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A Little Food, Culture and Fun to Start the Summer 

New Orleans' festival season keeps the party going all year long

Sunday, March 18 - Saturday, March 24

Splitting Heirs

So what to do if you have been blessed to not only be Irish but Italian as well? Then it's off to the Irish-Italian Parade (Metairie, March 18) for you! Formed in 1983, this parade traditionally rolls the Sunday after St. Patrick's Day at noon. The two grand marshals represent both the Italian and Irish communities, as do the many riders on 25 floats and 40 trucks. Accompanying a ton of beads are cabbage, potatoes, onions, carrots and an assortment of fruits. Think about it -- have a good time and leave with a great meal. (E-4)

Old Treasures Make For Unique Finds

Just a quick hop from Baton Rouge (which is a quick hop from New Orleans), antique fans will feel like they have reached their heaven on earth. For the past 36 years Jackson, Louisiana, has hosted the Antiques Festival and Tour (March 23-25). This marks year 37 and the festival promises to be everything it has been in the past and much more. More than 20 select dealers from across the United States will show off their carefully chosen collections of 18th and 19th century furnishings, antique and estate jewelry, linens and laces, silver, antique prints, dolls and glassware, antique tools, and architectural antiques. Even green thumbs will find something among the displays of native plants, antique roses, herbs and bedding plants.

While you shop for that special home furnishing or collectable, you can feast on seafood gumbo, homemade vegetable soup, sandwiches and desserts from some of the finest cooks in the Felicianas. Included in the cost of admission is a self-guided tour of the Historic District and entry to the interiors of three historic churches and the original 1816 courthouse of the Felicanas.

So enjoy a little Louisiana culture, eat some hearty food and go home with an antique treasure. Admission $5 (includes all three days of the festival); Festival hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information contact the Jackson Assembly at (504) 634-7155.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

Only in New Orleans could you get the information you need to buy a home and enjoy a little music and food. The Freret Street Fair (Freret Street at Napoleon Ave., March 24) is produced by the Neighborhood Housing Services and is designed to help families learn all they can about buying that special place to call home. Mixed in for some fun is lots of food, music, arts and crafts. So you're not really looking for a new home (and you may not even live here) but want to have some fun anyway. Stop on by and enjoy an afternoon of food, fun and something for the kids. Memorial Medical Center will even be on hand to provide free screenings and health information (just in case you need to know how much damage all that fried food is causing). The fun starts at noon and lasts until 6 p.m. For more information call 899-5900. (F-6)

Celebrate Mother Earth

The folks at Audubon Zoo know how to make animals feel at home, and they can throw a great party, too. Earth Fest (March 24-25) is a great way to have fun and learn about saving the environment. Since this event takes place at the Zoo (6500 Magazine St., 861-2537), families will never run out of things to do or see. Exhibitors will be on hand to help zoo visitors answer questions for great prizes on the Earth Quest game sponsored by McDonald's. The Zoo will also have family activities - including Litter Critters, hands-on fun where toys are created from recycled trash. There will also be handcrafted jewelry, pottery and other crafts for sale.

Eart Fest activities are included in the cost of admission to the Audubon Zoo. Admission is $9 adults, $4.75 children (2-12), and $5.75 seniors. (F-6)

Food and Fun with a Spanish Twist

Between 1778 and 1783, the king of Spain sent Canary Islanders, known as Islenos, to colonize Louisiana. Since this early settlement, descendants of these soldier-farmers have maintained their linguistic and ethnic identity. They are also the last living vestige of Spanish Colonial Louisiana. Keeping that in mind, it is no wonder that the Los Islenos Fesitval (1357 Bayou Road, March 24-25) is such a fun mixture of old world heritage and Louisiana traditions.

The festival site is the Islenos Village which includes the beautiful 18th centry Isleno and Ducros museums, a vintage 1910 barroom, the 17th century Estopinal House and its separate kitchen, and the Isleno Center. With lots of traditional New Orleans cuisine and Spanish dishes, music by Julio and Cesar, Los Sagittarius, Deuces Wild and Bobby Cure and the Summertime Blues, this is one truly unique cultural event. Festival hours: 9:30 a.m. to 10 p.m. Saturday and noon to 9 p.m. Sunday. For more information call 504/682-0862.

No matter what your hobbies, tastes or traditions, New Orleans offers a festival for everyone and everything. So pack up the family, gas up the car and follow your nose to the party.

Tennesse Williams found his spiritual home, and a couple of literary classics, in New Orleans.

He gave Marlon Brando something to shout about and Elizabeth Taylor something to purr about. He took the majestic homes, hangouts and sweaty charm of New Orleans and made them into a perfect literary vision.

Tennessee Williams didn't just reside in New Orleans -- he lived and breathed New Orleans. Through his passion for this lazy city, Williams created literary masterpieces, reborn for generations to come through film adaptations and theatrical productions.

The city that Tennessee called his spiritual home has returned the admiration each year with The Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival (March 28-April 1). This year marks the 15th year of the festival, which spans five days and features national and regional scholars, writers and performing artists.

Started in 1987 by a group of writers, educators, arts administrators and community activists, the first festival drew just 500 people interested in discovering more about the scope of Williams' works and learning from other writers and scholars in the literary world. Since then, interest has grown more and more each year, with last year's festival boasting over 8,000 people.

The popularity of the festival has attracted celebrity guests participating in discussion groups and dazzling audiences with their interpretive readings of Williams' work. This year, the festival welcomes Stephanie Zimbalist and John Goodman. Throughout the five days, fans of the literary world can attend panel discussions, theartrical performances, a one-act play competition, lectures, literary walking tours, musical performances and a book fair.

