Monthly Archives: December 2016

The End of the River

When I taught children’s lit at the university, I often included a Newbery Honor Book on my book list called To Be a Slave, edited by Julius Lester. The bulk of the material is from stories collected during the Great Depression through the Federal Writers’ Project, part of the Works Progress Administration set up by FDR. These stories were told by ex-slaves about their experiences under American slavery. Of course, by the time they told their stories, it had been decades since the end of slavery, so most of the storytellers had been children during the days of slavery. While the book is aimed at middle school kids, it’s really a book for adults, too. It can be read in brief readings, like poetry, because it is arranged by theme in little anecdotes or partial stories.

In New Orleans we went on a plantation tour, but it wasn’t the typical tour where the focus is on the lives of the plantation owners. Rather, the Whitney Plantation explores the lives of the enslaved. Our guide was very careful to use the word “enslaved” rather than slaves, and while it was sometimes slightly awkward, I really liked how it made us concentrate every time we heard it on the notion of PEOPLE who were enslaved. It doesn’t allow for the distancing that some people might feel using the word slaves, which is an “othering” word–a way to be different from the person being talked about.

New Orleans is important to the history of American slavery. It’s the end point for enslaved people whose situations went from bad to worse. When an enslaved person was sold from an enslaver who lived closer to the Mason-Dixon line, but sold farther south down the Mississippi River it meant that he or she would be worked harder and live in more dangerous conditions. New Orleans had the biggest slave market, so many enslaved people ended up at that market. The swamps and bayous of the area meant disease and more back-breaking work, namely growing and harvesting sugar cane.

Whitney Plantation is really just beginning to record and share the plight of the enslaved people of the south. There is much more work to be done. But I loved how they focused on the children because of the voices of the FWP/WPA storytellers. By the way, the bookstore has a great collection, including the Lester book. 

After the church with the children (sculptures), we toured the property.

 

Whitney has memorials that list the names of the enslaved, as well as a particular memorial for the babies who died by age two, which was very very sad. This is a sample of a memorial wall for the adults.

The main house was almost an afterthought after seeing some of the outbuildings, the kettles for harvesting sugarcane, and reading the memorials.

Wherever we travel, there are big beautiful houses to tour, and although this one was plainer than many, the emphasis here is long overdue. It’s a place to learn about the lives of the people who were bought and sold in order to work these plantations.

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Today would have been my father’s 88th birthday, and it is my uncle’s 88th birthday (Dad’s twin). A week and a half ago, my aunt on my mom’s side (her SIL) entered the ER on the two-year anniversary of the day my father entered (that began his health decline). She was diagnosed with an acute form of leukemia and has already entered hospice. Our family is in shock over this as we didn’t know she was ill. If you’re so inclined, please send up your prayers for Aunt Jean.

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Filed under Children's Literature, History, Nonfiction, Sightseeing & Travel, Writing

Cities of the Dead

If you think cemeteries are unbearably creepy or sad, you might want to skip this post. After returning from a trip to New Orleans, I am still seeing her “Cities of the Dead”– as the graveyards are called–in my mind. New Orleans has dozens of cemeteries, but why are they so memorable?

Because so much of the land is at or below sea level, burials are mainly above ground. When caskets are buried underground, as the water table rises, they come right up out of the ground and float away. Above ground burials are in stone vaults or monuments, and when you see a cemetery full of these little “houses” they give the appearance of a ghoulish neighborhood or town. You can see decorative iron trim, stone crosses and sculptures, and some vaults even have stained glass.

A lot of movies have been filmed in these cemeteries. The one that has stayed with me is Double Jeopardy where Ashley Judd gets locked in a casket in Lafayette Cemetery #1. The Easy Rider scene was filmed at St. Louis Cemetery #1. The latter one is the oldest cemetery in the city and located in a swamp. It’s claim to fame is that it houses the tomb of Marie Laveau, Voodoo Queen, who was buried there in 1881. Many of the cemeteries are Roman Catholic or divided into sections by religion and also by race. The oldest cemeteries, like St. Louis 1, 2, and 3 are very dilapitated. The stone is crumbling, there is moss over many of the vaults, and therefore they are the most creepy.

Metairie Cemetery (located in New Orleans, not the city of Metairie) is newer and was set up by a Creole (usually “mixed race” person, and that is important to the following) who did not want sections by religion and race and did not want a segregated cemetery. It has the most extravagant marble monuments in the city, though, and Anne Rice’s husband the poet Stan Rice is buried there. He died at age 60 of brain cancer. At the same cemetery, the owners of Whitney Bank made their monument look like a little bank.

You can take tours of the cemeteries, but I think the best way is to plan a couple of days to visit several cemeteries on your own. That way you can spend as much time as you like, depending on the ones you prefer.

