September 24 - October 10, 2008
By Susan Hanes 2008
Mississippi Music September 24 - October 10, 2008
The mighty Mississippi River provided the route and the inspiration for a discovery tour for our German friends, Dagmar and Klaus Stark. After a busy week together in Chicago enjoying the varied food and music available in this great city, we piled in the car and followed the river from its banks near Galena, Illinois to its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico,
southeast of New Orleans. The Great River Road, marked by green Pilotâ€™s Wheel signs, led us through the rich history and local customs of the people whose lives have been shaped by the Mississippi. Along the way, we stopped to sample the local foods and savor the regional music and crafts that showcased the depth and diversity of American culture. 1
Wednesday, September 24
Dagmar and Klaus met us at the front of 1320 and Rick loaded our bags in the car with no problem. Away promptly at 10:00, heading west on I-90. Stopped at a farm stand in Elroy, on Hwy. 20 between Rockford and Galena where we bought Honey Crisp apples after sampling a couple of varieties. First sense of fall as lines of pumpkins and piles of squash and gourds were on display. Lunch at the Welcome CafĂŠ in Elizabeth; huge portions of pasta and giant sandwiches were not exactly diet fare.
Chicago to Galena, Illinois De Soto Hotel Arrived in Galena around 2:30; Jake drove us down Main Street and past the neat late 19th century houses poised above. Checked into the De Soto Hotel, the oldest continuously operating hotel in Illinois, dating from 1855 and host to such notables as Mark Twain, Susan B. Anthony, and Abraham Lincoln. Strolled along Main Street, passing antiques shops and stores selling typical tourist stuff â€”candy, soap, tee shirts, toys, and jewelry. Drinks at Paradise Bar before we separated until
dinner, the Starks going for a walk along the river and Jake and I returning to the room so that I could put my foot up (having sprained my ankle earlier in Chicago.) Met for dinner at 7:30; walked to Fried Green Tomatoes for an Italian meal that was heavy and a little disappointing. A couple of boisterous groups detracted from the ambience. The street was absolutely empty as we walked back to the hotel and I found myself wondering what people do to occupy themselves
Stopping on the road to Galena 3
The De Soto House, opened in 1855, is Illinois' oldest operating hotel.
Thursday, September 25
St. Louis, MO Hyatt Regency
Awoke to a crisp fall morning. Walked down the street to breakfast at Clark’s Café where we enjoyed our eggs and oatmeal among the locals at the bar. A real bargain; Dagmar noted that this would be a good place to ride out the economic crisis. On the road at 8:00, crossing the Mississippi River to Dubuque. Encountered fog hovering over the river valley below, obscuring our view of scenic Hwy. 52. Through Belleview, an attractive town with a lock and small neat houses lining the road. Crossed the river back to Illinois at Clinton and headed south to Galesburg. Then west to Monmouth College where Kappa Kappa Gamma was founded in 1870. Stopped long enough to find the Stewart House, home of KKG, and take some pictures. From there, headed south on Hwy. 9 to Nauvoo. Stopped at Baxter’s Winery (oldest in Illinois) where we bought an apple pie at Carol’s Pies and had a sandwich at Nauvoo Mill & Bakery. Made a short visit to Nauvoo Mormon Center. Photographed the striking white temple and watched as the faithful came and went, noting that all men were dressed in coat and tie. No way anyone would think that we belonged there so did not try to enter. Drove through the village that resembled Colonial Williamsburg, with post office, gunsmith, bakery, cultural center, and of course, Joseph Smith’s blacksmith shop. Lovely, peaceful campus that was somehow troubling to me. Proceeded south to Quincy, Illinois where Jake drove us past historic homes built on
magnificent lots when the town was the center of commerce in the mid-nineteenth century. Crossed back over the Mississippi River to Hannibal, MO, home of Samuel Clemens. Stopped briefly at his childhood home, noting the "actual" fence that Tom whitewashed, and Becky Thatcher’s house across the street. On the way out of town, counted the number of establishments with Twain-related names: Mark Twain Diner, Sawyer Estates, Becky Thatcher’s Fashions, The Huck Finn, etc. Drove 30 miles to Louisiana, MO and paused at a scenic overlook for a view of the river in the waning afternoon light. Gassed up in Louisiana before crossing back into Illinois, driving six miles to Atlas and then south to Elsah. Noted evidence of flooding, the result of Hurricane Ike’s recent activity. Climbed the hill behind the small town of Elsah to Principia College, a Christian Science institution with 550 students. The buildings of this small school were designed by renowned architect Bernard Maybeck. Got a pass and drove around, noting the beautiful gothic-inspired buildings, being careful not to intrude on the privacy of the students at this closed campus. C rossed the river again, just as the sun was setting, and drove on into St. Louis, arriving at the Hyatt Regency at 7:00. The hotel is located in what was once Union Station, an Arts and Crafts marvel. Met Dagmar and Klaus at the bar for drinks and a light supper with a background of Sinatra, sung by an attractive young woman.
Dagmar stands in front of Carol's pie shop, where Jake bought the apple pie that I wrestled with in the car for days until it was finally tossed.
And me, in front of Kappa's first home. I would not show Klaus the secret handshake.
a p p Ka r! e v e r Fo
Klaus wanted to go into the Mormon Temple at Nauvoo but since he did not have on a coat and tie, there was little chance of his being undetected.
Beautiful Quincy, Illinois
These gracious homes reflect the prosperity of 19th century Quincy, when the town was a center of commerce thanks to its location on the Mississippi River.
