Saturday, November 28, 2015

Last Notes on Mobile, Alabama

After we had finished the Carnival Museum we had a little time left in our day before the sun sank below the horizon.  We drove over to the Geri Moulton Children's Park near USA Children's and Women Hospital.  In a beautiful wooded setting there are more than 50 life size bronze sculptures depicting children and families.
The statue above has the title Puppy Love- "Our Children Are Our Future".  It is dedicated to the faculty and staff of the University of Alabama College of Nursing.  Some of the statues, commissioned by individual families, are dedicated to children who have died.  The park brought back bittersweet memories of my years as a pediatric nurse at St.Louis Children's Hospital in St. Louis.
Pictured above is an oyster sculpture called LoDa (this is what the Lower Dauphin Street shopping area is called).  Mobile, Alabama has been called, "The Big Oyster".  There are dozens of giant oysters around the downtown area, made of fiberglass.  On the backside of them there is information about the economic and ecological benefit oysters provide for the Mobile Bay and the Mississippi Sound.  We discovered some of the oysters while on our downtown walk.
One of Mobile's nicknames is also the Azalea City.  No, you are right in thinking that the flower above is not an azalea.  John and I were just here at the wrong time of the year for azaleas and we will perhaps remember the town for the many beautiful camellias which are blooming now.  We visited Mobile's Botanical Garden Wednesday and learned that the greatest concentration of outstanding camellia introductions in the world originated along the central Gulf Coast.  No where else can such a broad spectrum of camellias be grown as in the Mobile area.  According to park information, 600 new camellias composed of 400 new cultivators are planted along the paths of the garden.  Equally beautiful this time of the year are the Japanese maple trees in the garden at this time of the year.  What a beautiful display of autumnal color!
Next to the Botanical Garden is the Mobile Museum of art which we also visited.  I especially enjoyed its collection of American Art dating from the Revolutionary War to more recent times.  The museum is one of the Gulf Coast's largest art exhibits.  It has a permanent collection of more than 6,000 works spanning 2,000 years of cultural history.  We spent another day this past week touring the USS Alabama and the submarine USS Drum, both World War II vessels.  I have done postings on other battleships in the past, so will not write on that experience.  All I will note here about the USS Alabama is that it is very large- it was able to provide a home and work place for 2,500 troops. 
That was our week in Mobile, we were kept busy touring the city nearly every day we were here, and still we did not see all that it has to offer.  Friday we moved on into Florida.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Mobile Carnival Museum

Monday it was still cool so we thought it best to visit museums or some of the older homes.  Unfortunately, it being Monday, many of them were closed- except for one which sounded very interesting and different to us.  The Carnival Museum is a repository of historical artifacts pertaining to the Mardi Gras in Mobile.  We had learned from our tour book that Mobile lays claim to being the birthplace of Mardi Gras in the United States.  The first one was held in 1703, 15 years before New Orleans (another city which celebrates the carnival in a big way) was even founded.  The Carnival Museum is located in a restored mansion.  By the way, the balloons in the picture below, as well as on many of the floats, are made from pig bladders.  It was one of many interesting details regarding the carnival which our tour guide shared with us.
The first room we entered on our tour of the museum had a couple of floats from past carnivals in it.
There are several companies on the Gulf coast whose only work is to make floats like the one above.  Artist are also hired to consult with them.  Mardi Gras begins every year with the Feast of Epiphany and continues until Fat Tuesday.  This period of time is marked by parades, balls, feasts and pageantry.  Some are sponsored by mystic traditional societies, some of which are secretive and not open to the public.   There are also societies formed by affiliated groups as co-workers, bachelors, Jews, Black women- they may have open membership.  Some of the groups are out to just have fun, as the Comic Cowboys.  Just after the Civil War the first group to revive the Mardi Gras custom was a number of Confederate soldiers who called themselves the Lost Cause Minstrels.  Over the past three centuries many of the groups have come and gone.  Our guide said that there are currently 39 societies.   We learned about some of those groups during our tour of the museum, as well as their costumes.
Pictured above is a costume of the Santa Claus Society, behind him is a Maid of Mirth, and the blue costume belongs to the Blue Knights of Revelry.
On display in the museum is also some of the Queens and Kings formal dresses, suit, and trains over the years.  They are quite elaborate and decorated with jewels and other ornamentation.  I believe it is the one pictured above which is said to weight 84 pounds and needed ball bearings under it for the queen to be able to walk with it.  One king's train was also fascinating. Story has it that his mother traveled to France to gain information as to how to design his Napoleon costume. The train especially is quite elaborate, complete with little bee pins.  Napoleon used the symbol of the bee on his uniform to show off his prestige and power. 
In the picture above you may notice a china plate on display in the corner.  That particular king's feast had china decorated with the head of Napoleon.  In the museum there is a display of another king's table and decorations which he had prepared for his queen.  It all was a bit much to wrap my head around, but Mardi Gras is an important tradition in Mobile!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A Sunday Walk on Dauphin Street in Mobile