It might seem odd to take photos of places where people just like me were buried, but I belong to FindaGrave, which accesses cemetery records across the country. The point of that site is to take photos of all the headstones/graves in the U.S.–and connect each one to the person buried there–birth and death info, relationships with others buried, and photos of the individual. I “tend” a few graves on there by paying a one-time fee of $5 to remove advertising from the grave’s page.

New Orleans even has a Masonic cemetery. I was actually surprised to see the old, abandoned Masonic Temple because my understanding is that the doctrines of the Catholic Church and Freemasonry are incompatible. Since New Orleans has a Catholic historical base and population, I mentioned to the gardener that I probably wouldn’t find a Masonic Temple here, and right at that moment, it stood in front of our car.

I wanted to visit the Masonic cemetery, but it was not to be (for which I blame the gardener).

He doesn’t really understand my fascination with the Masons. He even said, “What’s the big deal? It’s just a place for a bunch of guys to hang out.” He doesn’t think they are mysterious or intriguing at all.

But I do ;).

And the same is true for those cemeteries. But then I can’t go past an old cemetery without stopping.

 

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The Celiac’s Wife Talks Food in The Big Easy

Do you think it’s easy to find food for a celiac who can’t eat gluten, but is also lactose intolerant, fat intolerant, and can’t eat beans, chocolate, coconut, etc.?

OK, well, the fact is that it was sure easy for ME to find food ;). I parTOOK of gumbo, beignets, cafe au lait, deep-fried seafood, rich creole sauces, and more. But I had to do it in restaurants–for the most part–where I could drag the celiac.

Our first big meal was in a seafood restaurant in the French Quarter. They had lots of deep-fried this and that.

The celiac quickly learned that he needed to order the boiled seafood. First, he had to ask if anything else was boiled in that water. If they boiled anything with gluten, he had to opt out. But if they boiled potatoes, corn on the cob, and seafood, that was fine.

That left the deep-fried for me. And what did I order? Oysters every time. A few times I sample other fried seafood, but nothing can beat the oysters.

You see those onion rings? They were great, too. I didn’t eat the fries or too many of the hushpuppies buried underneath. After all, I’m not a . . . glutton. Eventually we did find a very casual restaurant where all the deepfried foods are gluten free. They were quite busy, probably because they are the only place a celiac can get gluten free fried seafood–and also because the prices were quite low. The food was so-so, but it was a relief that the gardener could try the fried shrimp and oysters without worry.

Because the vegetable selection was sparse in these seafood platters (cole slaw is NOT ubiquitous in NOLA), I ordered a Bloody Mary for a healthy balance.

The bean is pickled, and there are a cocktail onion and other veggies hidden from view.

On one of our quick stops, I ordered a bowl of tasty New Orleans gumbo in a brown roux. What I really appreciate about the gumbos I ate or saw is that they had crab and shrimp, but didn’t stick in mussels or scallops. I am allergic to mussels and scallops, but not other shellfish. Before you think I’m imaging this, I found out a year or so ago that my mother has the exact same allergy!

One night we went to a fancy-schmancy restaurant called Mr. John’s. The gardener ordered a steak and mushrooms and salad, but I had a salad with, wait for it: crab bisque (with a spicy NOLA bite to it) and fried green tomatoes with a spicy creamy type sauce. Oh yeah.

One thing about the expensive restaurants like Galatoire’s, Antoine’s, and Arnaud’s–you need to make a reservation a long time ahead. If you just go to the Big Easy and expect that easy style will net you a table at a famous restaurant, you will see that you were sadly mistaken.  I suggest making a reservation long before you go, if you really want to go to one of these restaurants. Also, these places generally still require men to wear jackets. Mr. John’s requires a reservation, as well, but not so far in advance–and no jacket necessary.

New Orleans food is mainly comprised of either Cajun (spicy) or Creole (heavy cream sauces) foods, accessorized with a lot of deep-fried seafood and this-and-that. After awhile, as a way to avoid the Gaviscon, you want something lighter. We ate sushi twice, and it was spectacular. Check out Poseidon on St. Charles when you need a break from “traditional” NOLA food.

I hadn’t planned on eating sweets on this vacation, but our city tour took us to a stop where we were encouraged to try New Orleans beignets (square holeless French doughnuts) topped with confectioner’s sugar and cafe au lait. Cafe au lait in NOLA is apparently chicory coffee. This is what my buddy Wikipedia has to say about New Orleans cafe au lait (as opposed to the French style):

Café au lait is a popular drink in New Orleans, available at coffee shops like Café du Monde and Morning Call, where it is made with milk and coffee mixed with chicory, giving it a strong, bitter taste. Unlike the European café style, a New Orleans-style café au lait is made with scalded milk (milk warmed over heat to just below boiling), rather than with steamed milk. The use of roasted chicory root as an extender in coffee became common in Louisiana during the American Civil War, when Union navalblockades cut off the Port of New Orleans, forcing citizens to stretch out the coffee supply. In New Orleans, café au lait is traditionally drunk while eating beignetsdusted with powdered sugar, which offsets the bitterness of the chicory.