Hannibal, Missouri, home of Samuel Clemens, the famous American humorist.
Many of the buildings of Principia College, a small Christian Science institution, were designed by Bernard Maybeck.
The Hyatt was once the magnificent Arts and Crafts Union Station.
Friday, September 26
Memphis, TN Marriott Residence Inn
Sumptuous breakfast buffet in the grill. Taxi to the Riverfront. Waited in the park for the Gateway Arch to open at 9:00, marveling at its beauty and elegance against a perfectly blue sky—a modern Eiffel Tower, as Dagmar suggested. First in line and through the metal detector; Dagmar was intrigued by the signs warning that no concealed weapons were allowed inside. After purchasing tickets for the tram to the top, listened to a short video describing the construction of Eero Saarinen’s 1947 design, completed in 1965. Views of the river and the city from the tiny windows high above; the shadow of the arch falling on the scene below added a touch of whimsy. Taxied back to the hotel and checked out. Made an easy exit from St. Louis, finding I-55 immediately. Fifty miles south along the river to Ste. Genevieve, a tiny French enclave dating from the late 17th century. Drove down each street to see the unusual houses with broad porches and stone detailing. Found the town to be generally underwhelming—the small shops and restaurants looked tired and uninviting. Took a couple of pictures but decided not to stop. Little traffic as we continued south on I-55 through a corner of Arkansas to Memphis. Stopped for gas and a snack near New Madrid, site of the 1811 earthquake, the worst ever in North America. Arrived in Memphis at 3:30 and went directly to Sun Studio, arriving just in time for a tour of this tiny but dominant recording studio, home to such voices as Elvis Presley and Carl Perkins. As we looked at the memorabilia of the early days of Rock and Roll and listened to clips from such greats as Muddy Waters, 14
B. B. King, and Elvis, we marveled that so much of the history of American music had taken place within those tiled walls. After checking into the hotel, we walked over to the grand Peabody Hotel, intending to have a drink there. When we found the elegant lobby jammed with kids and old folks in shorts, we decided instead to head toward Beale Street. Getting as far as George Paul’s Last Call, a grubby little tavern with lots of character, we enjoyed a couple of rounds of Yazoo Pale Ale (brewed in Nashville) and watched a group of locals at the bar. Thus fortified, we walked the short block of Beale Street blues bars, people-watching and taking pictures of the colorful neon signs. Walked back towards the Peabody and located the Rendezvous. Famed for its ribs, the Rendezvous is located in an unpretentious basement down an alley. Our meal was very disappointing: everyone agreed that we had eaten far better barbeque on many other occasions. Back to Beale Street where the evening was starting to heat up. At the Rum Boogie Café, lucked into a table and enjoyed some fabulous Memphis Blues played by James Govan and his Boogie Blues Band. From "Stand by Me" to "Green Onions" to "Dock of the Bay", it was great music. Bought the CD and a waiter had the members sign it. Stopped by B. B. King’s Blues Café at the other end of the street, arriving just as the band went on break. Sat at the bar and had beers and deep-fried pickles (not any better than they sound) until the next set. After a couple of numbers, decided to call it a night, as we have another full day planned tomorrow.
The Gateway Arch, "a modern Eiffel Tower," observed Dagmar.
Ste. Genevieve, a French enclave dating from the 17th century 18
A beer at George Paul's got us in the mood to explore the Blues scene on Beale.
A great show at Rum Boogie and more Blues at B. B. King's.
Saturday, September 27
Clarksdale, MS Comfort Inn
Arrived at Graceland at 8:30 for our 9:00 tour reservation, the first of the day. Ours was a lonely car in the mammoth parking lot. The four of us were photographed in front of a painted backdrop before we boarded a shuttle that took us across Elvis Presley Blvd. to the mansion. Self-guided audio tour through the first floor of the house Elvis bought when he was only 22. Mirrored living and dining rooms, a jungle room with Tiki furniture and green shag rug, and a basement TV room with a bar and a giant yellow couch were pure 1970’s. An outbuilding that once housed a racquetball court was converted to a museum filled with those amazing costumes, movie posters, and a corridor lined with his gold records. The tour ended at the memorial garden where Elvis, his parents, and grandmother are buried. Tributes from the world over filled the garden and edged the drive; not only flowers, but signs: “Forget you? Never. Miss you? Forever!” and “If I Can Dream —Sharon, Marcia, Pat, Mary Judy—Michigan.” Found the Graceland experience to be quite different from what we were expecting: house far more modest, displays more impressive, opportunities to be gouged, fewer. Actually moved to think of all that Elvis accomplished in the 42 short years before his tragic death. Back on I-55 south to Mississippi and west on
Hwy. 6 to Oxford. Found Ole Miss still blockaded after the presidential debate last night, but managed to drive around a bit and see some of the beautiful campus. Strolled the square, visiting Square Books and enjoying Mama’s meatloaf and squash casserole at the Ajax Diner. Bought a couple of campaign buttons at a roadside Obama stand before heading west to Clarksdale. Explored this tattered blues town, driving along Sunflower Avenue to find the scruffy Riverside Hotel, where Bessie Smith died in 1937. Stopped to take pictures of the Greyhound Station and many dilapidated buildings on the other side of the tracks. Visited the Delta Blues Museum to learn about such icons as Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, and Son Thomas. Had a beer at the bar at Ground Zero Blues Club and took pictures of the amazing graffiti inside and a crinkled old fellow playing guitar on the saggy sofa outside. Poked around Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art; Dagmar and Klaus bought a colorful primitive painting on a discarded shard of pottery but we couldn’t find anything that had a place back home. Checked into the Comfort Inn and had a break before our dinner reservations at Madidi, actor Morgan Freeman’s attractive restaurant in a turn of the century building on Delta Avenue. Returned to Ground Zero after dinner to hear Mark
Ole Miss had just hosted the first Presidential Debate the night before and excitement was still in the air.
