Saturday, December 31, 2011

Louisiana Road Trip 2011, Part 6: Cajun Country

I'm staying in a sweet little cottage in Arnaudville, Louisiana.

Like the cabin at Leroy Percy State Park, this cottage is only $60 per night. Scrumptious exterior, too, and I'll show that in a future post.

I lounged about all morning, then in the afternoon, ventured toward Breaux Bridge for lunch and a little exploring.

Glenda's Creole Kitchen

Today's lunch. Best meal of the trip so far. Glenda's Creole Kitchen.

I drove by Glenda's modest place, my head turning as I went by, then turned around and went back. This is exactly the kind of place I like to check out.
Gar boulettes at Glenda's Cajun Kitchen

I had gar boulettes. Giant fish balls. Spicy goodness. Normally, they would be smothered in gravy, but I took a pass on that. 

Wasn't til later that I learned Glenda's was visited by Anthony Bourdain earlier this year. 

I saw a house that was to be moved.

And I stopped at a satsuma stand (that also sold kumquats, oranges, and grapefruit). Satsuma (mandarin) oranges are juicy-juicy sweet. The skin slips off like a jacket. A little larger than a tangerine. I bought a five-pound bag for $5. Then the owner brought out four singles for me as a lagniappe. 

In Louisiana, they really like their crawfish:

I saw an above-ground cemetery:

"Is the roux in this aisle?" Hahaha! When a woman asked me that in Russell's market in Arnaudville this afternoon, I knew I wasn't in Missouri anymore. My first response was: "A what?" "A roux." "Sorry, I don't know." (Yes, you patronizing chucklers, I do know what a roux is. Some kind of sauce or gravy, right?)

Tonight, in my charming cottage, I did spy a roommate. It was big. Really big. I didn't scream like I did in Nazret when I saw its distant cousin. ... whoops, spoke too soon. Just saw another one. Eek!

Friday, December 30, 2011

Louisiana Road Trip 2011, Part 5: Natchez to Arnaudville

Road trip packing list. One of the great things about a road trip packing list is you can bring stuff with you that's too bulky for a plane or backpacking trip. Example: For this road trip, I brought my shelf stereo (similar to this) that I can take into my on-road lodgings for guaranteed beautiful sound in my habitat. Falls under the category of "comfort items."

Today I passed a few places that I want to revisit for a better view:

Credit: Cody Sewell
John James Audubon Bridge. A stunner from first glimpse to the final crossover. Two tall sentinals appear in the distance. As you reach the bridge, 22-karat gold rays expand toward you, then away, then toward, then away. 

It is emotionally uplifting to see the elegant execution of a mundane function - getting people from point A to point B.

In the video below, someone attempts to capture the bridge's beauty:

If I go back home via the same route, I'm going to take a try at filming the bridge myself.

Louisiana scenic drive. On Highway 77, almost a country lane, really, the scenery was lovely. On my right were swollen, marshy front yards occupied by egrets. On my left were lush green fields. Live oaks. Spanish moss. Meandering bayou.

Mississippi River from Natchez' Bluff Trail
Natchez. This morning, I had awakened in Natchez. Stayed at the Days Inn on Highway 61, which was not only budget-priced, but served dinner last night, for God's sake! And it wasn't bad either, chicken cacciatore, green beans, and corn muffins. Microwave and fridge in the room plus free wifi. And the staff reflected warm Southern hospitality with friendly greetings and swift, effective remedies to a few issues I encountered in my room.

If you're into casino gambling and plantation tours, then Vicksburg and Natchez will probably keep you delighted for at least two days. I'm not into either of those things, so while the two towns are pleasant, I felt satisfied with the one-nighters in each.

Uptown Grocery, Canal Street, Natchez
In Natchez, I drove downtown and parked in the stupendous Natchez visitor center's lot, which is on the bluff over the Mississippi River. I walked from the visitor center to Natchez' Bluff Trail and its end, then back and down to "Under the Hill" for an indifferent lunch at a riverfront place. Then chugged up, up, up the hill back to the visitor center, and took off for Arnaudville, Louisiana.


Thursday, December 29, 2011

Louisiana Road Trip 2011, Part 4: Vicksburg to Natchez

Mosaic tile in Illinois monument, Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi

Mosaic tile seal in Illinois monument, Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi

Illinois monument, Vicksburg National Military Park, Mississippi

This morning I went to the Vicksburg National Military Park.  Carol and I visited it earlier this month, but had only a brief time to whip through it. The park impressed me so much, I made it a part of this road trip's itinerary.

