Laissez les bon temps roulez... in the Midwest

Sunday, January 30, 2005

ome Cape Girardeau residents who can't make it to New Orleans for Mardi Gras are bringing the party to Southeast Missouri.

Joan Slaughter and her husband, Dr. Rudie Slaughter, are hosting a Mardi Gras party and Cajun dinner for about 20 friends next weekend since they aren't traveling to Louisiana.

Joan Slaughter adheres to the motto: "Laissez les bon temps roulez" which translates from French as "Let the good times roll."

Slaughter likes to entertain and keep her parties to a particular theme, so Mardi Gras is a perfect time for reveling. "It's fun and carefree.

The Slaughters attended their first Mardi Gras parade three years ago and loved the lavish costumes and floats. As the floats pass by, people would throw beads to the crowds.

"I told them it was my first Mardi Gras and I was a grandma collecting them for my grandchildren," Joan Slaughter said. She collected so many strands of beads that she gave them to her grandchildren and still has enough to share. "I think I have so many I could give parties for the rest of my life."

Soulard festivities

But the Slaughters' shindig isn't the only Mardi Gras event nearby. Other wannabe revelers can head north to St. Louis for a taste of the festivities Soulard-style.

The Soulard neighborhood hosts parades and festivities in the weeks preceding Mardi Gras, which falls on Feb. 8 this year. Festivities are planned this weekend and next in advance of "Fat Tuesday."

But none of the parades in St. Louis, Mobile, Ala., or Biloxi, Miss., are near the size and style of those found in New Orleans.

"It's quite an atmosphere," Evelyn Stover said of the Mardi Gras festivities in New Orleans.

Mardi Gras is a French carnival that was celebrated for centuries in the days and weeks before Lent. Immigrants to the United States brought the customs and traditions with them. Mardi Gras is observed on the day before Ash Wednesday each year. It is a time for participants to enjoy the excesses of life before Lent, when they spend time in self-denial and self-discipline.

Stover, of Cape Girardeau, visited New Orleans last year for the parades. "It's just great fun. It's like you get caught up in all the goings on," she said.

Charlie Kent, Stover's coworker, tries to go to Mardi Gras every year if he can. He'll be there for the parades this year.

"It's a break from reality," he said. Though almost any trip to New Orleans fits that definition, Mardi Gras "is just intensified. The parades are huge. It's not like the parades here. It's exciting because everyone wants the beads."

Seeing the parades is like looking at the "wave" coming down the street, Kent said. "It's like a human wave of energy."

People aboard the floats are adorned in outlandish, elaborate and gaudy costumes. "There are all these parades dressed in weird costumes and carry weird instruments," Kent said. "It's just one huge party."

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