That being said, guests at the exquisite Le Pavillon hotel are treated to individual servings of peanut butter & jelly King Cake as part of the Breakfast buffet on Mardi Gras day.
|AFOXÉ — A Carnaval grouping inspired by the Candomble religion|
|ASH WEDNESDAY — In the Roman Catholic liturgical calendar, the day that marks the beginning of Lent. Believers go to church and have their heads daubed with ashes; traditionally, the end of Carnival.|
|AXÉ — The Yoruba word axé can be translated as “energy” or “life force”. In Bahia, the term has come to refer to various styles of popular music|
|BACCHANAL — Commonly, any gathering centered around generous consumption of alcohol. Derived from Bacchus, the Roman god of wine, the phrase is frequently associated with Carnival, especially in the English-speaking Caribbean.|
|BAKHTIN, MIKHAIL — Soviet philosopher and literary theorist (1895-1975). In Rabelais and His World, Bakhtin examined the carnivalesque culture of late medieval France through the lens of class struggle.|
|BATERIA — The percussion section of a samba school. In the largest parades, the bateria may consist of up to 300 individuals|
|BAUTA — A plain white mask, traditionally held in place by a three-cornered hat. The iconic image of Venice’s Carnivale and masquerades in general.|
|BLOCO – A grouping of revelers in a Carnaval procession, generally smaller and less formal than an Escola de Samba|
|BONECOS GIGANTES — “Gigantic dolls”, often depicting famous footballers or politicians, which may be as large as 6 meters. Crafted from fiberglass, wood or aluminum, they are carried through the Brazilian city of Olinda during Carnival celebrations.|
|BUTTENREDE — A form of humorous, rhyming speech, heard during Carnival in Cologne. “Butte” means a beer barrel, used as a lectern by the orators|
|CALINDA — Stick-fighting competition, a feature of Carnival in rural Trinidad during the colonial era.|
|CALYPSO — A genre of popular song originating in Trinidad, frequently centered on sexual themes or political satire. Top calypsonians distinguish themselves through clever wordplay and double entendre.|
|CHANTOUELLES– Creole singers who led call-and-response songs at Calinda bouts, extolling the prowess of their champions and mocking the opposition. Anglicized as “chantwells”, they are seen as forbears of calypsonians.|
|CHIENLITS — Literally “shit-a-beds”, derisive name for working class revelers in pre-revolutionary France.
|CIRCUITO — Any one of the routes used for official Carnaval street parades. In Salvador da Bahia, the main circuitos are Dodo, Osmar, and Batatinha.|
|COMMEDIA DELL’ ARTE — Genre of comedy originating in medieval Italy. The plays were performed by troupes of traveling actors, and the stock characters have inspired Carnival costumes and masks|
|COURIR — A type of Carnival procession involving horses or pickup trucks in parts of rural Louisiana.|
|CROP OVER — A Carnivalesque celebration in Barbados, originally marking the end of the annual sugar cane harvest|
|CULECO — Large tanker trucks filled with water and fitted out with hoses. Used to spray crowds of carnival celebrants in Panama.|
|DIABLOS SUCIOS — “Dirty devils”, folkloric characters in Panama’s Azuero peninsula, seen throughout the country during Los Carnevales.|
|DIMANCHE GRAS – Literally, “Fat Sunday”, when prizes are awarded for the best costumes and the Calypso Monarch title is bestowed.|
|ENREDO — The unifying theme of samba school’s procession, reflected in the music and design|
|ENTIERRO DE LA SARDINA — “Burial of The Sardine”, mock funeral rite marking the end of Carnival in parts of Spain.|
|ESCOLA DE SAMBA — “Samba School”, a social and artistic organization famed for staging elaborate parades in Rio de Janeiro and other cities|
|FASCHING — Also Fastnacht, name for pre-lenten celebrations in Bavaria and other parts of southern Germany; in the Rhineland, the more Latinate phrase Karneval is used|
|FÉCOS — Local name for the annual festival held during Carnival season in the Occitanie region of southwest France.|
|FIESTA DE LOS INDIANOS — Carnival Monday celebration on the Canary island of La Palma, famed for a ritual fight with talcum powder. The “Indians” in question are locals who migrated to the Spanish Caribbean, a/k/a the Indies.|
|FREVO — Form of music originated by brass bands in the state of Pernambuco. Syncopated and sinuous, it is now popular throughout Brazil.|
|GNOCCHI — Small dumplings of potato and flour, served like pasta. The traditional Carnevale dish of Verona.|
|GUMBO — A type of stew including combinations of meats, seafood, vegetables and rice. Preparation of gumbo is a centerpiece of Mardi Gras festivities in Cajun country|
|HARLEQUIN — French name for Arlecchino, a popular character from the Commedia del’ Arte tradition.|
|INVERSION — To invert anything is to turn it upside down. Inversion of the usual social norms has been a hallmark of Carnival throughout history and around the world.|
|JAB MOLASSIE — A horned and vaguely menacing presence during Carnival in Trinidad & Tobago. Though the name is derived from the French for “molasses devil”, they typically take to the streets covered in grease or paint — and very little else.|
|JOE CAIN DAY– The final Sunday before Lent, occasion for a rough-hewn “People’s Parade” in Mobile.
