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Gulf Coast Goodies

TRAVEL THERE: FROM PLANTATIONS TO PO’ BOYS

When it comes to travel, food is a just part of the fun, but if you’re talking Gulf Coast, it’s a big part of the fun.  On this trip I’ve had crawfish in Evangeline Country, nibbled on beignets and dined at Brennan’s.  Over the next few days, food moved to the forefront.  I had fried this and broiled that.  I had seafood stuffed with crab and shrimp in all kinds of formats.  I had seafood every time it was on the menu and I loved every bite of it, but there’s more to the Gulf Coast than seafood.  Come see what I mean.

Plantations

Just outside of New Orleans is the River Road.  Along it you’ll find one plantation after another.  In this day and age, slavery is a slippery slope.  Anything and everything associated with it is pretty much off limits.  I get it.  Slavery was bad.  What I don’t get is trying to revise history.  It’s like some people want to erase the first century of America’s existence, including anyone and everyone that owned a slave.

Well, America didn’t invent slavery or even participate in the worst of it.  It’s been a part of every society, virtually from the beginning of time and some slaves did a whole lot more that work in the fields or clean house.  If someone wants to erase slavery from the history books, they’re going to have to get a pretty big eraser.  Name a society from the Egyptians to the Mayans to the Celts – well to anyone you want to name.  They all had slaves, along with practicing a myriad of other sins – discrimination against women, child labor, sex trafficking, cruelty to animals – pretty much anything and everything we complain about ourselves today.  It’s really quite myopic to want discard everything American that is in anyway related to slavery and the Civil War.

If you are one of the eradicators, I don’t recommend the River Road to you.  You’ll be for pulling down the plantations and that would be a shame.  To begin with, the architecture is stunning, but it is also surprising.  While some are luxurious, you’ll most likely be surprised at how small the houses of the plantation owners were and many of them were quite plain.  Hopefully, visiting the River Road will get the Gone with the Wind images out of your mind and put you in touch with what it was really like to live out in the country raising cotton and rice.

Like many things on this trip, I can’t actually remember visiting the River Road plantations with my family, but I do remember recalling them when I visited them in later years.  We also saw The Myrtles, a home famous for its ghosts.  However, I’d be lying to you if I pretended I knew which order we saw them in.

Biloxi

Whatever order we saw the plantations in, Biloxi was our final destination.  While we saw a variety of sites, including taking a ride on the Shrimp Tour Train, we were in Biloxi to see Beauvior.  If slavery is off limits, then I guess Jefferson Davis, the President of the Confederacy is beyond the pale.  Rather than apologize, I’ll just direct you to this post  I wrote back in 2012.  The president has changed, but my politics haven’t.

At Biloxi we stayed on the beach, though I can’t remember our accommodations.  I know about the beach, because Mom’s coiffure, which was pouffy in New Orleans, is decidedly flat in Biloxi.  That indicates time spent in the water and we’ve always enjoyed sea water more than pools.  One of the pictures on my scrapbook page is also seashells in the sand.

Were I to go on this trip today, I’m sure I’d have more than my fair share of food pictures, taken with my phone.  As I write I can see piping hot oyster po’ boys.  I can see baskets filled with fried potatoes, hushpuppies and shrimp, still sizzling from the hot grease.  My mouth is watering from the memory, but we used film back then and it was expensive – so we didn’t take all those food pictures we do now.  In fact, I’m sure it wouldn’t have been considered particularly polite and manners were quite important.

Our Gulf Shores vacation was over.  It was time to take Aunt Edie home and get back to Dallas.  Next week I’ll shift gears a little.  Come see where we’re headed.

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Nawlins

TRAVEL BUG TALES: THE CHATEAU HOTEL AND THE FRENCH QUARTER

It’s 1974.  I’m about to start my second year of college, Nixon just resigned and we’re in the French Quarter.  Come along and join the fun.

The Chateau Hotel

As I’ve told you before, Holiday Inn tended to be our usual accommodations, but for New Orleans we stayed right in the French Quarter at The Chateau Hotel I’m happy to report that you can stay there today if you want to.  I confess I was thrilled, just by the mere fact that it wasn’t our usual roadside motel.  It was an honest to goodness hotel right in the middle of everything.

I remember entering our room and walking right to the windows to look out at the French Quarter.  It was exhilarating to see something besides a freeway.  Our first night in town we had to grab a quick bite and get back to the hotel in time for my parents to see the infamous news conference featuring Richard Nixon’s resignation.

In addition to being right in the middle of the French Quarter, The Chateau Hotel also had an amazing courtyard where breakfast was served each morning.  Those morning meals are among my favorite memories of the trip.  I am devoted to al fresco dining and for all I know, this is where my passion for it originated.

