Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Louisiana Book festival

There has been an annual free book festival in Baton Rouge
on the grounds of the State Capitol every year since
2001 except for 2005 due to Hurrican Katrina the month before. It is just for one day in the fall, sometimes the first Saturday in November unless there is an election scheduled. This year was the 7th annaul event on October 17. There are workshops with a reasonable fee as well held the day before in diverse topics such as screenwriting, how to self publish, writing and illustrating children's books, freelance journalism for profit.

The first thing I would like to say is that I am not mentioning authors in any particular order, just trying to get all the ones in that I can think of over the years who I have enjoyed hearing what they had to say.

Toni McGee Causey is one of the authors who conducted
workshops the day before, on screenwriting this year.
She has a series on a female detective named Bobbie Faye and firmly believes that if your character should carry a gun
in his line of work he ought to have one. One little tidbit I did pick up is that one minute of film = 1 page of screenplay manuscript.

Louisiana authors or writers of interest to people in Louisiana
give a talk for an hour or participate in panel discussions in
two floors of the capitol building as well as in the state library
next door and in the state museum across from that. Normally
there is an admission charge to the museum but it waived on
the day of the book festival.

Last year we attended a panel
discussion in the museum featuring a cajun fiddle player
Amanda Shaw, star of the Disney channel and two men who write music. Dave Eagen composes blues and Jim Mccormick works with country
artists. Amanda's latest hit "Pretty Runs Out" is a
collaboration with Mr. Jim. They concluded with this song
writing advice:"Don't bore us, get to the chorus" and
'Never write nor burn a bridge unless necessary".

The museum is excellent and has been there 6 years.
Since there were panel discussions that day and admission
was free more people went there who hadn't been before.
The third floor has a great folk exhibit. There is a display
of decorated lawnmowers from a lawnmower parade
and much of the floor is dedicated to either Mardi
Gras or Louisiana musicians. In an alcove there is a platform
in front of a screen with a film shot from a big night parade
like Bachus or Endymion Uptown so it looks gives the viewer
some idea what it is like to ride in a Carnival parade.

My mother is a volunteer worker with the children's division of her parish library and she was the one who told me about it. She did attend the first year and says that the organizer modeled our festival after one in Texas. When we attend a talk in the House of Representatives or the Senate in the state capitol building we like to sit at the desk of legislators who were elected under their nickname.

There are tables for authors selling books lining the sidewalk
up to the capitol building and several tents for exhibitor booths,
a Barnes & Nobles temporary book store, food booths,
a tent where cooking demonstrations are conducted
and a music tent. There are also arts and crafts
vendors. There are storybook characters such as
Clifford the Big Red Dog strolling the grounds and
activities for children as well. This year was blessed with the mob
from Where the Wild Things Are.

In 2003 just as we were leaving for home a classmate of my kids, a young man named Bryce Turgeon purchased a book, The Fat White Vampire Blues, from a new writer, Andrew J. Fox off a table that was in a group of tables along the sidewalk between the book tent and the capitol building. Andrew wasn't there when Bryce bought the book and we found out later it was because Andrew had to leave because his wife was delivering their first child.

I started reading it aloud on the drive home and we never laughed so much. Andrew Fox worked with the poverty nutrition program in New Orleans for the public health department and had seen figures stating that people in New Orleans were the fatest in America. The premise of the novel was what if there was a vampire in New Orleans and all he had to drink was the blood of New Orleaneans who were fat people. Wouldn't that make him fat too? The protagonist of this novel was therefore a taxi driver weighing over 400 pounds. The next year we enjoyed his sequal, Bride of the Fat White Vampire.

If you get there early enough there is a farmer's market
next to the parking garage in downtown Baton Rouge a
couple of blocks from the state capitol grounds. It is free to
park at the garage on this day. An alternative route is to take the Capitol Access exit off I-10 going toward downtown Baton Rouge. This will put you on an majestic oak tree lined drive passing by the govenor's mansion and up a drive with parking next to the capitol building.

At the end of the day the symphony conducts a concert
on the steps of the capitol building. All this is free
of charge! It worries me that ever since 2005 attendance
is down. I wonder if it is because not as many people are
living here any more. I don't think enough is done to promote
this excellent event. The website is:

This year the festival mailed a program ahead of time to anyone who attended previously as well as contacted them by email. On the internet there was a full agenda posted so you could see all the events for the two days. Some libraries posted the program on the front door but not all that I visited in the weeks before the festival. There was the occaisional feature in local newspapers but nothing on National Public Radio or public television. Country Roads magazine did a good job promoting it ahead of time. This publication is free and available in coffee shops and also via internet.

Music lovers and their pets at the sunset concert Saturday evening.

Zachary Richard was the last musician of the afternoon this year in the tent by the food booths. Earlier this year I attended a talk by the Lt. Govenor who said he brought Zachary up to Canada to meet with the prime minister in an effort to develop tourism in Louisiana. The Lt. Govenor sponsored a golf trail and a history trail and now a bird watching trail and Zachary loves birds. Since he is like the Elvis Presley to all of French speaking Canada it was an instant entree when the Lt. Govenor requested an interview with the prime minister, telling them Zachary was with him. The man in front of me in line to greet Zachary after his set was a tourist from Ottowa.

