Figure 1: Summarizing New Orleans in one sign board.
We visited New Orleans, Louisiana in December, around Christmas time.
New Orleans, that southern town known for its music, cuisine, writers,
drunken reveries, Mardi Gras, Jazz and Blues music, Mississippi river,
swamps, and corrupt public servants. That this town chose to name
their airport after a musician tells us a thing or two about them,
• • •
Figure 2: Somewhere in Kentucky.
Figure 3: Land Between the Lakes, Kentucky.
Figure 4: Barn, Tennessee.
We drove from Indiana to Lousiana through Kentucky, Tennessee, and
Mississippi. We mainly took country roads, avoiding the interstate
highways because we felt that it is the right way to see the country,
and because we felt some love and allegiance to John Steinbeck who
wrote, in Travels with Charlie, that:
These great roads are wonderful for moving goods but not for
inspection of a countryside. You are bound to the wheel and your eyes
to the car ahead and to the rear-view mirror for the card behind and
the side mirror for the car or truck about to pass, and at the same
time you must read all the signs for fear you may miss some
instructions or orders. No roadside stands selling squash juice, no
antique stores, no farm products or factory outlets. When we get
these thruways across the whole country, as we will and must, it will
be possible to drive from New York to California without seeing a
It is indeed is possible to drive across United States without really
seeing much. We felt a compulsion to see the country, as much as one
can see it by driving our tiny hatchback through the backroads. I
would like to report that we were rather successful in that, and that
we would like to do this more often. Highways are odd – they remain
simultaneously boring and scary.
• • •
We ate our rather unmemorable Christmas dinner (pizza) at a gas
station. (Note to self: don't ever do this again. You will feel
sorry for the gas station employees, who really should spend the
evening with their families, even if your snobby pagan self don't care
that much about Christmas festivities.)
We spent the night in a place called Southwood Inn in Selmor,
Tennessee. The inn's front desk had copies of The McNairy County
News, which, on its front page, reported the story of an rescued dog,
whom his rescuers called "Chip". The newspaper said:
The vet said Chip had intention on his head and had suffered blunt
force trauma where someone had apparently hit him on the head in an
effort to kill him. Several of his teeth had been knocked out.
There is swelling and hair loss around his face and both his eyelids
are missing from what the vet thinks is from someone pouring flammable
liquids on him and setting him on fire. The tip of his penis was cut
off and he is unable to control his urination. Surgery to fix Chip is
estimated to cost over $2,000.
Figure 5: Chip dog's tragic story.
Figure 6: "… his penis was cut off and he is unable to control his urination."
On one hand, I am glad that Chip is finally in good hands, and that a
paper like The McNairy County News exists, and they are willing to
give space in front page to a story like this. On the other hand,
there exists humans that bring shame to our species…
• • •
Figure 7: Natchez Trace Parkway, Mississippi.
Figure 8: French Camp Academy on Natchez Trace, Mississippi.
Figure 9: Cow herd excited to meet a human, Mississippi.
In Mississippi, we came across The Natchez Trace Parkway, the longest
stretch of road we drove on, the least inhabited stretch of land we
saw on our way, and perhaps the prettiest.
The Natchez Trace is an old path that that connected Natchez,
Mississippi to Nashville, Tennessee. Native American tribes used it
for centuries, and then early European explorers followed. When
steamboats appeared in Mississippi River, the Trace lost its
prominence. These days the Natchez Trace Parkway, maintained by
National Park Services, preserves the Old Natchez Trace's memories.
• • •
Figure 10: Brass Band at the French Quarter.
Figure 11: At Blue Nile Bar.
Figure 12: Washboard Chaz Trio playing at Blue Nile Bar.
Figure 13: Seen on Frenchmen street.
We did the touristy things (taking the streetcar on Canal Street,
checking out the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, dragging
our feet through French quarter, gawking at street life, sipping hand
grenade while out in the street – those kind of things). We also did
get to hang out with a bunch of drunk itinerant musicians, who proudly
called themselves "homeless bums".
Figure 14: Itinerant people.
Bob, Nick, and Mark are from Michigan, and were planning to head to
Florida (for the winter months, I believe) from New Orleans. They
stopped us on the street to sell us jokes: a joke for a dollar, that
was the offer. We did not have any money on us, but they told us some
jokes anyway. I don't remember the jokes anymore, but I do remember
laughing much, and I do have a recording of the song they sang for us.
• • •
Figure 15: NOLA Theyyam and other artwork, seen in Treme.
Figure 16: Seen in The Historic New Orleans Collection.
Figure 17: Late lunch on Canal street.
• • •
Figure 18: Henry the baby alligator.
We took a swamp boat tour (one of the things you do when in New
Orleans), where we met Henry the baby alligator.
Henry was with our swamp tour captain. Henry will be released to the
swamp when he grows to about four and a half foot – as a young male,
he is at the risk of being eaten by the big territorial alpha males.
Our captain warned us not to mess with the part where he does his
business – under his belly, between the hind legs, where the tail
begins – or he might spray pee all over. He joked that they bottle
that stuff in these parts and call it "gatorade."
December evidently is not the best time of the year to get to go meet
the alligators in their natural habitat, but swamps themselves are
very interesting, even when no alligators are in display.
• • •
Figure 19: At LSU.
Figure 20: Thousand Acres Lake, Tennessee.
