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How’s Bayou? Shining a light on Carnival, Part 1

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“This is the book I was looking for when I started the magazine,” said Mardi Gras connoisseur and historian Arthur Hardy, as he displayed the recently-released fifth edition of his Mardi Gras in New Orleans, An Illustrated History.

It was 1977, and the enthusiastic young New Orleanian was publishing his first Mardi Gras Guide “because there wasn’t anything out there like it, nothing to tell you about the history, traditions or who was parading when.”

He optimistically printed 5,000 copies, but sold only about 1,500 and burned the rest. “I lost so much money that first year — it almost was a unique edition,” he quipped.

But Hardy persevered, forging ties over the years with Carnival luminaries and enthusiasts and building a reputation second-to-none for both arcane and in-depth knowledge of New Orleans’ signature celebration.

“I’ve always loved Mardi Gras,” said the sage of celebration — who sometimes appears under the moniker “Mardi Hardy” and has just created a 5-inch tall, squeezable stress doll in his image, complete with Channel 6 microphone and diminutive copy of his annual Mardi Gras Guide. “But I never thought it would turn into a full-fledged business for me.

“I guess you could say it took us 30 years to get to where we are today, with all the information in the fifth edition of the history of Mardi Gras. It’s a compilation of everything I’ve written — but in a very USAToday format — lots of pictures and images, with very concise text. Not everyone likes to read in depth about a subject, you know. The illustrations carry the story and visually convey the history.”

What does Hardy himself like most about this new edition of the respected publication?

“I think my favorite part would be the historical background to what we know as Mardi Gras. We really had to work very hard to reconstruct the beginnings of some of the earliest krewes.”

The biggest challenge in revising the earlier edition, Hardy said, was to distinguish between what’s news — say, it rained on several parades — and history — the torrential rains were the last straw for a krewe that never paraded again.

In addition, there are five more years of innovation, new krewes, throws, favors and flavors since publication of the previous edition.

So much has changed in five years, he said. I asked him to name the three most significant ways in which Mardi Gras has changed between editions four and five.

“First,” Hardy said, after a short pause, “the Saints winning the Super Bowl in 2010. Black-and-Gold were added to the traditional purple, green and gold and have remained as a secondary motif — though how they’ll be manipulated and portrayed this Mardi Gras remains to be seen.”

Then, there was rise and expansion of female krewes, especially Muses — not to mention the high-steppin’ ladies’ marching groups.

And finally, in a version of the rich get richer … the Super Krewes (Bacchus, Endymion and Orpheus) just get bigger and bigger. “Who knows where it will end?” Hardy asked with a shrug of his shoulders?

Another reason to rush out for a copy of this edition is the “bookends” to the volume: Answers to the most-frequently-asked questions about Mardi Gras appear at the front of the book (as they do in Hardy’s annual Mardi Gras Guide), and a fact-packed reference guide anchors the final pages — providing an encyclopedia of Mardi Gras information at your fingertips.

While Hardy may not have a monopoly on Mardi Gras, the cover of his new 2015 Mardi Gras Guide — the 39th edition — sports a Monopoly-like “Mardi Gras Land” game board in purple, green and gold. If you make the right move and acquire his revised history, Hardy assured me, you’ll be taking a wise step: “Just like the others, this one will be a collector’s item.”


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