With so much to see and do, the festival can seem a bit overwhelming. There are celebrities to admire, lectures to attend, tours to be walked and lots of books to be bought. While we recommend the entire festival to any literary buff, we have taken the liberty of highlighting a few of the events you should make a point not to miss.

After you get yourself organized with festival materials and an outline of all the events, hike up those boots and prepare yourself for a unique and entertaining walking tour. The Scandal Tour (Thursday at 5 p.m. and Sunday at 4 p.m.) offers a light-hearted look at Louisiana's history through stories of corruption, debauchery, fashion errors -- and of course, the invention of the cocktail. The two-hour tour is conducted by Robert Batson, author of more than 200 articles on Louisiana history and culture, and includes the residences of Sherwood Anderson, Faulkner, Lillian Hellman and Tennessee Williams. Learn all about the pirates, prositutues, disasters and bad marriages that have contributed to a history so colorful it could only belong to New Orleans.

Once you have had your fill of the stranger-than-fiction stories relax and prepare for the opening night gala celebration at Le Petit Theatre du Vieux Carré (616 St. Peter St.) at 7 p.m. This event kicks off the festival and celebrates the 15 years devoted to New Orleans' adopted son, Tennessee Williams. Following the opening gala will be a reading by Goodman that promises to be memorable. Tickets to the event are $45 and can be purchased at Le Petit Theatre. (T-4)

Beginning again the next day, start your morning off with a little bit of laughter. The Shim Sham Club (615 Toulouse. 565-5400) will host "Cast on a Hot Tin Roof" (Friday 11:30 a.m. and Saturday 1 p.m.), the Free Associates' irreverent and completely improvised play that mixes the Southern styles of Tennessee Williams with suggestions from the audience. This unique theatre production will have you laughing 'til it hurts. (T-4)

Saturday morning brings with it a special event that has a stronger connection to New Orleans than probably most cities. The Voudou -- Religion or Magic? (House of Blues, 225 Decatur St., 11:30 a.m.) discussion brings together authors and practitioners to talk about the evolution of voudou in the United States, its political meaning, and the truth and lies about this ancient faith. It is a highly controversial practice that has been linked to Christianity by some and condemned as a form of scorcery by others. The Voodoo Macumba Dance Ensemble will give a performance based on this ancient West African religion. Tickets are $10. (S-4)

After you have made your up your mind on where you think voudou belongs, why not learn more about the namesake of the festival from the one man who knows him best, his brother. Wander over to Le Petit Theatre for Dakin! (Children's Corner, 2:30 p.m.), the festival's annual conversation with Tennessee Williams' brother Dakin Williams. (T-4)

As the festival winds its way to an end, there are two events that truly capture the spirit of Williams. The first event is one that Tennessee himself would have attended in his day because of his great love for the smells and tastes that make New Orleans an unforgettable place. The fourth annual New Orleans Cooks and Books (Storyville District Jazz Cafe, 125 Bourbon St., 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.) will once again feature culinary superstars, cookbooks and a discussion panel. Beginning at 10 a.m., "At the Table with Tennessee" will feature food authorities discussing the playwright's favorite delicacies. Panelists include food critic John Mariani, Upperline restaurateur JoAnn Clevenger, columnist and raconteur Rex Reed and moderator Jessica Harris, author and food historian. (R-3)

Following the panel, chefs will be on hand to autograph their cookbooks and offer a sampling of foods from recipes featured in their books. While you are tasting some great food, get an autograph or two in your books from chefs like Michael Roussel (Breakfast at Brennan's and Dinner, Too), Leah Chase (Dooky Chase Cookbook), Alex Patout (Patout's Cajun Home Cooking), Andrew Jaeger (New Orleans Seafood and Oysters), Dominique Macquet (Dominique's Fresh Flavors: Cooking with Latitude in New Orleans), and Upperline's Ken Smith (whose recipes are featured in a variety of cookbooks). Ti Martin will be standing in for Jamie Shannon of Commander's Palace (The Commander's Palace Cookbook.)

Tickets to this event are $25 and in limited supply. While you are purchasing your tickets, pick up a list of the restaurants that are planning special menus, or menu items inspired by Tennessee Williams, during the festival. The "Dining Out with Tennessee" list is available at the festival's information desk at Le Petit Theatre.

Last, but certainly not least, is the a shouting match. Not just any shouting match, but one that evokes the spirit of Stanley and Stella in each and every participant. The sixth annual Stanley & Stella Shouting Contest (Pontalba Apartments, Jackson Square, 4 p.m.) is a real crowd pleaser. The first 25 people to sign up -- registration is free and located in Jackson Square -- will compete for the honor of best portrayal of the angst-ridden characters from the Tennessee Williams classic A Streetcar Named Desire. (T-4)

At 4 p.m. the fun begins when each entrant yells, screams, sings -- whatever inspiration calls for -- to the man or woman situated on a balcony, representing their Stella or Stanley. A panel of celebrity judges will chose the top six contestants to compete in the finals. At 5:30 p.m. the finalists will compete once again at festival headquarters, Le Petit Theatre, where the first place winner will be crowned. This event draws large crowds and even larger talent.

Unfortunately, all good things must come to an end. All the lectures, plays, food and fun will be logged into memory and literary enthusiasts will wait another year to return to the city that captured the imagination and heart of Tennesee Williams. We hope you will enjoy the festival as much as we do and gather a deeper understanding of the true magic and mystery that has attracted so many writers to this city of stories and secrets.

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