It is possible to find an opportunity to chat with your
favorite author here. The dilemma is having to chose
between favorites scheduled at the same time.

Hans Sternberg has a book, We Were Retailers out about his years with Goudchaux's Department Store headquartered in Baton Rouge. He was my boss when I worked there for a time after graduating from LSU before moving to New Orleans. I think I remember his mother still working at the store as well. He and his brother Josef were always on the sales floor and they were the nicest people. The store, founded in 1936 was a marvel and featured in Guiness book of records as the world's largest building built and intended for a department store. It was between the cemetery and railroad tracks downtown at the end of 3 dead end streets. Innovations pioneered by the Sternberg family were interest free charge accounts and the concept of the gold card . They extended credit to newly divorced women and others trying to establish credit who were having trouble getting started financially. It was a step up from the regular charge card. Members paid $30 a year to have it and got free parking and other discounts and priveleges. American Express bought the idea from the Sternberg's. Hans told of the mayor of Baton Rouge going to New York and seeing that the Birmingham orchestra was playing Carnegie Hall. Not to be outdone by the smaller city of Alabama he campaigned and won a date for the Baton Rouge symphony to play Carnegie Hall. Goudhcaux's Department store and Eric Sternberg, Hans's father underwrote the event, not only supporting the orchestra but also supplying audience members from Baton Rouge and the state of Louisiana. Afterwards they found out the other orchestra from Birmingham was professionals from Birmingham, England, not Birmingham, Alabama. Hans told of his father sponsoring over 150 people escaping from Nazi Germany in the late 1930's due to his position of having a retail business that could employ these imigrants. He said his father was very glad that they did not in fact see most of them after they escaped Hitler because he wouldn't have known what to do with them all. I would recommend this book to anyone who would care to read about the good old days of the big name quality department stores. The Sternbergs were master retailers and very brilliant about it. I also appreciate them for giving me a position even though from the start I told them I was moving to New Orleans within 6 months.

80% of the authors featured this year were first time guests.

Louis Maistros debuted The Sound of Building Coffins in March 2009. He played guitar and sang an original tune during his talk about the book. If you look him up on You Tune you can see a video of that very song. His wife was initiated into voodoo in Haiti and together they have a business venture called Louie's Juke Joint and Botanica on the internet. For a year they operated a shop selling records and esoteric voodoo paraphanelia at 1128 Decater Street in the French Quarter in the location of the former Record Ron's. Besides being a skilled novelist Louis is also a marvelous artist and photographer. You can purchase his book, the photography and some great Dr. Bob art from http://www.louiesjukejoint.com/. If you have never heard of Dr. Bob I will discuss him when we get to Roy Blount.

Angus Woodward and Dixon Hearne did a joint presentation.
Although they had never met before this event they were a good match and an interesting contrast. Both their work is good but it was more interesting hearing them together.

Angus moved to Louisiana from Minnesota and writes about the contemporary Gulf South in contrast to Dixon who has moved to California and writes about about the days of his childhood when he used to accompany his father , a traveling salesman during summer vacation. Both of them have a collection of short stories. Angus's is titled Down at the End of the River; Dixon's is Plantatia. They proceeded to read the lead sentence from each chapter of their excellent respective books.

In other years authors we have enjoyed and what they talked about include: Julie Smith, a former reporter with the
Times Picayune writes stories set in New Orleans starring
a debutante detective. She explained the elements of this
genre and what it takes to get published during her 45 minutes.

John Ed Bradley quarterbacked at LSU and was featured
in Sports Illustrated, writing about what it was like playing
football for coach Charlie McLeandon. He talked about
investing in southern WPA artists and research on a love
triangle between famed Mexican Diego Rivera, his wife
Norma and an alcoholic but prolific free lance Yankee
photographer who was doing a series on decaying antebellum
homes at the time Diego was painting the murals in the
Fairmont hotel Sazarec lounge. Mr. Bradley's first novel,
Smoke, was very funny and was about a fictionalized
South Louisiana town and the affect on local business
when a mass merchandiser caled 'Monster Mart' comes to town.
His book last year was another narrative about playing college
football, It Never Rains in Tiger Stadium.

Sue Eakin was my college history teacher and was still writing books at age 91. Last year she talked about her lifelong research into
the life of Solomon Northup who was subject of the 1853 book
12 Years A Slave. She says in 1968 a colleague at LSU wrote an
updated version using her research and put her name on the cover
along with his but it was a poor effort so now she has published
the definitive book on the subject of Solomon Northup.
Mrs.Eakin was the epitome of the phrase "mind as sharp as a tack". She was working on 11 unpublished manuscripts at the time of her death last summer. I don't know if any of these will see the light of day since a close relative went through those manuscripts and expurgated family infomation which was deemed sensitive by this relative.

John Burnett is the NPR reporter from Austin, Texas
who broke the story about the weapons of mass destruction
in Iraq when he was imbedded with the troops, explaining
that he didn't check his sources before going on the air.