Visitors can hire a guide at $40 for two hours. I was willing to invest in this, but hoped to find one or more people who also wanted a guide so we could share the cost. Luckily, I was successful, hooking up with a Michigan couple en route to their winter playground in Gulf Shores, Alabama.

Watched the 20-minute documentary in the visitor center first, which gave an overview of the Vicksburg campaign. Having a guide really was a help: One, because a guide shares colorful factoids that you wouldn't learn otherwise. Two, you can ask questions as you go along.

So why is the park so impressive? It's the whole battlefield right there. You can see where the regiments camped, the trenches, a tunnel, the forts, the gullies, the ridges. Even though the modern terrain is cleanly landscaped and marked with monuments, the hellishness of the soldiers' lives during the long siege and its battles breaks through from the past to the present.

Credit: Sean MacLachlan
Speaking of past to present and the Civil War, I was looking at my   blog stats today and revisited a post from my week in Harar. On that day, I'd posted a link to Sean, a travel (and other) writer who is kinda-sorta from Columbia, Missouri, and who was in Harar the same time I was. I noticed he's got a new blog called Civil War Horror, and damned if he hasn't written a novel set during on the Civil War: A Fine Likeness

Holy Trinity Park, Taos, New Mexico
After leaving the military park, I found a forgettable lunch in downtown Vicksburg, then took a circuitous route out of town (read: lost) and made my way toward Natchez. Before I stumbled onto the correct highway, I serendipitously passed a monument of love from a husband to his wife at Margaret's Grocery.  Parodoxically, the day was so sunshiney fine that I couldn't get a decent photo to come out.  But the artistry reminds me of the work I loved at a pocket park in Taos.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Louisiana Road Trip 2011, Part 3: To Vicksburg

Highway 1, Mississippi

Checked out of my cabin at Leroy Percy State Park. Glorious sunny day. I asked the staff person which road was prettier to drive down to Vicksburg, Highway 1 or 61. She said 1, so that's the way I went.

Highway 61 is the Mississippi Blues Trail; Highway 1 is the Mississippi River Trail.

As I passed flat, bright-green fields of ... winter wheat? .... with tree stands in the distance, I listened to a slow, beat-ful song by Ali Farke Toure, which seems to reflect the rhythm of the Delta. I don't know why the flatness of the Delta evokes different feelings than the flatness of, say, Kansas, but it does. Maybe the mixture of spilled blood and rich river soil that brings up stories, written or sung, and deep rhythms.

This song came up during my drive (from my new "Mix 1" created last night) --- Nana Mouskouri singing Casta Diva --- and it fit the Delta, too:

Didn't do much today except drive from the park to Vicksburg, about an hour and a half trip. Checked into the Battlefield Inn, which is right next to the Vicksburg National Military Park. The reviews on Tripadvisor were all over the place, so I wanted to look at a room before I forked over any bucks. (Did the same thing at the hotel in Oklahoma City on a trip with Carol.) The room was adequate for my needs and I quickly set up housekeeping.

I'm reading a selection from my dwindling stockpile of classic science fiction, Arthur C. Clarke's book of stories, The Wind From the Sun.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Louisiana Road Trip 2011, Part 2: Gators and Greenville

Alligator Lake, Leroy Percy State Park, Mississippi

Leroy Percy State Park

I awakened this morning to a beautiful lake and wood view from my cabin at Leroy Percy State Park. (Remember the Percy name for later.) The lake is Alligator Lake, and gators do live here, though this time of year, they're likely snuggled under mud for a long winter nap. Still, the park staff told me that on especially warm and sunny winter days, some gators emerge to enjoy the sunshine.

Cabin 2, Leroy Percy State Park, Mississippi

Cabin 2, Leroy Percy State Park, Mississippi

Cabin 2 porch, Leroy Percy State Park, Mississippi

View of Alligator Lake from Cabin 2 screened porch, Leroy Percy State Park, Mississippi

Cabin 2 backyard, Leroy Percy State Park, Mississippi

Beautiful, yes?

Alas, the two park trails were too sodden for walking, so off to Greenville I went.


Greenville is on the Mississippi Blue Trail ...and the Hot Tamale Trail.

Remember, a week or so ago, Carol and I made an abortive attempt to get us some Delta-style tamales. Today, mission accomplished at Greenville's Hot Tamale Heaven.

Yes, they tasted good. Pretty much like tamales in the Southwest, I think. But I'm not a tamale connoisseur.  