I hate to admit it, but I ate this in front of the gardener. The cafe had NADA (zilch, zero, nutten) for him to order. Even the cafe au lait wasn’t guaranteed to be gluten free and he could never tolerate all that dairy. He had black coffee. Yes, in answer to your question, I felt terrible. But this snack tasted great ;).

What’s next? Probably the graves. We also visited the only plantation that focuses on the lives of the enslaved, not the enslavers. I might write about that, too. But graves next.

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Don’t People Usually Mention the Food and the Music First?

On Monday I left a clue about where I’ve been vacationing. I said there were “gators,” but it wasn’t Florida. Yup, that’s right. I was in New Orleans and even ventured into Cajun Country. I can’t begin to cover the (at least several) subjects that grabbed my attention in one post, but let me say that architecture was a big one. Housing styles in New Orleans are pretty specific to the Big Easy, and they are clearly defined. The three main styles that I noticed were Creole Cottage, Center Hall Cottage, and Townhouse. Shotgun is another style–it’s characterized by its long narrow layout. They are also the type of house that Property Brothers on HGTV is currently renovating.

This is a Creole Cottage.

creole-cottage

Notice the two windows and two doors across the front of the Creole Cottage. These are very common. This is a renovated version. Typically, someone buys a rundown cottage, lives in one side and renovates the other. Then they rent out the renovated side and renovate their own side. Sometimes owners eventually take over the entire house, but the one in the photo is still set up like a duplex.

This beautiful white house is a Center Hall Cottage. This style is seen elsewhere in the American South and the Caribbean, so its style is thought to predate New Orleans.

The Townhouse style, as seen above, is two or three stories, and has a “gallery” above with a wrought iron railing in the Spanish style. Generally, there is no door upstairs and, instead, residents exit to the gallery through a “guillotine” window.  Some of these houses have a balcony rather than a gallery. The difference is that a gallery is supported by posts, whereas a balcony is not. The gallery is wider, and the balcony a very narrow ledge.

The next photo is the Shotgun style, similar to the one remodelled by Property Brothers. They decided to split the space so that the front is a separate apartment from the back. This is different from the typical Creole Cottage renovations where both apartments have a front door. Of course, it was necessary for them to do this because of the narrow footprint of the Shotgun style. Sorry for the window reflection on this one.

 

Thus ends my lesson in New Orleans residential architecture hahaha. We did take a tour of the city, and by the end, I was begging the gardener to quiz me on the styles. No could do. I have always been really keen on the “art” of architecture (as opposed to the math of it, I guess).

We stayed on St. Charles Avenue, which is the parade path during Mardi Gras. All up and down the avenue the trees are strung with party beads, reminding tourists and residents of the fun ahead. Lucky me, I found a strand in the mud, as if the city was welcoming me ;).

And although it wasn’t the season, I still thought a mask was in order.

Tragedy and Comedy

Tragedy and Comedy

Maybe I’ll come back later and talk about food, music, and graves . . . .

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S.K. Nicholls’ New Mystery Series Off With a Bang

Have you seen promos for S.K. Nicholls’ new novel Naked Alliances? It’s billed as “Book One” of the Naked Eye Series. 

I’m hooked and will be bugging her waiting impatiently for Book Two. She’s got a great idea here for a mystery series–adventurous mysteries that feature the nudist resort Leisure Lagoon and diverse Orlando as backdrops. What an original concept. And one S.K. understands since her “family owns and operates one of the oldest and largest nudist resorts in the nation.”

The book is fast-paced and plausible. The mystery itself takes some twists and turns and always seems to have one more twist ahead (even at the end). Richard Noggin (yes, think about it) is a semi-stable, humane, and very human protagonist, and his at-first-unwilling helper Brandi has a colorful personal style. I hope we see more of the two of them teamed up solving crimes. Not sure Richard can do without Brandi’s assistance!

Maybe the most glowing praise I can pin on this book is that I kept envisioning everything as if it were a movie playing out before my eyes.

When is the next book in the series going to hit Amazon, S.K.?!

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I’ve just returned from travel and will catch up soon! In the meantime, enjoy Susan’s book! I wasn’t in Orlando, or any part of Florida, but there were gators . . . . Can you guess where I have been?

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