Dr. Nick Spitzer broadcasts an excellent weekly radio program,
American Routes from New Orleans and talked about
Louisiana music and musicians. His radio show is two hours long.
Each week he showcases two musicians for an hour apiece.
After Hurricane Katrina he brought a tape recorder when he
returned to his Uptown residence for the first time after
evacuating to inspect the property and pick up a few things for
his family and Ira Glass ran this tape on This American Life in
a segment titled This is Not My Beautiful House. It was great!
You can listen to this on the archives for the show from
September 2005 at http://www.thislife.org/

Michael Lewis is from here as well and is famous for writing
about the stock market both here and in Europe and characters
we have all heard about in the news. He also wrote about Jim
Smith who started the internet and was working on a book,
Money Ball about the Oakland A's baseball team. He did a book
on the team because they have the lowest payroll and the highest
rate of wins. He said the reason is that they hire by stastistics and
not appearence.

Roy Blount,Jr., a great American and the closest thing we have to
Mark Twain read selections from his great book about
New Orleans, Feet on the Street last year. It is a collection of character sketches and stories about his time here when he was a reporter for the States Item newspaper. That man really got around when he lived here. I really enjoyed his discussion of Dr Bob, king of the Bywater folk artists. Dr. Bob makes or decorates
found signs with an embellishment of strips of corrugated tin
and Barq's soft drink bottle caps. A favorite of those who love
his work is the admonishment to "Be Nice or Leave".

This year Roy has a book about the meaning of words. He quipped ' I prefer my oysters fried for then I know my oysters have died' and explained the derrivation of a new phrase he has coined, 'antipentultimatum' which means when your mama is hollering at you and you know you have two more times of her hollering at you before she comes over there with the belt. Something else he said was when meeting new readers of his work they frequently comment " I didn't think you would look like that'. He says his response is "That is what I think too when I look in the mirror sometimes these days'.

Dr. Christine Vella was a repeat speaker this year. I had heard her give a presentation on Intimate Enemies, a study of Madam Micaela Almonaster Pontalba several years back and read the book afterwards. It read like a novel and I couldn't put it down. Dr. Vella did a wonderful job on this book because there was very little about Madam Pontalba to go on. Most of what there was consisted of court cases. Madam Pontalba built the apartments on Jackson Square and also a home in Paris that is now the American Embassy. I will say no more about that here but encourage everyone to read it.

This year Dr. Vella discussed Dorothy Dix the newspaper columnist who died at age 90 in 1961. Most people didn't know that she wrote her columns in New Orleans and thought she was from their home town. She got her start at age 32 when she was recuperating from a nervous breakdown living in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi next to the editor of the Times Picayune who hired her to write obituaries. From there she was hired by the New York Journal to be their crime reporter. After 17 years she moved back to New Orleans in hopes of reuniting with her husband and wrote advice columns for another 22 years from here. She worked 18 hour days for nearly 60 years and at the height of her popularity in the 1920's and 1930's she was getting over 2,000 letters a week and answered them all with the help of one secretary. She coined a term, 'the perjury of courtship' about lies men tell women in order to have their way with them and did say that when you enter a restaurant and see couples engaged in scintillating conversation just enjoying themselves, having a delightful time, those couples are married but to other people.
Her 10 Steps to Happiness still holds true today: Make up your mind to be happy and be happy now, not in the future; smile; make the best of any situation you are in; don't take yourself or anyone else seriously; don't hold a grudge; don't worry about what might happen because most of that stuff never happens; have as many interests as you can find the time for; don't brood over past mistakes; do something for the less fortunate and keep busy.

When she died she left an estate of $2.5 million.

This is Dorothy Dix's family tomb in Metairie Cemetery, plot 167. It is not unusual to have the name of the person interred there because it is a family crypt, also remember that Dix was her penname. Her maiden name was not even Dorothy, it was Elizabeth Meriwether. She had married her step mother's step brother, George Gilmer when she was 21.

Several times a year it is the custom in New Orleans to have a florist deliver an arrangement to the cemetery, for example All Saints Day November 1 and Mother's Day in May. Some people don't go to the cemetery but just pay to have it done. I have worked for several florists in the past and had the chore of locating one of these tombs where the person's name the flowers was for was not on the tomb at all so had to do research in the cemetery office that could be quite time consuming.

Wally Lamb spoke in the House of Representatives chambers in the morning and was also on a panel that afternoon. He was one of the first selections of the Oprah Book Club when it started in 1996.

In contrast for the last couple of years former Times Picayune columnist Chris Rose gave a talk about his self published book One Dead in The Attic that was illustrated by British photographer Charley Varley and later picked up by Random House. This book was a compilation of his newspaper columns for 6 months after Katrina. I really liked it but part of the charm was the Charley Varley photographs. I was disappointed that Chris dropped Charley from the book when Random House picked it up and did not insist on taking the work as a package deal. Random House wanted a contract just with Chris Rose.

Chris regaled us with a story of how he was on Oprah's tv show but wouldn't sign the waiver about not discussing Oprah the after taping so the show didn't run. He was irritated because Oprah wanted to slant the show to the topic of depression in post Katrina New Orleans and would not let him mention his book or even have it on the set. He could tell at the time that the show would be biased because he said the promos showed him standing on a balcony staring vacantly off into space. It was true that he had been depressed after the hurricane but he had sought treatment and was in fact recovered. Because he wouldn't sign the waiver they didn't run the show but what he did do is write a column about Oprah and the non-show which immediately made its way around the internet gaining alot more audience than the show ever would have.