The French Quarter

Once breakfast was over, Mom had our itinerary all planned out.  We set out on foot to see the sights.  The tour started at Jackson Square to visit St. Louis Cathedral and the Cabildo.  Beignets at Cafe du Monde were de rigueur, but I’ll be honest with you, I’ve had better.

I can’t remember all the places Mom dragged us to over the next few days, but I can tell you that we ate dinner at Brennan’s, another treat you can still enjoy.  Supposedly, according to tradition, breakfast is the meal you are really supposed to eat at Brennan’s, but for my mom, having dinner there was just the bomb.  Dad had to put on a suit and tie.  Mom and Aunt Edie wore maxi-skirts, all the rage at the time.  There is no pictorial record of what Susan and I wore, but I do remember the meal.

I chose Chicken Madeira as my entree.  I was very impressed with myself, because it had a wine sauce.  Being a Baptist, my mom didn’t cook with wine, so at the time I didn’t realize the alcohol always cooked out.  I thought I was being a bit naughty.  Mom and Dad were afraid I wouldn’t like it and to tell the truth, I wasn’t all that crazy about it, but there was no way I was going to admit it.

For dessert, I had their famous pecan pie.  I’ll confess something else.  I’d take my little sister’s pecan pie over their’s any day of the week, but at the time, she wasn’t baking any pies.  Still, I remember being under-impressed.  Brennan’s hadn’t been a big hit with me.

With my dessert, I had coffee and I’d never had coffee before.  I’d been away at school and could have had coffee with every meal, even though my parents had never offered me any.  I just wasn’t interested.  At Brennan’s the waiter convinced me I couldn’t leave their restaurant without having some of their famous chicory coffee.  So, my first taste of coffee was a baptism by bitterness.  I still don’t drink coffee.

So that was my family vacation to New Orleans.  I’ve been several times since.  My favorite New Orleans cuisine is a toss up between a big ole bowl of BBQ Shrimp or a Muffalatta sandwich from a storefront my friend Michael took me to.  I know I’d rather eat BBQ Shrimp than anything Brennan’s has on the menu.  And speaking of Brennan’s, if you have to choose between Brennan’s and Commander’s Palace, I’d vote for Commander’s Palace.  New Orleans really is a culinary treat, but I wouldn’t have known it from that 1974 visit.

The next page in my scrapbook says I am Biloxi Bound, so I hope you’ll join me next week for a little Gulf Shore fun.

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Evangeline in Louisiana

TRAVEL BUG TALES: CRAWDADS AND ACADIANS

“This is the forest primeval,” is the beginning phrase of Longfellow’s poem, Evangeline It’s a fictional story of love lost and then found too late.  It’s also about political injustice, because French settlers of Canada, called Acadians, were deported by the British, just for being Catholics.  In the story, Evangeline is among the deportees who were sent to Louisiana – hence Evangeline Parish.  Let’s go visit.

Traveling Evangeline Country

Though I can’t remember all the logistics between Dallas and Evangeline Country, I do remember being sick and tired of riding in the back seat on a sticky August afternoon.  We had Aunt Edie with us, which was fun, but I’m guessing we hit the road around 4 AM.  By late afternoon I’m sure I was second guessing my decision to go on this family vacation.

We piled out of the car at a Mardi Gras museum, but I’m not sure where it was.  They were very proud of the fact that they’d been doing Mardi Gras a lot longer than New Orleans.  The museum was full of beautiful costumes, but the best part was the air conditioning!  There was also a lot of material about Acadian history.  They were very interested in visitors understanding that while outsiders may think the terms Cajun and Creole are interchangeable, Cajuns and Creoles don’t.  Cajuns descended from the Acadians.  Creoles are descended from the French mixing with various other races, especially around New Orleans.  Creoles probably thought Cajuns were hicks, while Cajuns claimed a purer racial lineage, which was much more important back in the 70’s than it is today.

Ça C’est Bon

Regardless of their racial heritage, Cajuns know how to eat.  That evening we ate the local cuisine.  Mom had done her research and we had dinner at what was supposed to be THE place to eat crawfish.  I keep thinking the name of it was Anderson’s, but don’t hold me to that.

Wherever it was, it was a great, big barn-like place.  The menu offered crawfish this, crawfish that and crawfish whatever else.  I was a little squeamish about sucking heads, but the rest of it sounded pretty good to me.  I’m sure I got some sort of combo plate so I could try it more than one way.  I’m also pretty sure that everyone else chose more traditional seafood choices, like fried shrimp and then sampled my entrees.  I’ve always been a little more food adventurous than the rest of my family.

We probably spent the night at a Holiday Inn.  That’s where we usually stayed.  The next day we moved on to New Orleans.

DESTINATIONS, Road Trips, TRAVEL, United States

The Big Easy

Seeing the USA in our Chevrolet

TRAVEL TALK: TURN IT UP! THAT’S MY SONG!