Before I begin, I have to give a shout out to St.Paul Lutheran Church (a member of Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) for the wonderful reception they gave us when we attended church there on Sunday.  Many of the members came up and introduced themselves, they were also insistent that we stay after church and join them for their Thanksgiving meal.   It was almost as wonderful as being back at our home church in St.Louis!
It was one of the coldest days that Mobile has had since February (high for Sunday was 53 degrees with a strong wind).  Fortunately we were prepared for the cold by layering with a couple of jackets.  We started our walk at Fort Conde, located in downtown Mobile.  It is a replica of a fort, built between 1723-1735, to defend the French colony from the Spanish and British.  There is quite an extensive museum in the fort detailing the history of Mobile.  It was there we learned more about Jean-Baptiste Le Moyne Sieur de Bienville. We first heard of him In New Orleans as he was once governor of French Louisiana.  He was also founder of the French colony in Mobile in the early 1700s.  An interesting story about him, which we learned in the museum, was that he had his body tattooed  with snakes.  He had noticed that the Indians had done that to their bodies with needles, and so when he marched into battle with them he went nude.  That was to show his tattoos and to to indicate that he was part of them.
We learned at the museum that Mobile has had quite a bit of history since the 1700s.  It went from a French colony to a British one until Spain captured it in 1780.   Three decades later Spain lost Mobile to the United States.  And there is also quite a bit of history in the city in regards to the Civil War.  The Battle of Mobile Bay was an important win for the Union Army.   Our walk took us by the statue of Raphael Semmes,  Admiral of the Confederate States Navy.  The sign below him notes that he was a "Sailor, Patriot, Statesman, Scholar and Christian Gentleman".
Our walk took us to a couple of parks which are called Bienville Square and Cathedral Square.  An important part of the latter park is the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception built in 1842.
Mobile has fortunately kept many of its older buildings which are notable for not only their beautiful architecture, but also rich in history.  Pictured below was the residence of Nicola Marschall who in 1861 designed the Confederate flag and uniform.  The building was constructed in 1853.

One last building to mention here is the Saenger Theater.  It was constructed in 1926 to be a home for vaudeville and silent movies, and remains still today the entertainment center for downtown.   We had seen in the paper that the Mobile Symphony was playing "Beethoven and Blue Jeans" there this week-end.   Unfortunately we were to busy being tourists that we failed to purchase tickets for it!

Bellingrath Home and Gardens- part Two

In the last posting I mentioned of a series of waterfalls flowing down to the Fowl River.  Before moving on with scenes of the house on the outside, I want  to show one of those beautiful fountains.  With cascading mums framing it, it is just too gorgeous to omit!
There was no way for me to get an over-all view of the Bellingrath home as it is completely surrounded by trees.  I can only offer here small glimpses of sections of the 15-room home. The best one showing the brick two-story building is a view looking up at the north terrace.  This side of the house, which features a series of terraces, offers scenes of the river.
The house was built in 1935 as a permanent residence.  It was constructed using bricks dating from 1835 and ironwork from the 1870s.  They were salvaged from historic structures being demolished in Mobile.  Pictured below is the entrance to the home.  It exudes all the warmth of an old English manor.
A courtyard was built off to the left side of the entrance, it was designed to be in the Italianate villa style- a style which was not carried out in the design of the rest of the house.  Also, in the picture below, notice the wrought- iron framing the entrance, as well as the balconies which have cascading mums.
Bessie Bellingrath died in 1943, and her husband in 1955.  By 1957 the house was opened for tours per their request.  All of her collections of period furniture, porcelain, and crystal  remain in the house.  There are Royal Dalton figurines as well as Meissen china.  The interior of the house is as wonderful to see as well as the gardens!   After the house tour we still had more to see of the grounds.  We visited a small chapel which was designed for services for the Bellingraths and their guests.  There is also a rockery with winding stairs, waterfalls and pools, as well as a Japanese/ Chinese garden.  We walked around Mirror Lake which was once a runoff pond for a 19th century sawmill.  Mrs. Bellingrath loved swans, so three large metal swans can be seen floating on the lake.  There is no way I can completely cover everything at Bellingrath Gradens,  I only hope what I have written here will also convince you to put this on your bucket list,  if you have not as yet visited this home in Mobile.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Bellingrath Gardens