Post Hurricane Katrina we heard Dr. Ivor von Heerdon, director
of the LSU Hurricane studies center, the Rutledge brothers who published a book of stories one month after Katrina called Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans? and Phyllis Montanna who starred in Spike Lee's movie When the Levee Broke and now has a book
of her own out, Not Just the Levee Broke. Phyllis gave a fascinating heartfelt account of her first hand experience of staying in New Orleans during the storm and surviving during its aftermath but she is the first author I have ever heard say that when her book was published she did not know what was in it.
What's up with that?

I really loved Do You Know What It Means. It had stories from a variety of contributors about the New Orleans of the good old days as well as what it is like now and featured some wonderful maps of the 19th century French Quarter. There was an account of what it was like to be a Boy Scout working on a carnival float with his friends in Junior High school, and a recipe plus the account of one of the editors of this book having to steal a car to leave New Orleans after the storm.

At the end of the day last year as I mentioned earlier the
symphony played movie themes, including several by
composer John Williams. Lieutenant Govenor Mitch Landrieu
was master of ceremonies. He noticed a young man in a
wheelchair on the front row, Calvin Constant who was there with us.
Calvin had never been to a symphony concert before and was
fascinated to watch the interplay of the instruments and to learn
the names of each during the concert.

After the program Lt. Govenor Landieu was very kind to
take a minute to kneel down on one knee and talk with
Calvin before we left. Calvin is 20 years old. He was so
inspired by the opportunity to chat with Mitch that he
registered to vote after that and did vote for the first time in
the election this year, hopefully for the Lt. Govenor's sister
Mary but I am not sure how it turned out as I did not
bring him to vote.

This year the Lt. Govenor opted for the more casual route and after introducing the program he enjoyed it with his daughter along with the rest of us on the steps of the capitol.

May 2008 Memphis to St. Louis

Chapter 1 Natchez, Mississippi

May 15, 2008
4 am

It was raining torrential buckets when we set out for Baton Rouge, the type of storm in movies with a South Seas typhoon. We had a breakfast of cafe au lait & beignets at Coffee Call on College Drive near LSU while we waited for the rain to clear up so we could see to drive.

This picture was taken on the day Robert purchased this car in July 2006.

Fields are flooded off Hwy 190 from Port Allen to Oppelousas in places that have not been known to flood. We noticed some new oil wells since our last trip out that way do to oil going to over $130 a barrel.

The plan was to pick up mama and be in Natchez for lunch. Robert & I have a diffeence of opinion regarding car trips. He prefers to begin after dark, drive all night, arrive when the attraction opens, spend a full day riding the rides. I tried that when we went to Schlitterbahn Water Park in New Braunsfel, Texas. We left at 10pm, drove 12 hours, were the first customers of the day. I felt abysmal from lack of sleep although we did make the most of our time. It is inadvisable to drive all night in an area where you haven't driven before. This was a pleasure trip; getting there is half the fun. It is better to see the sights, possibly photograph a few because were were driving the scenic route.

It was sunny by the time we got to the farm. From there we drove up Hwy 71 to Pineville, then Hwy 28 east to Natchez. I brought some recorded books & music on cd for the trip barrowed from the parish library, cranking open Walkter Cronkite's memoirs when we were near Jeana, where the road heads east to Vidalia. Cronkite discussed his career - Kennedy's assassination, LBJ's presidency, Vietnam, the space program. We enjoyed it but that was the last thing we agreed on as far as listening went for the duration of the trip.

Crossing the riverwe continued through the south side of Natchez to Hwy 61, passing by the turnoff for Longwood, the octagonal antebellum home that was never completed, one of dozens of historic Natchez homes available for tours.

Longwood was the 100 acre country estate of a wealthy doctor & cotton farmer who owned 3 plantations named Dr. Mudd. Construction began in 1857. The basement was finnished & the family lived there while the rest of the house was constructed but it was never finished due to outbreak of the Civil War. Materials for it were paid for in advance but captured by embargo. The doctor died of pneumonia & a broken heart in 1863. His widow was in residence until 1897. The house remained in the family until 1957 when relatives sold it plus 10 acres to the Natchez Garden Club.

It is not as bad as it sounds, living in the basement. The family had 8 children. The basement had large well appointed rooms radiating around a central atrium with dining room, kitchen, library, 6 bedrooms. The basement alone was the size of what we could call a mansion in these days of the typical suburban 3 bedroom 2000 square foot ranch home. Although no pictures were supposed to be allowed I was able to photograph the house plans using no flash. You can tell it too.

The house has a roof so the interior has been preserved. The first 3 floors of the 6 were in various states of partial completion. The attic still has packing crates for a piano stamped addressed to Longwood with the manufacturer's return address. The 3rd floor had alcoves around the perimeter intended for life-sized marble statues of Greek gods. I felt this was a bit over the top for what I would want in a home place but other than that I was inspired to try to think of ways how we could tweak our little home. Other than the concept of hanging draperies at ceiling level instead of the standard 3 inches above the window wasn't able to think of anything else so just bought a lottery ticket and hoped for the best on a new ponderosa someday.