I ate them in the parking lot of the Winterville Mounds, a mildly interesting Indian site from the 1300s-ish.

I climbed atop one of the mounds. Reminded me of the ruins near Tlaxcala that I visited with Kate and Pam. What a walk that was from one set of ruins to the other! The Xochitécatl ruins looked so close!

View of Xochitécatl ruins from the Cacaxtl ruins, near Tlaxcala, Mexico

The endless walk.

The long walk from the Cacaxtl ruins to the Xochitecatl pyramids, near Tlaxcala, Mexico

And finally. The view from one of the Xochitécatl pyramids:

View from Xochitecatl pyramid, near Tlaxcala, Mexico

The view from the Winterville Mound isn't as dramatic as that from the Xochitécatl pyramid. But it was fun remembering that day in Mexico while I looked out over the green Mississippi flood plain.

Despite my recent epiphany about museums, the 1927 Greenville Flood Museum looked intriguing. The museum is in the carriage house of a former plantation. In fact, this carriage house is believed to be the oldest structure in Greenville (the oldest still surviving, that is). Mike Bostic, the museum docent, screened a PBS documentary about the 1927 Greenville flood, called Fatal Flood, which told a disturbing story about how economics, man's inhumanity against man, and family betrayal factored into the town's flood response. Remember Leroy Percy? He and his son, Will Percy, played a prominent role in the story of the flood. One of the people interviewed in the documentary was John Barry, who wrote Rising Tide: The Great
Mississippi Flood of 1927 and how it Changed America
. Apparently, the surviving Percys were livid about Barry's portrayal of them in the book.

Mike and I had a short but interesting conversation about "Southern writers." I didn't know this, but there is evidently so much cachet attached to being a "Southern writer" that there are authors who perhaps exaggerate their Southern ties so they can self-identify as such.  (When will the stalwart Midwesterners get their deserved glory?)

Next I went to the Cypress Preserve, a pretty park with a trail through a virgin stand of cypress. As I walked, I breathed in the pungent fragrance of fallen cypress needles.


Getting rid of stuff. It was almost dark when I returned to my cabin. I spent an enjoyable evening decluttering the music list on my laptop and mp3 player, culling songs and musicians I no longer wanted to hear.
For example, I could not abide the no-nuance voice of blueswoman Susan Tedeschi one more day.

And though I love Carolina Chocolate Drops, I have come to despise Trampled Rose, one of the songs on their Genuine Negro Jig album. (I loathe the song so much that I had a story in my head that went like this: One of the Drops guys didn't feel as if he'd gotten his share in the group's limelight, so he complained and complained to the other two about how he'd written this song, and they owed it to him to record the awful thing, and they gave in. I didn't know til today that the damn song is actually an old standby and multiple artists have covered it. For God's sake, why?)

Now gone, all gone. Very satisfying.

Talking about Carolina Chocolate Drops gives me the excuse to play a favorite, Snowden's Jig:


Monday, December 26, 2011

Louisiana Road Trip 2011, Part 1: Driving Day in Driving Rain

A quintessential road trip view below. Crossing from Missouri to Arkansas. Rain. Good road trip music.  The annoying squitch of a faulty wiper.

This morning, I packed a big thermos of coffee. For breakfast and lunch on the road, I had sandwiches and an appetizer leftover from yesterday’s Christmas gathering at my mother’s house. Cold soda in the cooler behind the passenger seat.

The rain got very tiresome toward the end of my driving day, when it got dark. But all was forgotten when I unloaded and got settled into my little cabin at Leroy Percy State Park outside Hollandale, MS. (I had found the place online yesterday, but I couldn’t make the reservation online, so I called en route once I was sure I’d make it as far as Hollandale.) 

I plugged in the bookshelf stereo player I brought with me, put on some good music, poured a glass of juicy Georgian wine, and made a dinner sandwich from fixings I’d picked up at a grocery store in Cleveland, Mississippi, an hour earlier.

I went to bed early, but woke suddenly when I heard odd skitterings. Along the walls? The floor by my bed? The roof? Where? Assigned the noise to mice, squirrels, or very large insects, and returned to sleep. Only to awaken again to the sound of my screen porch door shutting noisily. …. When I investigated, I discovered the wind periodically blew the screen door open, and then it would close loudly. There was no latch to keep it shut.

So ended the first day of my Louisiana road trip.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Almost U.S. Destinations

There are some places I've almost been to in the U.S., but where, so far, it hasn't worked out for me to actually get there. These include:

Big Bend National Park. Credit: Frank Shepard.

