Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Life in a small town...Gramercy, La.

It is always a treat to visit Linda and Jamie's family in Gramercy, Louisiana.

In the heart of Gramercy is this building that houses Nobile's Restaurant.  The building has housed many businesses throughout the years including (a long time ago) a doctor's clinic where the local babies were even birthed on the top floor.

If you did not know this restaurant's fine reputation you might pass it by as "too rustic by a mile".  I think they are better at cooking than painting but I particularly liked the line-up of mops by the back door.

And surprise.... the inside is charming, all the customers are both welcoming--and related,  and the food is really good.  It's another gem to add to my list of Mom and Pop's worthy of mention.

If you should ever need your VCR programmed, your remote decoded, your new iphone explained or your watch reset....I know a 4 year old that would be glad to help you out.   Jamie's grandson (and best friend--that's what his shirt says) Andrew is a Wiz at all things electronic.

 We did another trip to Linda's family's farm and she proudly picked a bunch of spinach mustard for my salad--yum.

Then we stopped by her aunt's house to sit on the back porch where the family gathers every afternoon to reminisce and share the latest gossip.

Linda's Mom, Ethel,  (who is famous as one of the best cook's in town) had a pot of spaghetti waiting for us at her house so we didn't sit very long,  

And you can tell by Jamie's expression,  Ethel Pollett's spaghetti is not to miss.

The visit would not be complete without saying hello to T-Black and his wife.  And I scored another jar of T-Black's great hot sauce!  Ahh!  Life is so good here.

The following pictures are not from Gramercy but they are indicative of the lazy life in the south...

Porches are important in Louisiana and are evident everywhere.  I was trying to think of any friend's house in Tucson with a porch and I cannot think of one.  Lots of back decks but no porches where neighbors can join you for a glass of iced tea and some gossip.

Even the fanciest restaurants in the south provide a lazy place to sit and watch the world go by.

If Halcyon II had a porch then I know who would be sitting and rocking on it.

(These pictures are especially for my kids)...Many years ago my husband, Roger, and I had a restaurant in Houston called 'Crickets'.  It was a 'family' restaurant in the true sense and had a porch, rocking chairs and a porch swing for communing with each other and the neighbors after a home-cooked meal.  A few days ago I drove by to see if the building was still there.  Nope!   

There's a strip center though and a nice paved parking lot (where some beautiful shade trees once stood) and a Chinese restaurant with a 'take-out' window so you can speed away quickly. 
We call it 'Progress'.

The tragedy in the lives of most of us is that we go through life walking down a high-walled land with people of our own kind, the same economic situation, the same national background and education and religious outlook. And beyond those walls, all humanity lies, unknown and unseen, and untouched by our restricted and impoverished lives. -Florence Luscomb, architect and suffragist (1887-1985) 

Friday, October 26, 2012

Louisiana Redux

It is always good to be back in my home
state of Louisiana.  I eagerly anticipate the food, the music, the coffee, the ambiance,  the culture unlike anywhere else in the country, and most of all--my family.

Isn't it fun to find unusual art pieces in unexpected places?

Dozens of these gems appeared all over the city of Opelousas.  I am sure they are a tribute to the great fiddle playing that this part of the world is known for.  'Long live Zydeco music!'

And there is no denying the French culture.

The French are enormously proud of their history as it relates to this little part of the U.S.

And I truly hope they instill their culture enough in their children so that it does not melt away into that giant Campbell's soup of McDonalds, Walmarts, Chuck Cheeses, etc.

Here is an example of one of the many shrines to good eats...

It did not take long after stopping at the cousin's Riviere in Gramercy, Louisiana that we weren't off to find a great meal.

Cousin Jamie, wife Linda and Linda's Mom, Ethel took me north to Middendorf's on Pass Manchac, a canal that connects Lakes Pontchartrain and Maurepas (in other words--swamp country) for some world famous, thin-fried catfish.  This restaurant has died several times due to hurricanes and been reborn  better than ever since its founding in 1935.  For the latest catastrophe, you can see the flood line from Hurricane Isaac in the photo above.

But soon after the flood the restaurant reopened and it is still going strong.   A testament to its greatness is that it has a multitude of accolades from every notable southern publication, was named as 'best place anywhere in the south to get fried catfish' by Southern Living magazine, and was written about in Carl Hiaasen's book, "Double Whammy" and again in "the Sweet Potato Queen's Big-Ass Cookbook and Financial Planner".  Now that should be enough for anyone to start planning their next vacation.

The restaurant also has this outdoor dining area that makes you want to sit all afternoon with family and friends and just watch the boats go by...

or sit in the sand and let the fried catfish finish clogging up your arteries. 

Our next stop was one of those festivals that every little town or parish can throw at the drop of a fried shrimp on a stick.  Food and music combined--Ahh, Devine Mercy.


And it was here that I met my very newest cousin, Lindsey Marie Hymel.  She is a true southern beauty and I had the pleasure of worshipping her for a short time....

And she showed her natural disdain for all the fawning attention that came her way.

Not to be out-done, her two brothers, Andrew and Michael, showed me their skills at the 'Chicken Dance'. This family just exudes charm and talent.

When I first drove into Louisiana I stopped by for a few days visit with my Aunt Pauline and her daughter, Tinker.  Aunt Pauline is not at all well so it was a quiet visit while we sat for hours and exchanged jokes and memories of days past.  
Then I took another day with my Uncle Joe and his wife, Doris.  Last year when I drove away Uncle Joe was struggling with his health and that seemed to get progressively worse throughout the year.  Until this summer that is, when he did a complete turn-around and is now looking and feeling his old self again.  So things can change, people can heal and there is always room for optimism.  
The wonderful parts of this trip are the re-connections I have been able to make with family and friends.  Not money, not standing, not anything but TIME--It is time that I prize the most.  The time to drive many miles to sit with a brother-in-law in need, to visit an aunt that can tell me funny jokes,  to listen to an uncle describe to me how he fell in love with his wife more than 50 years ago.
So, for all of my friends and readers out there--I wish you TIME.    