These burnt orange/red curtains were 4 panels that originally gathered at the top. I sewed 2 panels together on each side, lining them with white material so the sun won't fade them out.

I cut a 5th panel into 4 pieces, pleating each piece horizontally 5 times to make the header 8 inches tall. I added that to the top of each panel so the draperies now would hang long enough to go to the ceiling level.

I then sewed vertical tubes 3 inches apart in the header, reinforcing it with cardboard tubes from gift wrap rolls to give it body. The draperies were clipped to the rod with cafe clips.

Here is the picture of some curtains where I got the idea for that. This is how my curtains turned out but you can't tell it in the photo because of the scarf valence I installed over it.

I cut one scarf so that it was just the length to go to the corners, hemmed the panel so it was the same width as the scarf, running that across the front to join the scarf on the other side. On the other scarf I also added a piece in the middle so it would go up to the center, creating a poof in the middle.

Here is a picture of some scarf valances that illustrate what I was trying to do with the ones that I made. You can see what I am talking about better with this illustration due to the use of two colors of material.

This job required installation of a double curtain rod at the top to hold the red curtains with opaque panels in back of it. In addition I installed brass c clips at the corners for the scarf. There is a piece that looks like a lyre in the middle for the poof. There are silver/ mother of pearl finials on the decorative rod as well as matching silver/ pearl tie backs where the scarf is gathered 3 feet from the floor.

Although these curtains look bizarre a word of explanation: it all started with a shower curtain at the house we moved from.

The first thing I thought when I saw the bathroom in that house was that the former tenants must have been drinkers who liked to shop for paint and accessores when they were inebriated. That bathroom was painted a pepto bismal pink on one wall, mint green on another, had beige ceramic tiles in the shower with black light switch covers & a black door knob. The shower curtain went with all those colors, yanking the room together. Normally one would say 'pulling the room together' but that is too mild a term for this color pallette.

Later I found some sheets that matched the shower curtain. I used a set of those sheets to make a quilt, the flat sheet for the back of this quilt, cutting up the fitted sheet to use for the color square in the star on the quilt. It is a 19th century pattern called 'Blackford's Beauty".

I was so happy there for over 7 years, might be there still if not for a neighbor who coveted the little rental shotgun house. He bugged the landlord incessantly for over 4 years into selling it to him. The new owner gave us little notice; he wanted to gut the place & reconfiture it, planned on renting it out for twice what we were paying.

We had no down payment but found an adorable home that had been repossessed & fixed up by the bank for resale in the next town. To save money I used curtains from the old house when we moved to the new one in August 2004.

These curtains in the guest bedroom were patched together with contrasting sheets that I had on hand which went with the left over material from the quilt project. 4 years later these draperies were faded from the sun. The curtain rods weren't holding up so well. It was time for a change.
It was noon when we pulled into the parking lot of Mammy's Cupboard restaurant at the city limits on Highway 61. This circa 1940 restaurant is in a building that resembles a giant Aunt Jemimah. It is open Tuesdays through Saturdays for lunch, 11 am to 2 pm. The management accepts cash/personal checks only. When it is open there is not a parking spot available; when it is closed there is nary a vehicle in sight. Desserts for $5, plate lunches for $9 are the house specialty. There are two dining rooms, a kitchen & pantry. The first room is round with red walls/white trim. The second is square with black & white tile floors. The kitchen is up a douple of steps with an open door. There is a bathroom at either end of the back room, with a man's hat or a woman's bonnet on the dooor to designate the correct one. Diners are greeted by a sign asking one to wait for seating. After a time one of the cooks looks out at the line of customers, points with a knife, asks how many in the party, says 'Y'all sit over there". The Thursday special was a plate lunch; pork roast, green beans with bacon, tossed salad, wild rice caserole & herbed cornbread. Both this & the blueberry lemonade on the menu were delicious. Other entrees were soup, salad, or a sandwich with potato salad. The sandwiches were generous, made with bread sliced an inch thick. Dessert is either pie or cake. All the pies have a meringue that is 4 inches tall; coconut, chocolate & lemon. All the cakes have cream cheese frosting with pecan bits & are similarly lofty; carrot, hummingbird, red velvet, Italian creme cake. The first time I was ever here I had to tell them the origin of hummingbird cake. They wre unaware that it is a recipe from Hummingbird Hotel on St. Charles Avenue, New Orleans.

In 1993 I had the opportunity to chat with Bertha Hillensbeck, the owner of Hummingbird. Her father had originally built it in 1947. It originally had 50 rooms. In 1990 after a $500,000 renovation to get it up to code it had 13 rooms, half of which were occupied by the original residents from the 1940's.

Bertha remarried a man who also had children from a previous marriage. Together they had 12 kids. The only indication at first glance that it had been removated is that before the work was done the blinking neon sign outside read 'Hot l pen 4 hours'. After rennovation it read 'Hotel open 24 hours'.

The first floor had a restaurant with buffet salad bar. It was a popular spot with folks who had been to soirees. For some inexplicable reason people in New Orleans seem to like to eat breakfast before going home after being out all night. They really do love to stay out all night there. Movie stars wishing to keep a low profile stayed there. My favorite memory of this place was a sign above the pay phone which read 'No talking to invisible people".