Figure 21: Thousand Acres Lake, Tennessee.
Figure 22: Back in Indiana.
Figure 23: Rear view mirror.
I kept track of the route, in case if I ever feel like tracing it back
We took I-69 to Indianapolis, stayed there for a night, and then
headed south through the countryside: through the towns of Gosport,
Spencer, Freedom, Worthington, Lyons, Westphalia, Edwardsport,
Bucknell, and Evansville in Indiana; and Henderson, Dixon, Providence,
Princeton, Cadiz, Land Between the Lakes National Recreation Area,
Kenlake State Resort Park, Murray, and Hazel in Kentucky; Purear,
Paris, Henry, Huntingdon, Lexington, Adamsville, and Selmor in
Tennessee; Corinth, Shiloh Battlefield, Tuscumbia River (after which
we drove on Natchez Trace Parkway for a few hundred miles, and stopped
at French Camp Academy cafe for lunch), Kosciuszko, Carthage, Walnut
Grove, Forest, Bienville National Forest, Raleigh, Mize ("home of
watermelon festival"), Columbia ("city of charm of pearl river"), Ford
House ("first house in pearl river valley") in Mississippi; entered LA
21S, and passed through Angie and a bunch of other towns which I
missed to note down because it was dark by then; drove on Lake
Pontchartrain Causeway (a world-record holding 38.35 km long bridge)
to enter New Orleans.
On our way back home, we stopped at Louisiana State University in
Baton Rouge, and then drove north: we passed Homochitto National
Forest, Crosby, Vicksburg, Yazoo City, Morgan Break Wildlife Refuge,
Matthew's Break Wildlife Refuge, Greenwood ("cotton capital of the
world"), Malmaison Wildlife Management Area, Holcomb ("home of
doodlebag festival"), Grenada (ate lunch at Grenada Southern City Cafe
and Grill), Holly Springs Forest, Coffeeville, Water Valley, Oxford,
Wal Doxey State Park, Holly Springs in Mississippi; Hickory Valley,
Bolivar, Chicksaw State Park, Medon, Jackson, Thousand Acres Lakes,
Huntingdon, Paris, Fort Danielson National Battlefield, Cross Creeks
National Wildlife Refuge, and Clarksville in Tennessee; Homestead,
Russellville, Morgantown ("catfish capital of the world"), Caneyville,
Falls on the Rough (stayed at the Resort Inn, where folk spoke to us
in thick rural Kentucky accent), Kingwood, Irvington (sent postcards
to Bill from here), and Brandenburg in Kentucky; New Middleton
(stopped at Log Cabin Cafe for breakfast), Crandall, Salem, Vallonia,
Brownstone, (Indiana's Historic Pathways - North Spur), Seymour,
Muskatatuk National Wildlife Refuge Hayden, (lunch at Fireside Pizza),
Greensburg, Rushville, Spiceland, Newcastle, Muncie, Hartford City,
Markle, and Ossian in Indiana, and finally home!
The round trip was around 1900 miles (3050 kms), and it was great fun.
• • •
I checked out New Orleans, Mon Amour: Twenty Years of Writings from
the City by Andrei Codrescu from the library. Of New Orleans,
Nostalgia is a full-time business in New Orleans, replete with
manufactured glories, blessed by the chamber of commerce, and abetted
by the cult of literary figures.
It is easy to romanticize New Orleans – after all, dozens of writers,
including Mark Twain, Walt Whitman, James Audubon, George Cable, and
Lafcadio Hearn – did. They romanticized it down to its hideous
summers, its muddy winters, its cutthroat streets, its gamblers, its
crooked politicians, its whores. It was precisely from such corrupt
gumbo that the dazzling flowers of its music – jazz, blues, Dixie –
sprouted and dazzled the world. It was likewise with the telling and
making of stories, the pageantry of Carnival, the complexity of dance,
the subtleties of the palate. Hearing and admiring these fleurs the
unwary tourist will sometime stumble into the living mud that feeds
On the moonwalk by the river in downtown New Orleans, a saxophonist
lets loose with a melancholy rendition of Charlie Parker’s “Mood.” A
few tourists gawk at him misty-eyed because he fits exactly into that
jazz-musician-shaped hole in their heads that they brought with them
from the Midwest. In truth, the man isn’t bad. He’s loose, playful,
and knows exactly what he’s dishing up. He’s a good-looking black man
in his mid-fifties, with a salt-and-pepper beard. The sax case at his
feet is stickered with European decals. He’s played Paris, Amsterdam,
and Barcelona. The sax case is open and quickly filling with fives.
We have always jokingly referred to New Orleans as part of the Third
World, a foreign country in the United States. We didn't know how
right we were. America either loves us or hates us. Those who love us
love our music and food, a music and food that came from the depths of
poverty and sorrow. The slaves sang spirituals to lift themselves up
from pain and to get God’s ear. New Orleans jazz was born in
whorehouses, another means of alleviating pain. This music told the
stories of the poor who had no way out of New Orleans except for Jesus
or gin. New Orleans has other arts, brought here by Spanish and French
colonists, by pirates and renegades, by writers from other geographies
of pain, and by Caribbean pagans. New Orleans has the most diverse
spirituality in the whole of our quickly homogenizing states.
Did I just read a little contempt for visitors from the Midwest
somewhere there? Perhaps I should feel insulted, even if I'm not
quite "from" the Midwest?