Lots of campaigning evidence everywhere, some subtle and some not so subtle.
Heard "Mule Man" Mark Massey perform at the iconic Ground Zero Blues Club. Can't imagine a better place to feel the music down in your soul.
Sunday, September 28
Vicksburg, MS Anchuca B & B
Leaving Clarksdale, drove to the legendary Crossroads at the intersection of Highways 61 and 49 where, legend has it, blues icon Robert Johnson made a deal with the devil to play guitar better than anybody. We all got out and took pictures of the crossed guitars that marked the spot. Saw the sign for Abe’s Bar-B-Que, in business since 1924, and were sorry that it was too early for lunch. Continued a short distance along 49 to Hopson’s, once a cotton plantation but now home to the Shack Up Inn. A totally unique hotel experience, the property is littered with artifacts from the early days of cotton production. Parked and walked around the cluster of shacks turned guesthouses. Bill Talbot greeted us and gave us the history of the place, telling us wryly that the inn is the oldest B&B in Mississippi, established in 1998. A large building that was once a cotton gin was now a chapel of sorts, complete with old pews and a giant Weevil installed on a post, which Bill explained was to exhort visitors to “Fear no weevil.” He said that he planned to add a second, smaller weevil to the display in order to depict the lesser of two weevils. We had tried to stay here but were not able to get reservations, even three months ahead. Apparently a group of bikers beat us to it. Drove south to Tutwiler, which, according to its water tower,
is “where the Blues were born.” Wondered, however, how many other towns claimed the same identity. Found a painfully poor community with ruined houses and boarded windows, and at least five new, attractive church buildings along its few roads. Asked a couple of men where the community center was and heard one say to the other, “Boy, they lost.” I imagine they did not get many visitors. Unfortunately, the center was not open, for we had hoped to find someone to show us the creations of a group of quilters who work under the guidance of Catholic nuns, creating colorful quilted items for sale. At least I will be able to imagine the place if I contact them by phone later. From there we drove east to Greenwood where we found the Alluvian, an attractive boutique hotel owned by the Viking range people. The Viking Cooking School was across the street, but was closed. Then west again to Indianola, arriving 20 minutes before the new BB King Museum opened at 1:00, giving us just time enough to stop in the Gin Mill Café where we had Tom’s Cool Moons and coffee, served by a very talkative Tom Bingham and his quiet wife. I explained to Dagmar and Klaus the significance and importance of the Moon Pie, made even more delicious by five seconds in the microwave and a scoop
Hopson's Plantation is touted as the "oldest B & B in Mississippi" (bed & beer)
The old Cotton Gin was made into a kind of chapel ,
With an exhortation to "Deliver us from Weevil."
The B.B. King Museum recently opened on September 10 and is impressive. A short film gave us an introduction to the life and significance of King to the Blues world before we went through the exhibits. As we entered the exhibit hall, I saw an older lady sitting at a table, dressed in a bright red suit and wearing a large glittering tiara and star earrings. I asked her if I was allowed to take pictures and she mistakenly thought that I was asking to take her picture, answering that she would be happy to pose with me. Realizing that I must be missing something, I soon discovered that she was Mary Shepard, owner of the Ebony Blues Club in Indianola for 34 years. She was at the museum to promote a book that had been written about her life and connection to Delta Blues. Jake took my picture with her and, in short, it turned out to be a wonderfully special connection and served to broaden our appreciation for the magic of the Blues culture. A few thoughts I picked up: the Blues was born, not written … the Blues is a music of hope and triumph over adversity … Blues is life as men live it … Blues is rooted in the experiences of life … B.B. King speaks the language of the heart; a language that the world understands … B.B. is the Blues. Continued to Greenville. Our destination was Doe’s Eat
Place, but unfortunately we found it closed on Sunday. A disappointment, for we had read about this humble hole in the wall that serves award-winning comfort food. Driving into Vicksburg, completed our Delta drive through miles and miles of cotton and corn, our new B.B. CD providing atmosphere. The terrain became rolling as we drove into town. Jake took us up and down deserted streets to get a sense of Vicksburg. Then out old Hwy. 4 to Margaret’s Grocery, a towering tribute to Jesus Christ and vernacular art. The grocery was once owned and operated as such by Margaret Rogers. In the 1970s, Reverend H. D. Dennis promised to transform it into a place people would visit from the world over if she would agree to become his fifth wife. Dennis is now over 90 and still will preach in front of his creation on occasion. We did not see him today, but read the inscriptions and took pictures of his amazing tribute. I don’t think the Starks knew quite what to make of it all. Located the Anchuca, a 1830 Greek Revival beauty, and settled into the Emma and Ellen rooms. Found Rowdy’s Catfish Shack and had a typical southern catfish dinner, complete with hushpuppies, fries, pickled onions and cole slaw. After Moon Pies and hushpuppies I hear my southern accent
n. Biblical u s g in h c ith. "Scor air and fa as p s e D . s d ah floo sippi Delt f is s is M e o Th en a place e in e b s y a lw r a . It was he extremes nd on street a the fields, d in juke joints n corners a ights, that n Saturday ericans m African-A new kind of a invented y called it the e music. Th blues." King â€“The B.B. Museum
Miss Mary Shepard, Queen of the Juke Joints and owner of the Ebony Club in Indianola for 34 years 39
Margaret's amazing Grocery outside of Vicksburg on old Highway 4.