We have now moved on to Mobile, Alabama.  These gardens had been on John's bucket list to see.  They are considered to be one of the South's most beautiful gardens, and they certainly more than came up to our high expectations.  However, it is the end of November and I was concerned that the gardens may not be at their best appearance given the time of the year.  We were quite fortunate that we were proven to be wrong- the gardens currently have an amazing display of cascading mums.  This exhibit is done yearly, a staff member informed me that 80,000 plants are set out every fall.  Unfortunately this coming week will be the end of them as they will be discarded for the Christmas light display in the garden.  By the way, this is not your usual mum.  These mums can be used in hanging baskets, as you may notice in the picture below.
After we purchased our tickets we were told that tours of the house would not begin for about another hour.  So we then began our tour of the gardens.  There is a total of 900 acres of land, of which 65 are cultivated.  Our first stop was the conservatory built in 1935.  In front of it is a very large rose garden which features about 75 varieties of roses.  Despite the cooler weather, many are still in bloom.
In the conservatory there is a large poinsettia tree, as well as many blooming Christmas cacti and plumeria, pineapple plants as well as orchids - to name but a few of the many tropical plants in the building.
Our walk next took us along the Great Lawn, which is a large meadow.  It formerly was a farm which adjoined the original fishing camp.  The flower bed bordering the lawn is 400 feet long and has a variety of flowers, including the cascading mums and mums in the ground.  Both sides of the walk have the flower beds.
Live oak plaza is at the center of the gardens.  It adjoins a series of fountains and runnels which once carried an overflow of an artisan spring down to the Fowl  River.  The view from the plaza down to the riverfront pavilion is pictured below.  At this point we needed to stop and tour the home,  more on that in the next posting.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Baton Rouge- Part Two

There are many historical places of note on the capitol grounds.  An Indian mound is located there dating back 3,500 years.  The grounds were once the site of the British Fort San Carlos.  Spanish forces in 1779 retook the fort and ended British control of the Mississippi River.  The Pentagon Barracks were built in this area in 1819 and survived Civil War bombardment.  The weather was too unpredictable with strong winds and a bit of moisture in the air so we were unable to explore many of the historic sites on the capitol grounds.  We did, however, tour the old arsenal museum.

Zachary Taylor, our 12th president, lived on the grounds of the capitol.  He was in command of the 1st US Infantry Regiment that built the arsenal in 1819.  Part of the armory, the powder magazine building,  is pictured above.  In 1865 that structure was part of the Union line of defense, it occupied Baton Rouge for most of the Civil War.  In 1862 the Union Army burned the capitol building and the capitol was moved to Opelousas, Louisiana temporarily.  A new capitol building was built in 1880 in Baton Rouge.
Our first impression was that the old capitol building looks a bit like a castle.  We came to find out later that the original building looked quite definitely like a castle complete with cast iron turrets and towers.  Mark Twain called it a "sham castle".  The turrets and towers were removed in 1907. 
A beautiful gilded staircase caught our eyes the second we stepped into the rotunda of the capitol.  The massive cast-iron staircase has 32 steps which fan out from the center column and led us to the second floor gallery.  The canopy of stained glass over the old state capitol is a beautiful kaleidoscope of color.  Wood frames hold in place the more than 2,000 panes of glass that make up the dome.
On the second floor are rooms with displays relating to the history of Louisiana, especially the governors.  As I wrote in the previous posting, most notorious of them was Huey Long.  One room is devoted to Long's good and bad virtues, letting the visitor to decide for himself/herself how they wish to remember the man.  True, he got a lot accomplished for the state, as 13,000 mile of roads, funding for Louisiana State University and the Port of New Orleans, books for school children- in a sense he was a bit like Robin Hood in that regard.  However, as the museum also indicates, he was a ruthless dictator in his political wheeling and dealing.  Many years ago I read All The Kings Men by Robert P. Warren, and one of the characters, Willie Stark, is believed to be inspired by the life of Huey Long. 
We had to walk a few blocks from the new capitol to the older one.  Baton Rouge is a mixture of older buildings, as well as newer ones.  One of the older buildings has a balcony with the cast-iron architecture which we saw in New Orleans.  That said, as we neared our destination, we passed the beautiful Manship Theater as well as the town square- all very modernistic in appearance.  As you can see in the picture below, rain storms were heading into Baton Rouge.  It was time for us to leave Baton Rouge, a city which surprised us more than we expected with its most fascinating history.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Baton Rouge, Louisiana