The Trip That Didn’t Happen

Some people say they found themselves when they went away to college.  I think I always knew who I was, but I did try out a few other personalities.  One of them showed up the day I called Mom to tell her I was going to New Orleans with some friends.  Mom threw a conniption fit, but I held on to my guns. I was going to New Orleans and since she wasn’t in Nacogdoches, there wasn’t much she could do about it.

Only I didn’t go.  I can’t remember what kind of teen-aged drama played out to keep me in my dorm room, but I do remember pouting all weekend.  I also remember wanting to call Mom and complain to her, but I couldn’t because I was punishing her.  Aren’t we silly sometimes?

Were I a psychologist, I would probably expound on why Mom chose Louisana that year for the summer vacation, but I’m just a travel blogger, so I’ll leave it to your speculation.  Choosing hot, humid August for traveling probably had a lot to do with my summer job.  The big news was that Aunt Edie was going with us.

The Trip That Did Happen

Poor Aunt Edie was stuck in the back seat with the two Kool-Aid lovers.  We didn’t actually love Kool-aid, but in those days, Bill Cosby was the bomb and my sister adored him.  She played the LP “To Russell My Brother Whom I Slept With” so many times, the whole family had it memorized.  Mom often adopted the Kool-Aid moniker to refer to Susan and I.

Aunt Edie sat in the middle, straddling the hump, because if we’d had to determine which one of us would sit next to her, there would have been all out war.  We’d grown up enough for Mom to abandon I Spy, Twenty Questions, Travel Bingo Cards and personalized grab bags, but not enough for Aunt Edie to have a relaxing ride in the back seat.

Whispering Bill Anderson (Vinyl, LP, Album) album coverThe Radio

Eight track tapes were all the rage, but having a player in your car cost extra, so our Chevrolet didn’t have one.  Dad was an AM radio aficionado anyway – because that’s where the sports were.  Because of Dad, I have a fine ear for sportscasting.  I can tell which sport is being broadcast, just from the cadence of the sportscaster’s voice, even when I can’t hear individual words.

Radio is a bit of an adventure on the road, because you have to take what’s available, especially when all you have is an AM radio.  When Dad could find baseball or news, that’s what we’d listen to, because he was in charge.  He also preferred country and western music over rock and roll, so if he could tune in Whispering Bill Anderson or Charlie Pride, then that’s what we’d listen to.

Thankfully, we’d also go through places where all we could pick up was Top 40 Hits.  That’s when Susan and I would perk up and pay attention.  Even though I remember the trip as a series of newscasts and sportscasts, highlighted with a baseball games, according to Aunt Edie, the whole trip was one great big rock and roll experience.  She claimed each time a new song came on the radio, either Susan or I would shout out, “That’s my song!  Turn it up!” and then we’d both bounce to the rhythm of the music.

Related imageNixon Resigns

There was something else happening on the radio on that trip, though I didn’t appreciate the significance of it at the time.  Much like the Blue Dress incident of Clinton’s day and our current fascination with collusion, our nation was preoccupied with the matter of Watergate.  The news was full of speculation, but late in the afternoon, the newscast was so dire that my dad pulled off the road and into a parking lot.  We listened as it was announced Nixon had called a news conference that evening and word was he would resign.  My dad cried.  And that’s not something that happened very often.  He forecast our nation would be forever changed by this and he was right.

Looking back from this day to that, it seems as if our nation has been constantly embroiled in some expensive Congressional hearing – Watergate, Iran Contra, Monica Lewinsky, Fast and Furious, Benghazi and now Russian Collusion, among so many others.  How much money has all this investigating cost our nation and what good has it really done for anyone?  It’s all political one-up-man-ship.  What if instead it had been spent on feeding the poor, our failing infrastructure, education, improving our health system?  Anything but politicians trying to oust their opponents.

I usually avoid political discussions here on my blog, but that day began a new era in American politics.  The presidency was vulnerable and you didn’t have to win an election to unseat the Leader of the Free World.  It hadn’t been the ill-advised break-in which had led to the popular president’s demise.  It had been the cover-up.  It had also been technology.  He had tapes and it was his own tapes which had undermined his term.  Today’s scandals are all about technology.  We don’t question whether the Russians used social media to influence the election, but the Mueller investigation is desperately looking for the text or e-mail that proves our president colluded with the Russians, even though collusion is not even a crime.

I’ll climb off my soap box.  Susan and I didn’t grasp the magnitude of what we’d heard.  Our lives had been influenced by other milestones – the assassination of JFK, Viet Nam, man walking on the moon, Kent State and LBJ refusing to run for re-election.  These seems like momentous events.  Watergate seemed like much ado about nothing.  For now, we’re almost to Evangeline County.  Come back next week for some crawfish.