Friday, October 19, 2012

Hot Springs, Ark

My last stop in Arkansas was to Hot Springs where I spent two days basking in the hot baths.  What an amazing treat when most of my life is spent bathing in the RV(?) while wrapped in a shower curtain cocoon, with spit-water soapings and dribbling cold-water rinses.  Or better yet,  joining the truck drivers of the world and luxuriating in a truck stop hot shower along with my gas fill-up and hot coffee. I must say that one of the real pleasures of this weird existence was while shopping,
 on an especially hot, sweat-inducing day and, after putting away the groceries, I closed all the curtains, stripped naked, wrapped up in that shower curtain, and took a cold shower.  I will always consider it one of the top ten experiences of my life--being naked in the middle of a Walmart parking lot.

Now, try and erase that image from your mind as we explore Hot Springs, Arkansas.  

 The town is famous for its (non-sulphur smelling) thermal hot springs.  Native Indians used the natural springs for many hundreds of years before the Europeans arrived to turn the warm water baths into a rich man's resort destination complete with very elaborate bathhouses and plush hotels.

The water has an average temperature of 134 degrees--year 'round.

The area was first protected by Thomas Jefferson and, at the turn of the 20th Century,  became our 18th National Park.  At that time the government built a public bathhouse for the  'poor folk' who might need the healing powers of the warm waters.

The town slogan became, "The Nation's Health Sanitarium".

And that's exactly what I needed for my health--a whole day or two of sitting in hot tubs!

First I had lunch on their veranda...I thought I might need to strength to survive the afternoon....

Then I started the regimen--with five tubs and five different temperatures to partake in.  Ahhhhhh.....

After about 4 hours I was totally rejuvenated....and limp as an overcooked noodle.

The next day I walked through the town and found it was not the great destination it had been in its heyday. 

Most of the bathhouses are now museums and many are just closed altogether.

There is some of the bygone elegance still around to remind us of what it must have been like...

But the busiest establishments I found were the Casino on the edge of town and this fountain where us 'poor folks' could fill our water jugs with those healthful waters--for free.

The next morning I found this amazing sunrise as I drove towards Louisiana....
After all, some of the best things in life are free.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Little Rock/The Clinton Library

Since I am not going to watch the second presidential debate tonight (I have temporarily sworn off politics--I think it is bad for my health), I have decided to blog about another of our presidents instead.  The Clinton Library and Museum sits in the very heart of Little Rock, Arkansas.  The park that surrounds the building extends to the old Arkansas River bridge and that bridge is now set aside exclusively for foot traffic.

It was Sunday morning and I arrived too early to get into the library so I decided to do a leisurely hike across the river.

The day was overcast and a little drizzly but it felt good.  I can handle humidity if there isn't any 90 degree heat to go with it.

I had the whole bridge to myself and the city seemed very quiet.  I remembered that, back in 1958, this city was the scene of one of the most contentious battles of the 'Integration Era'....9 young black girls tried to enter the Little Rock Central High School.  It was far from quiet then,  when the National Guard had to be called out to protect those girls.

 And Governor Faubus proudly paraded his prejudices by closing the three Little Rock public high schools for a year.   After all, what's an education when you can show off your bigotry to the world.


 But, like the Civil War, the south survived the integration battles to become a much more hospitable place than I remember as a teenager.  I could be wrong but I think we are making progress.

Good Grief!!  It seems this walk took me down memory lane.  Maybe I should have stuck with the debate.

The building is quite formidable with lots of glass and fantastic views in all four directions.

Inside there was the usual array of political stuff....

and more reminders of what a 'multi-talented cool cat' Clinton was...

and so was his cat.  Sigh Me thought this button was the best.


There was a re-creation of the Oval Office and the Resolute Desk...

From the literature....

"The British ship H.M.S. Resolute was among the vessels sent on an expedition to the Arctic Circle in search of a lost party of British explorers.  In 1854, it became frozen in the ice and had to be abandoned by its crew, which survived.  The following year, an American whaler discovered the ship and towed it to Boston.  It was refitted and returned to England as a gift from the American people.  In 1880, after the Resolute was decommissioned, a desk was made from its oak timbers and presented to President Rutherford B. Hayes by Queen Victoria.  Since then, most presidents have used the desk.  John Kennedy was the first to bring it into the Oval Office."

Eventually, I found myself embroiled, all over again, in the worst mess of nasty politics, sexual shenanigans, power plays and wasted taxpayers money to occur in my lifetime.

It really didn't matter what one thought of Clinton, or his opponents, the whole Whitewater, Lewinsky mess just became too much.

 Our political face to the world was that of a clown; and the name, Monica Lewinsky, became a tawdry joke.

Great sums of money were spent for naught....

and our government came to a screeching halt while this melodrama played out.

By the time I got to the end of these displays I felt really depressed.  And now I'm feeling down all over again.  Why was it that I didn't want to watch the debates?

But Clinton did have one of the best records of any of our modern day presidents.  If you can't make out the figures above the numbers on the left are when he took office and the ones on the right are when he left office.

And he has done some fine things since leaving office.  (I just want to give credit where credit is due.)
      I guess if we don't have politicians to obsess over then we would have to read more about Lindsey Lohan or Tiger Woods.  Somehow I just wish we could do better.