Hummingbird cake is a recipe of a chef at this restauarant. It is like carrot cake but has bananas & pineapple in it. It has a cream cheese frosting, is garnished with pecans. It is 3 layers that have been split into 6 after baking when the frosting is applied.

Recipe 350 degrees 25 minutes
You will need three 8 inch greased & floured cake pans

3 c flour
1 c sugar
1 tsp each soda, cinnamon, salt, vanilla extract
1 c oil
1 c pecans for batter + 1 c pecans for frosting
3 beaten eggs
2 c mashed bananas
1 eight oz can crushed pineapple for batter + 1 small can drained pineapple for frosting

After cake is cooked & cooled split into 6 layers. I like to put the pineapple bits between the layers when frosted and garnish whe frosted cake with pecan halves. The Mammy's Cupboard recipe calls for 1 c coconut as well.

1 stick butter
1 pkg cream cheese
1 tsp vanilla
1 box powdered sugar

You can add meringue powder if frosting is too soft. Meringue powder is also good for preventing the frosting from separating if this cake is on display at room temperature for any length of time such as it would be at a reception or a good old fashioned visitation after a funeral. In case you are wondering what is meringue powder it is powdered egg white. Where you can find it places that carry supplies for creating wedding cakes, such as the wedding aisle in crafts departments at Walmart or a Hobby Lobby store. The cake is best served chilled a day after preparation.

We took the Natchez Trace to Port Gibson, stopping to see historic Mount Locust, a traveler's inn on the Trace circa 1780. It was also a plantation. The house is two rooms separated by a breezeway and has a loft upstairs. Most of the time there are tour guides on hand since this is also a state park.

We drove with the top down since the weather was now a balmy 78 degrees, listening to New Orleans piano players Tom McDermott & Philip Melancon. Tom's March 2008 cd, Creole Nocturne with coronet player Connie Jones features ragtime. Philip was playing Nat King Cole.The others did not share my enthusiasm for these selections.

The river at Vicksburg flooded the town a fortnight ago, adversely affecting the surrounding farming community. We saw fields of heretofore healthy crops, produce already dying, field still flooded, sun burning the roots. It was very sad to see a pasture where 3 horses huddled in knee deeep water, captive behind barbed wire. You could tell their feet were sore, standing on 3 legs, holding one foot out of the water for some relief. A farm implement store posted a hand lettered notice warning 'customers' not to make repairs on the premises or to even think of asking the management to install parts not purchased here. The air was redolent with cottonwood tree pollen.

Our friend Nada Constant pointed out a calendar on Harrah's casino web site that indicated dates where rooms were at discount when she learned we were planning a vacation. We found a fine room with two queen beds for only $35. Normally it was $250.00 according to the sign posted on the back of the door. Harrah's has several properties in Robinsonville near the other Tunica casinos.

Harrah's Grand is two hotels, the Terrace & the Verandah. The casino is in a separte building from the hotels. Before checking into our hotel we dropped by the Hollywood casino to admire movie memorabelia in the lobby such as the Batmobile & a model of the Titanic.

Supper was delightful in the newly opened Paula Dean buffet. It had big dining rooms plus several dining porches & a verandah to accomodate smokers. Even though we were inside the casino it felt like a gracious home, as if we were all outside the building. Food was fantastic. There were even barbequed oysters on the half shell. The cook went out of her way to make Robert a banana split. Creamed corn was folded into the baked cheese grtits, a delicious innovation. The creme brule was a disappointment however, resembling a pudding with carmelized topping and not the traditional coooked egg custard.

Monday, October 13, 2008

May 2008 Memphis

Chapter Two


May 16,2008

I made an effort to provide ambient mood music but neither Robert or mama were enthusiastic about cds 2 through 5 of a collecor set of Elvis master tapes from the 1960's. Ten years ago during the week it opened I noticed Heartbreak Hotel while passing through Memphis to see Graceland. Today was a disappointment. Nothing matched my description on the way there. Parking used to be free but now a guard at the gate charges admission. When it was new the lobby was an expanse of leopard print carpet with burgundy runners. It is now a third of that size. The gift shop no longer carries materials referencing the Pink Ranch, a hideaway 5 miles from town, first anniverary gift from Elvis to Priscilla where they went to get away from it all. Neither does it stock items from the Nixon White House that Elvis liked such as bath salts & closet sachets. The hotel still has a guitar shaped swimming pool, futuristic 60's furniture with lava lamps on the end tables, console televisions playing Elvis movies & fried peanut butter banana sandwiches in the restaurant.

Souvenir of the day was worn by a short haired tourist sporting tattoos on his right arm: fake black hairy sideburns attached to movie star sunglasses. I walked across the street to photograph things fans had written/ drawn on the brick wall surrounding the perimeter of Graceland.

Last time there was this poem: "Your hair was dyed black, your shoes were blue suede. I liked to pertinear died when you went away."

"Elvis, your music wasn't that good but your house is nice"

Robert maintains that Elvis & Graceland will be popular about 10 more years until all the people who were alive when he was a star are dead, that afterwards the public will lose interest. I don't know about that. I think his music is timeless, especially the gospel songs.