The historic Anchuca Mansion B & B Vicksburg, Mississippi
Monday, September 29
Natchez, MS Monmouth B & B
Belgian waffles and New Orleans coffee at 8:00 with the Starks, who had been up since 6:00 for a morning swim and the early ambiance of the garden. Took a short unescorted tour of Anchuca’s first floor with its period furniture and four Audubon prints. Noticed a book entitled, "A Southern Belle’s Primer, or why Princess Margaret could never be a Kappa Kappa Gamma." Arrived at Vicksburg Battlefield just after nine and watched a short film about Grant’s campaign and his siege that ultimately defeated the Confederates. Took a self-guided audio tour of the battlefield. Impressed with the topography as we imagined what it must have been like to crawl up those ravines, loaded with gun and pack, in the searing, muggy heat. Quick stop at the Art Attic on Washington Street—a bit disappointing—before heading out of town on Hwy. 61. Drove through the kudzu-covered hills surrounding Port Gibson and arrived in town around 11:30. Enjoyed seeing the varied architecture along Church Street—attractive older houses and several churches, including one that was of a MoorishGothic design, unique in Mississippi. Found the Crossroads Quilters located in the community center. Enjoyed seeing the brightly colored, often free-formed African American quilts displayed on the walls, and purchased a wall hanging and a bag that were both made by Geraldine Nash, who fortunately for us was working the desk. We asked her to autograph a quilt
book and pose for a picture. Fried chicken and real southern greens at Grant’s Restaurant on 61 just north of town. Dagmar and Klaus opted for catfish. Followed an evocative, unmarked road that curved through the woods to Windsor Ruins, the columned remains of a magnificent mansion that was built in 1861 and burned in 1890. Its owner was Smith Coffee Daniell, a wealthy cotton grower who ironically died at age 34, just two weeks after the house was built. The site was magical, with only its towering Corinthian columns standing in rows across three sides. Followed 552 to Alcorn State University, a black institution founded in 1871, in order to see the ironwork from the Windsor mansion used in the chapel. Joined the Natchez Trace for a beautiful ride into Natchez. Went directly to the Visitor’s Center to get tickets for the Pilgrimage House Tour. Then to the Monmouth, one of Natchez’s grand houses, where we had reservations for two nights. Checked in and dressed for dinner, meeting the Starks in the bar at 6:30 for drinks. At 7:30, Roosevelt ushered us into the dining room where the four of us enjoyed a private and truly southern evening, with gumbo and grits, salad, redfish and crab and a trifle, all served at the grand table with lovely china and crystal. The evening was enchanting; we felt that we had been transformed to a world long past as we sipped our wine in the gentle glow of candlelight. 43
Vickburg National Battlefield
The only Moorish Revival building in Mississippi, the old Gemiluth Chessed synagogue 48
Quilter Geraldine Nash with the quilt that I bought
Kudzu can take over in this part of the South.
Monmouth Plantation, where we stayed for two nights
Brandon Hall (1856) Our first plantation on the Natchez Pilgrimage
Tuesday, September 30
Followed a path though the dewy garden to breakfast in an attractive out building. Gathered just after 9:00 to commence our Pilgrimage Tour of three private homes. Began with Brandon Hall (1856), located on a heavily wooded site near the entrance to the Trace. Beautifully restored as one of several homes belonging to a man who made his money in scrap metal. Met by ladies dressed in antebellum hoop skirts who gave us the history of the home and its furnishings. Two miles towards town, visited Selma (1811), a cozy home that was once part
Natchez, MS Monmouth B & B
of an indigo plantation. The owner, a successful Texas oilman, greeted us and ushered us inside where we were given a tour by another gracious belle. We all agreed that we could happily move in there tomorrow. Back into town for the Stone House (1850), built as a private billiard hall in a Greek temple style and now owned by the greatgrandson of Joseph Stone who bought the house in 1877. The current Mr. Stone is a concert pianist and played Debussy for us. Southern buffet lunch at the Eola Hotel on Pearl Street: fried chicken and southern vegetables were
again a treat. Spent the afternoon touring three great plantation homes: Longwood (1861), the largest octagon house in America, an â€œOriental villaâ€? designed by Samuel Sloan; Stanton Hall (1857), a magnificent Greek Revival built on a rise on High Street; and Rosalie (1820), a Federal-style home overlooking the Mississippi River, owned by the DAR. After a break at the Monmouth B & B, dinner at the Carriage House with a concert by the Voices of Hope, a gospel choir that got an inhibited group of older white folks out of their seats and clapping their hands.
