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Edie and the aunts never went anywhere. Libby had scarcely even been outside Mississippi; and she and the other aunts were gloomy and terrified for days if they had to venture more than a few miles from home. The water tasted funny, they murmured; they couldn’t sleep in a strange bed; they were worried that they’d left the coffee on, worried about their houseplants and their cats, worried that there would be a fire or someone would break into their houses or that the End of the World would happen while they were away. They would have to use commodes in filling stations—commodes which were filthy, with no telling what diseases on them. People in strange restaurants didn’t care about Libby’s saltfree diet. And what if the car broke down? What if somebody got sick? ~ Donna Tartt, “The Little Friend”

 

I mentally clapped hands in delight when I read that passage because it was so achingly familiar. Who in the South doesn’t know someone like that and  it’s not necessarily your little Great Aunt either. I read this out loud to someone and we both giggled over knowing people just like this.

Southerners love home. We love our big old creaky houses that have been in the family for generations, our meandering country roads, our lush, verdant yards in the summertime.  We love waking up in the morning with the sunlight streaming through the window playing tag on MawMaw’s quilt, going out on the porch with coffee and newspaper and the background melodies of Cardinals and Mocking Birds. The dew shines on the old roses like a brand new life and the ancient oaks stretch their arms to hug the world. We love our homeplace, our stuff, our familiar and comforting lives.

Risk-takers can have their adventures. We don’t necessarily have to leave home to have ours.

This passage is just a small bit from “The Little Friend”. Donna Tartt’s Mississippi roots (She’s from Greenville.) dig deep into this story with characters, situations and conversation that are familiar to those of us who grew up in the rural deep South. So far, reading this book is like walking back into my childhood for a visit. I may never want this book to end.

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Rebirth, festivals and small town America


Happy Independence Day! I’m posting this slap dab in the middle of the 2011 July 4th Weekend and am hoping that the two readers of this post are enjoying themselves. 😉

We spent our “celebrating America’s Independence” Day in one of my favorite cities, Bay St. Louis, Mississippi.

Located about 40 minutes from our home in Slidell, Bay St. Louis epitomizes the “comeback city”.

On August 29, 2005 Hurricane Katrina made her final landfall at Bay St. Louis. The little town was flattened and it still working on her rebound. In the past six years she’s done well.

click on picture for full size version

My husband and I take pleasure from our trips to Bay St. Louis, especially when we want a fantastic burger. We either go to the Mockingbird Cafe or the Buttercup Restaurant. Both restaurants are on the same street. The joys of small town America.

About four years ago we attended the Crab Festival put on by Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church in Bay St.Louis and appreciated the atmosphere, food, music and breezes from the Bay. So we decided to revisit the fest this year and were not disappointed.

While we truly love the French Quarter, PoBoy, Oyster and countless other Festivals in New Orleans, the ambience and down home comfort of a festival away from the Crescent City is a welcome hot weather diversion. The OLG (Our Lady of the Gulf) Fest is well done and small enough allow us park our chairs in a shady spot and take off for a few hours of eating and photography and return to find our chairs still there, unoccupied.

There were more than 50 dishes offered, a good deal of them containing the subject of the Festival.

Here is the food we sampled and savored:


Boiled shrimp (very tasty) and Lake Pontchartrain Crabs (sweet crabmeat)


Fried Catfish with fries, hush puppies and coleslaw


Crabmeat pie and fried softshell crab with cole slaw and seafood smashed potatoes

In between stuffing our faces we took walks and pictures. Our first foray was thru the arts section of Bay St. Louis.


This sweet little courtyard is dedicated to Jean Baptiste Le Moyne, a colonizer in the Gulf Coast region.


Here is a closeup of the plaque in the opening of the courtyard. Apparently Bay St. Louis was originally named Shieldsboro after Thomas Shields, a ship’s purser.

Main Street is the section of town that I love to haunt. It has shops and galleries that beg to be discovered.


This building is one of the few that survived the 30 foot storm surge of Katrina.


One of the tenants of this building, Bay Breeze, rents bikes and kayaks. It also sells home furnishings.


A little watering hole on Main Street by the Bay.


One of the art galleries we visited was Maggie May’s, a purveyor of local art.

I asked the owner if I could take pictures inside and she said as long as it’s not of the artwork. So I took a picture of this nifty glass block window:

There were some very nice pieces and paintings in the gallery which takes up a city block. Plus it has air conditioning, making it a perfect spot if you’re visiting BSL in the summer to take a break from the heat. Attached to the gallery is Lulu, a great little spot to catch a bite to eat. .