I thought the front room & dining room were pretty. I liked the shirred fabric coverd walls by the pool table. I was surprised to see how many outbuildings were on the property. Some had basements underneath containing a museum of trophies & costumes. There was a scale model of Elvis's Tupelo, Mississippi birthplace.

Elvis & Priscilla's wedding clothes were on display as well as their clothes for the night Elvis was presented 1967 Memphis Jaycee Young Man of the Year. I didn't realize Priscilla was so petite.

It was interesting to see all Elvis' costumes, his many awards, not just one award but a dozen of each kind. RCA even gave him a console television in recognition of his contribution to their bottom line.

When Elvis had a platinum record that was due to cassette plus recored sales the tape plus the record was on display on the trophy.

The country music entertainer award was a small gold cowboy boot on a plaque; the national asssociation of record manufacturers was a 3D musical note.

Robert checked Hotels.com on the internet using his cell phone, noticing a deal for Marriott. He sneaked away, called them on his own and got a good rate for that night. Hotels.com got their revenge later when we used them to book a room at the Millenium hotel in St. Louis. The service charged his credit card right away but when he checked with the Millennium 4 hours later as we got closer to St. Louis the place still hadn't received our reservation. Upon arrival we learned his name and address had been misspelled in spite of spelling out each letter when he secured the booking, i.e. 'R' as in rat, 'O' as in other, 'B' as in bat & so on for his entire name/ address. As a result he couldn't use internet hookup in our room nor a printer in the hotel business center due to the misspelled name which was totally the error of Hotels.com. We needed to use the printer when getting tickets for the arch & had to have the printout when we showed up the next morning to get times assigned for our selections. Expedia.com arranged for the payment. This indicates it is all the same company, probably an afffiliate of Travelocity as well.

After Graceland we headed toward the river because of a promo on the local morning news about a world championship barbeque cook off.

Championship Barbeque

We parked as close as we could to the festival site in a temporary lot manned by a Dixie Parking attendant charging vehicles $20. We got there before 2 pm with 15 minutes to spare or we would be also had to pay an $8 per person gate fee.

The cook off was for serious competitors. There were 258 booths with corporate sponsors arranged in a figure 8 on 33 acres along the river bank. Booths were landscaped with gardens, resembling hospitality suites. They were equipped with premium liquor wet bars, dining tables & fine linens, but there was no admission without an invitation from either the teams or the sponsors.

We talked to one group of competitors who were coworkers at a Birmingham, Alabama steel mill. They created a barbeque pit out of an air compressor cylinder, had several big trophies from previous wins to attest to the success of their innovations.

A barn-sized People's Choice tent in the middle of it all charged $4 a plate for random competitor samples. Diners got to vote on favorites. We opted instead to sample barbeque from McCormick's booth, "Bring It Tong". We later purchased a Corky's pulled pork sandwich ,roasted ears of corn & lemonade. Other vendors were Cowboy's and Leo's Fried Chicken.

We heard a talk in the College of Pig Knowledge tent by two barbeque judges about what to look for in good barbeque & about tricks some competitors pull to try to win a cook off. Entrants are whole pig, shoulder or ribs. There is a side category for baked beans, for exotics such as javelina or emu. Barbeque sauces were vinegar, wet or dry rub. Judging is two-fold; on-site live & 'blind box'. Blind box is worth half the score, including meat plus sauce. Criteria are appearence, tenderness & flavor. Whole pigs are cooked 18 hours whereas ribs were started at 5 am today, judging day. On-site judging is on neatness and appearence of the booth plus taste of the food.

Memphis is honoring the country of Turkey this month. There were Turkish themes in booth decorating. Belly dancers lounged about the midway. Top 3 teams in each of the 3 categories win $3,000 each; grand champion takes home $22,000. 4th place winners are guaranteed a spot on next year's roster along with the other 9 from today.

Top competitors included It's 5 O'Clock Somewhere, Curly Tail Smokers, Sweet Swine O'Mind, Barnyard Roasters, Whirling Pigishes, Killer Hogs, Red Hot Smokers, Notorious P.I.G., Pork Fiction, Pork Illustrated, the Good the Bad & the Piggly, Spider Pig, VooDoo Barbeque.

There were bags of corporate sponsor giveaways; toothpaste, dental floss, Tums, Greased Lightning cleaner, can wraps, sipper cups.

Careers.com had a t shirt for anyone who would agree to make a short video complaining about a bad boss or worse job. Our favorite was the Sensodyne toothpaste tent with a massage chair for 5 minutes while a dental technician discussed tooth care trends.

Winners were announced from the sound stage where there were concerts in the evening.

Peabody Hotel and Beale Street

We left in time to see the ducks swim in the fountain of the Peabody Hotel at 5 pm. They also do this daily at 11 am. Mama & I watched it from the 2nd floor balcony with a good view. We counted a crowd of 450 people waiting to see the show. The hotel rolls out a red carpet for the ducks to march to the fountain in the center of the lobby. At least a dozen ducks live up on the hotel roof in a room-sized cage with a wading pool in the back of a blonde brick mini penthouse.