Wednesday, October 1
Lafayette, LA Juliet Hotel
Leaving Natchez, drove to St. Francisville to see Rosedown Plantation, a gracious 1835 house approached by a live oak avenue and set in 28 acres of gardens. Unfortunately, Gustav got there before us and the site was closed for repairs to house and gardens. As we drove on to Baton Rouge, saw lots of tree damage along the road. Visited the new state capitol building, an Art Deco beauty and, at 34 floors, the tallest state capitol in the US. The building was built in 1932 when Huey Long was Governor, and was the site of his assassination in 1935. Took the elevator to the 27th floor for a lovely view of the city and the Mississippi. Passed the gothic old capitol on our way to the LSU campus. Saw as much as we could from the car but decided not to park. Took I-10 towards Lafayette. Passed convoys of electrical trucks and Davey tree trucks, heading north after helping with the clean-up post-Gustav. Found the welcome station for the Atchafalaya Swamp closed; exited at Henderson to reach McGee’s Landing. After driving 15 miles or so along the levee, stopped to ask directions and discovered that we had missed it as the sign had blown away. When we finally found McGee’s, saw the effects of the hurricane: the roof had blown off, causing significant wind and water damage. The place resembled an ant-hill: carpenters were sawing and hammering, women were cleaning, and a camera crew was filming it all. We discovered that the famous
Naked Chef, Jamie Oliver of the UK, is coming to McGee’s for a special benefit dinner tomorrow night. The crew was making a documentary about the damage from the storm and Chef Oliver’s response. Jake and I were briefly interviewed for the piece— we’ll see if we make it past the cutting room. Delighted to find that we could make reservations for what promises to be a very special evening. In the meantime, the four of us signed up for the 3:00 swamp tour. Had a quick lunch down the road at Pat’s Edge Water Inn. Delicious crawfish bisque and Abita beers out on the deck. Our two-hour tour was led by a grizzled fellow named Curtis who told us about the swamp in a thick Cajun drawl. Found it to be somewhat disappointing, as the water in the Atchafalaya was five feet higher than usual and we were unable to see the wildlife that is usually visible when the area is marshy. One lone alligator was the only critter to respond to the chicken that Curtis threw from the boat. Short distance into Lafayette. Checked into the Juliet, a boutique hotel on Jefferson Blvd. Settled in and took a break; met Dagmar and Klaus in the lobby for dinner. Had quite a time finding a place to eat; Lafayette seems pretty tame during the week. Settled on Mexican at Agave which we chose mainly because it was the only place we found that was crowded. Only adequate; wished we could have found some Zydeco.
The impressive Louisiana State Capitol building in Baton Rouge. Completed in 1932, it is the tallest state capitol in the United States.
McGee's Landing, where we came to take a swamp tour and discovered a fevered attempt to rebuild in time for a special evening with Chef Jamie Oliver.
Curtis did his best to attract wildlife to the boat, but all he managed was one indifferent gator.
Thursday, October 2
Down the street to Dwyer’s Café, a 1927 eatery that was highly rated in Stern’s Road Food. Took more than an hour to get a simple breakfast that included canned fruit and instant oatmeal. So far, we have struck out twice in Lafayette in the food department. Drove to St. Martinville, “The Birthplace of Acadiana,”and visited the LongfellowEvangeline State Historic Site, once an 1815 Creole sugar plantation. Mary, our guide, was of Creole heritage herself, spoke beautiful French, and graciously gave us a sense of the French settlers in Louisiana, both Creole and Acadian. Visited the town square and stepped into
Lafayette, LA Juliet Hotel St. Martin de Tours, a Catholic church that was established in 1765 as the mother church of the Acadians. Also paused at the majestic Evangeline Oak. Passed acres of sugar as we continued through New Iberia to Avery Island and the Tabasco factory. Jake photographed me at the front door—in the same place I stood 25 years ago when we came to Lafayette for a soccer tournament. There is a nice tour now, and we saw a short video and walked along the production line. Also drove though the Jungle Gardens of Avery Island. The area had suffered in the recent storms but it was still a pleasant drive and we saw a few
alligators peering out of the water and a lonely egret here and there. Dagmar was struck with pity when she saw a photo of the flooding posted on the wall of the damaged Jungle Gardens gift shop. The woman who sold our tickets responded to her concerns by reiterating that she had lived in the area all her life; that she loved this land; and that no one need feel sorry for her. When weather happened, they rolled up their sleeves and rebuilt and repaired: that was simply the price of living in this land of natural beauty. On the way out of New Iberia, stopped for a view of Shadows on the Teche, a sugar plantation house completed in 1834.
Mary gave us a gracious sense of life on a Creole sugar plantation.
Then on to Abbeville where Jake could already taste the oysters that have been the specialty at Dupuy’s since 1869. Arriving at 2:10, were told that we were too late (blame that stop at the Shadows!) but as we were sadly returning to the car, the manager came after us and brought us back. Jake happily ordered his oysters and the rest of us had seafood bisque, with sides of alligator bites. Took away several bottles of Cajun Power Sauce, brewed right there in town. Back to Lafayette for a rest. Met at 6:00 and headed back to McGee’s Landing in Henderson for the big event with Jamie Oliver. Jamie himself met us at the door with a plate of andouille
sausage in molasses sauce. We were amazed when we walked in the door. The place had been transformed overnight. Walls were up, bathrooms repaired, and most importantly, the kitchen was operable again. Were seated at a table by the back wall, right where mosquitoes were swarming, we soon discovered. This little setback was eased when a workman nailed up some plastic sheeting over an open door and we located some Off. The room was soon filled to capacity with local people—we were likely the only tourists. As things got underway, Jamie greeted everyone, explained the evening’s menu, and said that he had really enjoyed learning about
American culture in this most American of environments. His meal for us included a crab salad, roast pork and barbeque, sweet potatoes, cracklins, green beans, and dirty rice. Dessert was a bread pudding made with hot chocolate and topped with ice cream. After dinner, Dagmar and I went up to meet Jamie and Klaus took our picture. It turned out well and she plans to hang it in her kitchen. And then the music began—the Swamp Bottom Boys, a local band. Klaus and I probably made great fools of ourselves, but we loved dancing to that Cajun beat. The evening ended with everyone getting out on the dance floor, Chef Oliver included.