Big Bend National Park in Texas. This is one of the least-visited national parks in the country. It's a good place to visit in the winter because of its warmth relative to other locations in the country.  The challenge for me has been that, although there is lodging in the park, it's over my budget. Backcountry camping is possible in some spots, but I like to be part of the herd in a "real" campground when I camp. For fear of bears, lions, and other scary critters. The attraction: Winter warmth. Beautiful scenery.

Canyon de Chelly, Credit: NPS

Canyon de Chelly National Monument in Arizona. I've almost been here several times, but other stops in the region have been higher on my list, so I haven't made it yet. The attraction: Tony Hillerman mysteries. Beautiful scenery. History. Modern and traditional cultures.

Crawfish. Credit: Cajun Creations.

Lafayette area in Louisiana. As with Canyon de Chelly, I've been close, but not quite there. The attraction: Bayous. Live cajun and zydeco music. Crawfish (or, as we say in Missouri, crawdads). History. Culture. Winter warmth.

Next week, I think I'm finally gonna make it to Louisiana's cajun country.


Monday, December 19, 2011

Tight Budget + Warm Destination =

Burj Al Arab. Credit: Dubai Consult


Was never on my short list of places to go, but that's where I'll be in the interim between my return to Georgia and the end of vacation.

I think I'll be able to force myself to enjoy it.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011


I hate to backtrack. If I take a wrong turn, I just want to press forward, find a new way, figuring it'll work out just fine. And I don't have to lose time by retracing my steps.

Sometimes, this leads to adventure. The road less traveled and all that.

Most times, it's just a character defect, leading to high drama between driving companions; battles royal between my own id and ego; edge-of-the-seat, gotta-pee-bad! thrillers; ohshiti'mgonnarunoutofgassoon cliffhangers; or just time and fuel lost forever.  

For some, this leads to death. That's what happened to a married couple recently.  A wrong turn, and instead of backtracking five miles, Elizabeth and Dana Davis pushed forward via a forest road where eventually they became stranded.  The wife died. The fact that they were in their 80s was irrelevant. Here is a poster from the Grand Canyon that I think is genius for getting a point across about the dangers of our decisions (like, uh, not backtracking):

So anyway, on our way home from our Mississippi trip today, I took a wrong turn. I didn't backtrack. I should have. [Insert melodrama here.]

On a brighter note, if I hadn't taken a wrong turn, we wouldn't have seen the 20 or so turkeys cross the road in front of us.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

"I'm On My Way, Baby!"

Lunch and blues

In Jackson, we went to F Jones Corner to have lunch and to listen to some blues. Carol ordered fried grits and a chili dog. I got a spinach salad.

Fried grits: Small, dark-golden cubes. The outside crunchy; the inside mushy. Devilishly good.

Virgil Brawley, F Jones Corner, Jackson, MS
 Virgil Brawley sang and played his guitar while we ate. Virgil's good. He has a mature bluesy voice that lets you know he's already paid his blues dues, so he doesn't need to do anything to fancy things up. He played several Robert Johnson songs, in honor of that musician's birthday. Robert Johnson is one of the fathers of Delta-style blues.

Below is Robert Johnson himself singing his Hellhound on My Trail:  

Love the music, but I'm not a big fan of Robert Johnon's voice. If I think of it as a woman's voice, I can kind of get into it, but that's a lot of work.

Now, same song, this time by Big Joe Williams. Gives you shivers.   

The 10 Best Robert Johnson Covers offers one person's view of same. Some passionate arguments for alternatives are in the comments at the bottom of his page.

Farish Street Project

F Jones Corner is smack in the middle of the Farish Street project. It all looks like it'll be standard-formula gentrification to me, but there seems to be an effort not to make it so.

I'm on my way, baby! 

As we left the Farish Street area, we saw a terrific billboard for Big Mama Bail Bonding with her genius tag line.

Vicksburg - National Military Cemetery

In the afternoon, we drove to the National Military Park in Vicksburg. It was a crime we didn't have more time to spend at that remarkable place. As we drove the winding auto-trail, past "camp" after camp,  it was easy to imagine the exchanges of fire, the hunkering down in the trench, the smoke, the sounds of war. The cemetery really brought it home: Of the 17,000 people buried there (and that only includes the Union soldiers), 13,000 are unidentified.

The good that came out of that rushed visit was that if I return to the area in the future, I'll devote a day to its exploration. I'm glad Carol wanted to see it; otherwise, it wouldn't have made my list of things to do.