Moving across the street we found one of our favorite bread baker Serious Bread. We went inside and got a lovely, crusty loaf of bread and two craisin scones along with a complementary bottle of water from the owner himself! Mr Jensen makes fantastic scones, not dry like most that I’ve sampled.

Fueled up for another leg on our jouney around downtown Bay St. Louis, we carried on and soon discovered the sweetest little community garden which seems to be doing well despite our dry conditions this summer. Here are some pictures of their crops:


This old place is right next to the Mockingbird Restaurant on 2nd Street.


In the garden outside the Mockingbird is this very cool bottle tree.

On the other side of the Mockingbird Cafe is The Shops at Century Hall. Originally built by the Woodmen of the World for fraternal functions, Century Hall now houses an art gallery and many rooms of vintage antiques and one of a kind items. It’s a great place to spend an hour or two.

Here are some of the sights we found interesting:


I found this piece to be rather spooky.


I love this stained glass. Unfortunately, my little tiny house has no room for it.


There is a room devoted to old kitchen tools.


Another room is filled with folk artist and Bay St. Louis resident Alice Moseley’s work, including this video of Alice explaining her art. In another part of BSL you can visit Miss Moseley’s home, which is now a museum.


This plaque depicts the story of BSL’s “angel tree”. The background to the story is here..


Century Hall’s next door neighbor is an ancient cemetery, which I found fascinating.


Doves carved into a tree that died from the saltwater intrusion from The Storm seem to flutter among the graves.


some graves were behind old gates like this one


This angel, most likely carved from a Katrina tree, presides over the small cemetery.

Back at the Crab Fest they were still boiling crabs and shrimp


Ceiling fans and the breeze from the Bay kept it tolerable in the afternoon.

We decided to catch some of the more unique and patriotic outfits at the fest

One of the bands that played early in the day was the 41st National Guard Army Band They rocked.


Toward the late afternoon, we took a walk toward St. Stanislaus College and chilled out on the bench, watching the Bay and the crowds.


Seeing the beach being restored six years after the storm is very heartwarming .

All in all it was a relaxing and enjoyable trip. One that assures us that we will

The Perfect Daytrip

If you are ever in the mood for a day trip away from New Orleans, I highly recommend the laid back, scenic road trip to Gulfport-Biloxi via Highway 90.

Destroyed by Katrina’s storm surge,. Highway 90 is back in business and looking pretty good, although it still has a long way to go in some places.

For 30 miles along the coast local artists Marlin Miller and Dayton Scoggins have made lemonade from the lemons handed to them in 2005. I am referring the sculptures created from live oaks that were destroyed by the storm’s waters.

Here are a few examples


click on pictures for larger versions
parrot

heron

rebirth

hawk

seahorse

fishes

Not all live oaks were killed in the storm. There are places that are still beautiful, such as this picture

hwy90

Here is a link to a map of each of the sculptures along the coast.

In Bay St. Louis,
Dayle Lewis,
a professional chain-saw artist from Richmond, Indiana gave an old oak tree wings when he carved a pair of angels into a tree near the beach in Bay St. Louis.

“It became the Guardian Angel Tree,” said Lewis.

The story goes that 100 years ago a member of the DeMontluzin family kept the tree from being cut when the road was built, said Douglas Niolet.

“I guess she saved it for us,” Niolet said, because he and two others found their way to the oak and hung onto it for more than three hours during Hurricane Katrina. The tree died after the storm and the survivors asked Lewis to carve it into the angels that watched over them.

Lewis said many people have told him how much joy and spirit the tree has brought to Bay St. Louis.

angel

Right around the corner from the angel tree is the Mockingbird Cafe where you will find a menu that should suit anyone’s appetite.

the bird

The Mockingbird is located in a very old structure that has been restored beautifully inside and it is home to The Serious Bakery and all of their sandwiches are made with the bread from this bakery. The best bread I’ve ever eaten.

If you ate too much at “The Bird”, you can take a walk over the Bay Bridge and check out the awesome artwork along the bridge’s
walkway. Click on the link below for the slideshow.
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Each piece of artwork on the bridge was cast in bronze that was recovered from the Bay St. Louis Bridge that was destroyed by that biatch Katrina. The roundtrip hike over the bridge is about 4 miles. Bring a camera along because the scenes from up high into the Bay can be stunning. If you’d like a closer look at the artwork on the Bridge, I have a picture of each piece at this website.

bslbridge

If you’re not too tired after the trek over the Bridge, Bay St. Louis offers several dozens of shops in the area of the Mockingbird. Or you can continue your route towards Gulfport – Biloxi and check out the additional tree sculptures along the coast. All in all, I consider this to be the perfect daytrip on a warm day.