An evening with Jamie Oliver
Friday, October 3
Lafayette, LA Juliet Hotel
Drove around the campus of the University of Louisiana Lafayette, home of the Ragin’ Cajuns, the second largest in Louisiana after LSU. Sank to a low of breakfast burritos at McDonalds as we wanted to avoid Dwyer’s again at all costs. Visited the Acadian Cultural Center, an attractive National Park Service site that focuses on the Acadians, sharing their history, language, and customs. Saw an excellent video depicting the struggle of the French who were expelled from Acadia in Nova Scotia and their eventual settlement in Acadiana. A second film was about the Atchafalaya Swamp, the largest in the US. Learned the development of the word “Cajun”: From L’Arcadie, a mythical paradise; to L’Acadie, the French colony that is now Nova Scotia; to Acadien, a resident of Acadie; to Cadien, a simplified pronunciation of Acadian; and finally, Cajun, the English pronunciation. Saw a lovely quilt hanging high over the gift shop and inquired about it. Got the name of the maker and was told that there were more of her quilts at the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center in Eunice. Returned to the Town Square for a noontime concert. Men, women and children sat out in the sun and ate Chik-fil-a while a singing family somewhat resembling the Osmonds performed pleasant 70s songs. Problems finding a parking place so left the Starks to enjoy the music and returned around 1:00 to pick them up. Thoughts of wonderful quilts sent us northwest to Eunice, the “Prairie Cajun Capital.” Found the Prairie Acadian Cultural Center with no problem, next to the old Liberty Theater. Disappointing discovery with the quilts. They were all made with fabric printed to resemble piecing. So that explains why they were so reasonable. Enjoyed 78
the exhibits nonetheless and learned a few things too. Cajun music derives from the music of many cultures: folk songs from France, jigs and hornpipes from England, percussion from Africa, accordion from Germany, guitar from Spain, with a touch of Texas Swing, Kentucky Bluegrass, and of course, the blues. From Claudia, a Park employee, we learned that the “T” associated with the names of various establishments means “Petit”: therefore, “TCoon’s” means “Little Coon’s” and “T’Frere” means “Little Brother.” Also learned that the word “Coon-ass” is a derogatory term that Cajuns may use to describe themselves. It is NOT to be used by a non-Cajun person. Claudia told us that she is a musician in her other life, and plays the guitar and the bass. She invited us to come out to hear her band and enjoy some real Cajun cooking at a place a half-hour or so further out. Would have loved to have gone, but our little group decided to head back towards Lafayette and go to the Downtown Alive street fair instead. After a short stop at the Cajun Music Museum in Eunice, drove east through Opelousas and then south on 182 to Grand Coteau, a small town boasting 70 historic homes. After poking around a couple of “antique” shops, had an early dinner at Catahoulas, recommended to us by the Tomashefskys. Dishes were delicious but complex, and Jake and I missed the opportunity for authentic Cajun cuisine. Shared a Gateaux Na-Na, billed as a praline covered with shortbread that was not quite as good as it sounded. Continued on 182 back to Lafayette and walked up to the street fair. Very disappointing: huge crowds, lots of biker-types standing around and swearing, and definitely mediocre rock bands. Another opportunity missed.
Saturday, October 4
New Orleans, LA House on Bayou Road
Restless night as I dealt with hundreds of mosquito bites, mostly on my feet. They look like I have some rare disease, like, say, leprosy; drove me wild. Away by 7:30, heading to the Café des Amis in Breaux Bridge for their Saturday Zydeco brunch. Got there in time to get a good table. Jake managed to find a parking place in spite of a town-wide garage sale. Cajun inspired breakfast—Zydeco omelet, crawfish etouffee eggs, locallymade boudin sausage, cheese andouille grits—and fantastic Bloody Marys. At 8:30, the band started up—accordion, guitars, drums, and of course, the rubboard—and the dance floor immediately filled. Fun to watch the “hot-blooded Americans” (Dagmar’s words); some of the dancers were really getting into it. Continuing towards Baton Rouge, picked up the Great River Road in order to visit the sugar plantations that once flourished on the banks of the Mississippi. Started with Nottoway, the largest of the plantation homes, but discovered that it was closed for renovations that were partly a result of Gustav. As we drove along the levee saw that many trees were down and lots of roofs were draped in blue tarps awaiting repair. Crossed the river on the Sunshine Bridge, with views of oil refineries. Had a private tour of Houmas House, given by a
knowledgeable and enthusiastic young man named Aaron. Lovely home with many interesting artifacts. Especially liked the toy banks and sporting antiques. The house was the set for Bette Davis’s spooky 1964 movie, "Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte." Back over the bridge, continuing on the south side to Oak Alley, stopping long enough to take a picture, and past St. Joseph, still a working plantation that has been in the same family for 130 years. Laura, a 1805 Creole plantation, was our final visit. Our tour was led by Michelle, an engaging French woman who brought the history of this farmstead alive. Her talk was based on the diaries of the great-granddaughter of the first owners and she mixed historical fact with family anecdotes. I bought the book and had it signed by the editor. Took Hwy. 18 to Mosca’s Italian restaurant, popular since 1946. Jake had heard a lot about this local favorite and was anxious to try it. Arrived just before it opened at 5:30. Family-style dinner of meatballs, shrimp, oysters, and chicken. Felt positively skinny as we looked around the room. Apparently there are a lot of regulars who take full advantage of the hearty Italian-American fare and the substantial portions. On into New Orleans after dark. Jake maneuvered us miraculously to the Inn on Bayou Road and we
Sunday, October 5
Eggs Benedict in the dining room of the House. Taxi to Jackson Square; walked to the Mississippi for our final view of the river we’d followed from our first crossing at Dubuque. Strolled the streets of the French Quarter, past the antiques shops on Royal and the bars on Bourbon. Stopped for a drink at Café Amelie; sat in the lovely garden and ordered coffee for the Starks, but Jake and I had a tomato martini—and I have a new favorite. Made with Three Olives Tomato Vodka, Peychaud’s Bitters, olive juice, and Tabasco. Yum. Walked through the French
New Orleans, LA House on Bayou Road
Market area, stopping to buy a bottle of Peychaud’s (made in N.O.) Quick lunch at Pere Antoine. Walked to Frenchmen’s Street to listen to some music. Started at Spotted Cat where we sat on broken-down sofas and listened to a black a cappella trio sing reggae, followed by a second trio play a Texas swing style with mandolin, guitar, and bass. Moved on to Ray's Boom-Boom Room, a big hall where we heard Dixieland jazz played by a seven-piece band. Klaus was in his element, standing near the front to hear his favorite music. Basically an older crowd, but still a
mix of races and ages, all enjoying New Orleans’ own sound together. We shared a table with three women and were amazed to discover that one of them lives part-time in Weilimdorf, the village next to Gerlingen where the Starks live. Next was D.B.A. where we heard the 1930s swing sound of Linnzi Zaorski & Delta Royale and bought a CD. Watched some amazing dancing as well. Snug Harbor for a fish dinner topped off the evening. Taxi back and then to bed.