|JOUVERT — “Day Break” an informal parade that marks the official start of Carnival, although in reality festivities start weeks earlier.|
|JUMBIES — Collective name for a variety of malevolent spirits, part of the folk religion of Trinidad & Tobago. Jumbies have often served to inspire Carnival songs and costumes.|
|JUNKANOO — A festival celebrated in the Bahamas, with parallels to Mardi Gras and the ancient Roman Saturnalia
|KAISO — Term for early, traditional style of calypso music. The word is said to be derived from the Hausa language of West Africa.|
|KING CAKE — Pastry into which a coin or some other token has been baked. In France it was traditionally shared on the feast of Epiphany. In Louisiana, it is Mardi Gras fare.|
|KREWE — Social organization dedicated to parades and balls during Mardi Gras season.|
|LECHONES — “Suckling pigs”, rival bands of costumed revelers in the Dominican city of Santiago de Los Caballeros|
|LENT — In most Christian denominations, a period leading up to Easter. The faithful are urged to abstain from indulgences and vices. Carnival ends when Lent begins.|
|MARACATU — Carnaval ritual of northeastern Brazil. Various “nations” pay homage to their kings and queens. Processions are marked by call-and-response vocals and stately rhythms pounded out on drums, shakers, and bells.|
|MARDI GRAS – “Fat Tuesday”, the last day of Carnival. Often used to indicate the season as a whole.|
|MAS — Short for masquerade. To “play mas” means to don a costume and take part in a parade.|
|MASCHIERI — The mask-makers’ guild, organized in 15th century Venice|
|MASLENITSA — Week-long celebration leading up to “Great Lent” in Russia and some neighboring lands|
|MATA-ROCS — “Donkey Killers” nickname for residents of the town of Solsona in Catalonia. Legend attributes the name to the accidental lynching of a quadruped; the incident is commemorated during carnival with the hoisting of a papier-mache effigy.|
|MYSTIC ORDER — Mobile, Alabama’s equivalent of a Mardi Gras Krewe.|
|PANCAKE TUESDAY — The last day before Lent in the Great Britain. One of the few Carnival traditions to survive the Reformation.|
|PANORAMA — An organized series of competitions between steel ensembles, culminating on the final Saturday before Lent.|
|PIPOCA — Portuguese word for “popcorn” used to differentiate parade spectators from those in a bloco or watching from a paid viewing location. In other words, the majority.|
|ROAD MARCH — The song that serves as the “anthem’ of a given Carnival, determined by how often it is played on mobile sound systems as they pass designated points.|
|ROBA LA GALLINA — Dominican men dressed as voluptuous, parasol toting matrons. Translated as “Steal-the-hen”, the conceit is that an ample bosom and prodigious rump are ideal for concealing purloined poultry.|
|SATURNALIA — An ancient Roman festival dedicated to the god Saturn and held around the time of winter solstice; some see Saturnalia as a precursor of modern carnival.|
|SAVANNAH — Formally, Queen’s Park Savannah. A large public space in Port of Spain, the epicenter of many Carnival activities.|
|SHROVETIDE — The final three days before Lent, when the faithful traditionally receive the sacrament of Penance. Concurrent with, yet separate from, the indulgences of Carnival.|
|SOCA — Fast, syncopated style of dance music considered to be an offshoot of calypso.
|STEEL PAN — A type of percussion instrument fashioned from an oil drum. “Pan” is used to refer to the instrument itself and the entire genre of music performed by steel orchestras.
|THROW — Any one of various objects distributed as souvenirs by members of a krewe during Mardi Gras parades.|
|TRIO ELECTRICO – Motorized stages on wheels, with sound systems and lights. A fixture of Carnaval parades in Salvador da Bahia.|
|VEJIGA – The inflated bladder of a hog or bull, dangling from a strap and carried by costumed Diablos during Carnival processions in the Dominican Republic. Revelers who get too close risk a sharp blow across the buttocks.|
|VOIL JEANETTEN — Men in dresses and women wearing beards during Carnival in Aalst, Belgium. Genders are bent and egos bruised as these “Dirty Janes” engage in the good-natured abuse of onlookers.|
|WIEBERFASTNACHT– Women’s Carnival in Cologne, held on the last Thursday before Lent. Local Damen are free to kiss all the Herren they desire.|
|ZOUK – Fast paced “jump-up” style of music, originating in the French Antilles. A feature of Carnival on Martinique and Guadeloupe.|