It’s Day 86 and I’m Not Okay.

I don’t deal with death well. At thirty-four years old, I have seen death take my parents, a child and many very good friends from me.  When dealing with death, I grieve out loud. I weep. I cry. I question. I scream and then I weep once more.

Living in Southeastern Louisiana lately, death surrounds us, creeping into all aspects of our lives. Work is no longer work; it is working while we can. Cooking no longer means going to the grocery store and getting what is cheapest, but stocking up on local seafood before our seafood ceases to exist. It is saying good-bye to the memories we would make on the beaches, because the beaches are closed off. Watching the television means watching local news or Anderson Cooper 360 since those seem to be the only outlets really reporting what is happening here. It means becoming the ‘them’ again,  the ‘them’ that is stupid enough to live there, stupid enough to have a state that depends on oil to run, the ‘them’ that is getting what they deserve. We are the ‘them’ who are hurting but the ‘them’ not being listened to. We are the ‘them’ being held hostage by a foreign corporation, the Federal government and the Coast Guard.

Armed security guards in pastel t-shirts and camo pants guard the beaches, not allowing passage, particularly if you have a camera or pen and paper. In your community, you become the outsider, the enemy, the background music that no one really listens to but is just sort of there. Except we aren’t there, because they won’t let us be.

What was once familiar has become foreign, unrecognizable. The spot on the beach, my spot, where I have written so many words and have contemplated so important life decisions is not longer there, now only an oil-covered mess exists, tainted by negligence, blanketed in betrayal and marked with corruption. The calm has been strangled from it, possibly never to return, a victim the no one heard scream in the middle of the night.

Even harder to bear is the defeated looks on the faces of those all around, whether it be the fisherman who no longer has an income or the bartender that has had his hours cut and watched his tip amounts disappear or the children that know what is happening in the Gulf, wondering why this had to happen, mourning their own things in their own way. They are left confused, seeing the adults in their life struggle with the rhyme and reason, unable to feel really secure after seeing the hopelessness enter the lives of the adults that they trust.

So many adults want to help, but we are held back. If adults, who wield the real power, are unable to help, what can children do?

Culture is dying. The days of the familial fishing business is gone, leaving, well, nothing for those who have dedicated their whole lives to the industry, the sport. No longer can one get on a boat and hitchhike from shrimper to crabber down through the bayou and back up again, offering to help chip in for fuel or work off your ride. Gone are the days of the catch, coming home and celebrating with your family a particular bountiful day. The only thing left to celebrate is what once was and no one likes reliving what we have lost.

We plead for answers from our government, the body we should turn to in an event of a disaster of this size. The government looks the other way, pointing to the criminal that is responsible for this crime, telling us to ask them. When we do ask, because all other rational options have been exercised, we are not given answers but press releases.  We then receive information contradictory to what was just released to the national press when we call to speak with individuals for clarification. BP is not even in the same genre of book, let alone on the same page, yet, we are expected to put faith in these people that our loss will be accounted for and trust that they will do the right thing and help us make it through this preventable homicide against nature.

Is there anyone there? Is anyone listening to us? Our voices are being muffled by politics, by serious covering of asses, by a system that has been allowed to become an outlaw, doing as it pleases with no consequences for bad behavior. Mainstream media attempt to distract us, trying to fill us with ‘developments’ that aren’t developments but recycled news stories they didn’t bother paying attention to the first time. No one is looking out for us. No one is being our voice. It feels like we live in our own third world country.

It is for these reasons, and many more that cannot adequately be described with words but must be experienced to fully understand, that I’m not okay. The death. The desperation. The hopelessness. The abandon. The shame of it all. I’m not okay.

I’m not okay.

Insulated

Disclaimer: This will probably be a rambling post so feel free to go on to more important things, if you wish.

I’m up in rural Mississippi visiting my family for a few days, kicking back like I haven’t done in ages and feeling quite removed from all things New Orleans. I’ve barely been on the computer (dial-up sucks!) and have watched very little TV so I’m way  behind on the oil spill situation, what happened on Treme and the tweets of my friends back home since Twitter is impossible to get on.  I feel a twinge of guilt now & then because I’m not reading or keeping up with the spill 24/7 like I was but I remind myself I’ll be back in a day or two and it won’t take long to catch up. TV viewing is limited (no cable or satellite) but I don’t really care. I’m rereading A Confederacy of Dunces and, as a result of my laughing out loud, my mom has put it on her to-read list. Everything is in slow-mo here….days are long and languid. I awaken to the braying of  John the Baptist (the donkey), the lowing of cattle and the sweet twittering of birds. I haven’t heard a siren, a bus or a horn in 3 days.

I needed this.