Monday, October 6
New Orleans, LA House on Bayou Road
Slept in before we wore out the Starks completely. After breakfast, Jake drove us to St. Louis Cemetery #1, consecrated in 1789 and described in 1895 “as confused and closely packed a quarter as the living metropolis,” an apt description still today. As any normally dug grave would be susceptible to water penetration in the low area of New Orleans, the coffins were laid on the surface and then a structure was built around it. The tombs were designed for multiple and repeated burials and a single structure would often hold more than 100 remains. Interred there is Marie Laveau, the so-called “Voo-Doo Queen” who purportedly held the secret of perpetual youth, but who, in reality, had a daughter of the same name who replaced her in public when she became old and confined to her home. Nonetheless her legend persists, and we found her grave repeatedly marked with XXXs, signifying a wish for luck. Offerings of beads, coins, cigarettes, candy, candles, and strange-looking talismans littered the ground around it. In a wall of white-washed vault graves, found one that was painted bright blue and decorated with stickers and red plastic flowers. A scruffy black man in a bright red tee-shirt was tending it and spraying room freshener on the flowers. He cheerfully introduced himself as Arthur Raymond Smith and gave us each a red candy. He spoke in a rather convoluted manner about his grandfather who died in 1927 and his grandmother and other family members who have passed on. I had trouble following him, but his broad smile and friendly manner were thoroughly engaging. I later checked his name on the Internet and found that he has created artistic environments of graves in other 90
local cemeteries and is considered something of a cultural icon in New Orleans. Coming out of the cemetery we noticed a heavy police presence in the area and a helicopter overhead. Discovered later that Vice President Cheney was in town. Jake drove us through the Garden District, from St. Charles to Magazine Street. It was a treat to see the lovely homes, some large and some not so large, but all boasting stunning New Orleans ironwork and broad porches and balconies. Returned to the French Quarter and parked. Jake and I peeked in a couple of antiques shops while Dagmar and Klaus looked for a foreign bookshop. Moss Antiques on Royal had lovely smaller things, mostly from England. Met for lunch at Napoleon House, built in 1797 and offered as a refuge for Napoleon in 1821. Sat out in the courtyard and had shrimp remoulade and the house Pimm’s Cup. Tried unsuccessfully to visit the city museum (closed on Mondays) and to buy some tomato vodka (no one seems to have heard of it). Back to the House for a rest before our last dinner together. Short rain shower sounded cozy on the roof of our cabin. Shared a bottle of champagne in the garden before leaving for dinner. Intended to go to Jacques-Imo’s in Uptown upon Aaron’s recommendation; disappointed to find it closed for this evening only. A small sign on the door recommended Dante’s Kitchen down the street. Took the suggestion and were not disappointed. Cozy atmosphere and great food. Jake and I shared a Sazerac, the first cocktail invented in America. Good history but harsh taste. Perfect redfish and fresh vegetables; had three orders of sweet potatoes prepared with Barq’s root beer. Homemade pickles were also a treat. Tricky drive home;
Tuesday, October 7
Pensacola, FL New World Landing
Aaron Wilkinson dropped by at 8:00; although we could not hear him play, he brought us a CD of his Honey Island Swamp Band. Last breakfast with Dagmar and Klaus at the House and then a hug good-bye. They will be home before we will. On the road by 9:45, taking I-10 and then Hwy. 90 along the Gulf: a four-lane highway isolating the beach seemed a shameful waste of shoreline. In Biloxi, visited the Ohr-O’Keefe Museum of Art. Examples of the art of George Ohr, “The Mad Potter of Biloxi,” revealed imaginative shapes and interesting glazes. Bought a vase made by Charles Smith, a wellrespected Mobile potter. Four miles further, saw the new Frank Gehry-designed Ohr museum that is scheduled to open in 2010, delayed by Katrina. Learned that after the hurricane, 90% of the antebellum houses destroyed along the Gulf Coast will not be rebuilt. Condos and slab buildings will be the norm. At Ocean Springs, visited the attractive Walter Anderson Museum and enjoyed the colorful nature-inspired art of this self-
proclaimed “alienata” who preferred the solitude and freedom of Horn Island (a barrier island off Mississippi) to the society and responsibility of the mainland. Saw charming pottery, watercolors, and murals, as well as his painted Little Room that was reconstructed at one end of the museum. Visited Realizations, the Anderson shop located in the old rail station, as well as Shearwater Pottery, where Anderson’s family has continued to make pottery since 1928. Chatted about politics and Barack Obama with Walter’s daughter Marjorie. Bought a plate made from a mold created by Walter Anderson’s brother Peter and painted by his daughter, Patricia Anderson Findeisen, with a design she described as representing love in an uncertain world. Running late, drove on into Pensacola on I-10, getting to the New World Landing just after 5:00. Met Em and Al and enjoyed a pleasant birthday dinner for Al at Jackson’s Steakhouse on Palafox Street, just down the street from the hotel.