The fountain is huge, ornately carved with requisite animal figures. After half an hour the duck wrangler, a bald employee wearing a black suit with grey vest looking not unlike Uncle Ben on a box of rice, waves a black cane topped by an elegant told duck head handle over the fountain. This is the signal for the ducks to hop out, proceed to the elevator &d return to their quarters upstairs. On this day two lucky cousins around 10 years of age assisted him. They boys received a certificate to mark the occaision before reminding the ducks it was time to go.

The Peabody is elegant, built in 1937. Mama & I tagged along with a tour group being shown the premises. We saw what is referred to as the 'junior' ballroom. It had a massive chandelier & was 5,000 square feet. The other ballroom was 16,000 square feet.

Robert took us up on the roof to see the duck pen. The roof is open 24 hours. It had cocktail tables, floor length linen table cloths set up with candles & flowers. There was an elegant supper club behind a blue curtain between the elevator & the roof. There was a droppped circular dance floor, a raised dais for the band. It was being prepared for a wedding reception later that evening. What a great place to see the sun set slowly in the west!

From the Peabody we walked down Beale Street. Beale Street is bounded on one end by a blues museum that has a Gibson guitar exhibit. It ends with a song; a park with apitheater for al fresco concerts. It is a mix of bars, restaurants, music clubs plus Schwab's Dry Goods.

Schwab's sells general merchandise from the 1960's to some indeterinate time in a past decade. There was no way you could walk by an not go in. Prices on merchandise in alluring bay windows did not seem to have been changed since the goods were received. The displays brought to mind things we used to have but lost or some gadget we sure could find a use for. We're from New Orleans. After Katrina we had a significant emotional need to replace lost things over & above the desires of an average person strolling past the store front. Glory hallelujah, it had an upstairs too! The only thing stopping me was that it closed at 5 pm. I made a vow to return.

We were able to purchase souvenirs from Memphis Music next door. It was open late to accommodate crowds in town for the barbeque party. The store was blessed with a friendly, polite man in white 3 piece suit singing from his heart, perhaps something he himself composed, helping people find selections in the impressive music department. I couldn't decide if he was an inebriated passerby, wandering in with the crowd or if he was an employee. Memphis Music is the grandfather of all good record stores; an old fashioned purveyor of music memorabelia, music themed clothing, home furnishings, art, expensive harmonicas, accessories such as blown glass guitar slides, recordings by all the greats of the Memphis sound in gospel & blues.

The interesting part of Beale Street is 5 blocks long. W C Handy lived here once. In every block at intervals of 3 per block the sidewalk had brass musical notes with blues musicians' names such as Bobby Blue Bland. There were bands playing on every street corner. The lead singers all wore a fedora. Bars and restaurants set up temporary ramshackle booths on the sidewalk leaning against their door jamb constrtucted from two pieces of lumber with a flimsy roof, selling 'Big Assed Beers', 32 oz Coors Light. It was hard to determine which was leaning more, the walls of these stands or customers who had purchased beers there.

A gabby, diminutive singer in a hat and 3 piece suit, hollering into a microphone plugged into a building stood in the middle of the street. He wasn't talking because he couldn't hit the high notes; he clued the listener on all side issues, haranging passersby for change. It was a verbal receipt. He told you all the things he needed the money for & what he would spend it on when his guitar case got full of tips. The name of the group written on the drum kit was Big Jerry. Big Jerry was very fat and was murdering a depressed wooden cafe chair playing electric guitar next to the drummer. Never did catch the lead singer's name.

Situated between two buildings across from Big Jerry inside the entrance to that park at the end of the street was a four and a half piece combo, the Juke Joint Boys performing on a small stage. An appreciative crowd draped themselves on park benches or against the marble courtyard fountain, some couples dancing to the music, some women dancing in tandem like Dianah Ross and the Supremes, only with laryngitis.

The lead singer told us he was from South Side Chicago. He sounded like Lou Rawls. The 'half in 4 1/2 piece combo refers to a sidekick wearing a 3 piece suit & hat circulating with 5 gallon tip buckets, hawking cds.

After we left the park you could still hear them at the end of the block. Mama said the farther away we got the better they sounded. We left before dark. Although the mood was festive increased police presence & growing crowds plus hangers on watching the crowds made us wary.

We had barbeque for supper at Logan's. Robert & I had been to another Logan's before when we stayed at a different Marriott in Louisiana.

May 17,2008

Lunch was at Lambert's in Sikeston, a country restaurant specializing in southern cooking where the waiters throw rolls at customers. Those hot yeast rolls might be the best thing on the menu. One of the young men throwing rolls said they recruit the local high school baseball stars for this position, that you have the arm or you don't.

Periodically during the meal waiters come along with big bowls of food such as macaroni & tomatoes or fried okra. For atmosphere a woman played the piano from memory in player piano style. It would be easy to imagine her day job was church organist at the largest sanctuary in town. The other locations of the business are in Foley and Branson but it all started here.

I would say the food is not that great but there is alot of it. This business was probably the model for the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain. Lambert's opened in 1947.

They are able to accommodate a huge crowd of diners even if they show up as a group or just a crowd of them individually but nearly simultaneously.

Greyhound bus of seniors on a day trip to the outlet mall, no problem. Mormon family reunion arriving in separate cars, no worries. Herd of bikers, Rolling Thunder revue, come on in all of y'all.