Wednesday, October 8
Birmingham, AL Hotel Highland
Continental breakfast with Em and Al at the hotel bar. Drove to the Naval Aviation Museum in a torrential downpour. Historian Hill Goodspeed met the four of us and gave us a personal tour of the museum. Took a photo of Al standing next to a Hellcat, the plane he flew in the war. So many changes since I was a librarian there fifteen years ago. Said good-bye to Em and Al at the Cubi Bar in the museum and headed in the direction of Selma, AL. Passed rolling hills, cotton fields, and signs for “Shell Corn.” Jake was impressed at how pretty the landscape of Alabama is. Made our way along back roads to Gee’s Bend, a block of land enclosed on three sides by a massive turn in the Alabama River. A community of about 700 African-Americans, relatives of slaves of the Pettway family, live in this poor and isolated community. Their quilts have become so famous that they appeared in a 2006 series of US postage stamps. Met Mary Ann Pettway, a younger member of the clan and manager of the coop, at the quilters’ headquarters next to the Boykin Volunteer Fire Department. She introduced us to Nancy Pettway and Betty Bendolph who showed us the piles of quilts stacked in the sales room. It was all a little
overwhelming, but I soon got into it. After pulling down quilts and folding them up again, Jake and I settled on a bright Queen-sized corduroy of red, dark blue, and brown, made by Lucy Mingo. As negotiations were finalized and the quilt was packed up, Lucy appeared and we unrolled it and Jake took a picture of it with the four quilters standing behind it. Also bought a book about the Gee’s Bend Quilters that featured some of Lucy’s work, signed by everyone present. Took lots of pictures and shared an equal amount of good-natured ribbing. Phoned Dagmar and Klaus as we drove north; they were getting ready to catch their flight home from Chicago. Reminisced about the past three weeks we had shared, experiencing this part of America. Drove on into Birmingham, arriving at the funky Highland Hotel on 20th Street at 6:30. Quick change; walked across the street to Highland Grill, the restaurant of James Beard Award-winning Chef Frank Stitt. A fabulous dinner with a touch of southern goodness: fresh seasonal local vegetables, perfect fish and venison and decadent doughnuts and sweet potato tart. A meal to savor and remember. 95
Thursday, October 9
Evansville. IN Holiday Inn Express
Hotel breakfast and on the road at 9:15. Drove through the center of Birmingham to check it out. Wide streets, tall bank buildings, Linn and Henley Parks, new public library. Passed the Birmingham Art Museum to get on I-65. Terrain started getting hilly as we neared Huntsville. Fall in the air as we crossed into Tennessee. Off at Hwy. 64, through Fayetteville, an historic little town of 7000 established in 1809. Then to Lynchburg for a tour of Jack Daniels, the famous Tennessee whiskey. Our guide, Chris, walked us though each step of the process, from mash to bottling, with a smattering of history thrown in. Were offered lemonade after the tour, as Moore is a dry county and the distillery is not allowed to provide samples nor sell other than collectible bottles. Went into the town of Lynchburg, which boasts a storybook red town hall at the center of
a homey, old-fashioned square of Jack Daniels memorabilia stores and antiques shops. Rocking chairs along the square were uniformly filled. Pulled pork plates at the Barbeque Caboose, an old-timey diner behind a squeaky screen door. Drove through Shelbyville, birthplace of my grandfather McDowall. Stopped at Joe’s Liquors on Hwy. 231 and bought a bottle of Jack’s Single Barrel special whiskey. North through Nashville—lots of traffic—and then on the quieter Pennyrile Parkway through western Kentucky, where we saw further evidence of fall in the changing leaves along the way. Stopped for the night north of Evansville and had dinner at Stoll’s Amish Country Buffet. Simple, typical mid-American steam-table with lots of overweight people enjoying fried chicken and pie.
Friday, October 10
Chicago, IL Home
Awoke to a crisp fall morning. Followed Hwy. 41 due north through western Indiana cornfields. Few buildings; fewer gas stations, which I feared was going to be a problem. Passed a huge sign for â€œFarmers for Obama.â€? Saw our first accident in 3000 miles but it did not look too bad. Windmills shared the acreage with corn; most were still. Final leg of the trip on the Skyway and home by 2:00. This is still the most perfect city to come home to.
(c) Susan R. Hanes 2008
Made with love for my friends Dagmar and Klaus Stark Hoping that they will fondly remember Our Mississippi River Road Trip October 2008
The mighty Mississippi River provided the route and the inspiration for a discovery tour for our German friends, Dagmar and Klaus Stark. Aft...
Published on Oct 11, 2008
The mighty Mississippi River provided the route and the inspiration for a discovery tour for our German friends, Dagmar and Klaus Stark. Aft...