This is the capitol city of Louisiana,  and we do try to visit the state capitols as much as possible.  Our niece Kat was a bit dubious about visiting the city, but she was up for going where we wanted to go.  During the course of the day we learned about how the city got its name.  Baton Rouge in English means "red stick".  A French explorer in 1698 saw a tree stripped of its bark and draped with freshly killed animals.  It marked the boundary line between two American Indian tribes.  So Baton Rouge became known as the place of the red stick, I must admit it does sound a bit odd.
A place high on my list to visit was the old governor's mansion.  The Georgian mansion constructed in 1930 for Huey Long is said to be a copy of the White House.  It was replaced as the governor's home in 1961. Unfortunately we were not able to tour the mansion as it was closed for the day.   Here I need to digress, as I want to write here about Jimmie Davis, the first governor to live in the new governor's mansion in 1962.  He wrote "You are my sunshine" and "The green,green grass of home".  Just for writing those two pieces of music, he far outshines the other governor of Louisiana, Huey Long,  of whom we were going to learn more than we would ever want to know in the course of our day!  Davis served two terms, and was known as the "singing governor".  It has been said that he sang his way into the hearts of the people of Louisiana.
Back to Huey Long, his statue was the one of the first objects we saw looming over the horizon as we walked unto the capitol grounds.  One of his hands is atop a miniature version of the current capitol building.  And how that building came to be the tallest state capitol in the United States is an interesting one.  Long had visited Lincoln, Nebraska and saw their modern tall capitol.  He wanted something similar, but bigger.  The current capitol building is 34 flours high and stands at 450 feet.
 Unfortunately Long was assassinated in the new capitol three years later.  His body lies in the memorial garden where his statue is located.   There is not much to see in the capitol, other than the house and senate rooms and the overlook of the city from the 27th floor.  The senate room is pictured below.
The senate room is all ready for Christmas, quite over the top with the decorations.  The docent who gave us a brief talk about the capitol noted that the senators and representatives are only here about three months out of the year during the spring months.  We also learned that only the senators have offices in the building, and they are closet size.  The representatives carry out their business in the lobby.  There are 64 parishes in the state, compared to 19 when the state was annexed into the United States in 1812.  The docent also noted that the ceilings in both the senate and house are made from the pulp of sugar cane.  We got a good view of the capitol grounds as well as the city from the overlook on the 27th floor.  The picture below is the view looking to the west and the Mississippi River.  Capitol Lake is in the foreground.  There will be more on Baton Rouge in my next posting.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

French Quarter of New Orleans

In the French Quarter is historic Jackson Square, pictured above.  Pictured above is a common scene in the square of musicians, palm readers, artists and a variety of other street performers.
The street performer above startle me when, after I dropped a dollar in his bucket, he/she suddenly moved and gave me a deep curtsy!  In the background is General Andrew Jackson on his horse.

One cannot visit the square without stepping into the Basilica Of St.Louis of France, the oldest Catholic Cathedral in the United States.  The first permanent church was built in 1727, but was destroyed in 1788.  The present one was completed in 1851.  The statues, stained glass and frescoes  on the ceiling are all quite beautiful.  On the right side are flags which represent the countries which New Orleans has been under from its founding to the present.
The French Quarter is about some 90 blocks, we only covered a small portion of it.  From the square we spent some time in the French Market where we just had to stop at Cafe du Monde for beignets.  The market has gift shops, bazaars, clothing stores and a praline cookery.   We also walked on the waterfront of the Mississippi River and visited Washington Artillery.

Walking back to our car we happened to see the building where Faulkner in 1925 wrote his first novel, "Soldier's Pay".  According to the historical marker, the building was constructed in 1840 on a site formerly occupied by the yard and buildings of a French colonial prison.  It is now a bookstore, otherwise we never would have given the building a second glance!
We would have missed the Blue Dog in a store front window had not Kat drawn our attention to him.  He was created by the Louisiana artist George Rodrigue.  After Katrina devastated the city the artist painted the dog half submerged in water with a red cross on his chest.  Using the dog and a motto "we will rise again" he created an initiative called Blue Dog Relief.

New Orleans

John and I have visited New Orleans now several times.  This time we benefited greatly having our niece Kat along as tour guide.  Our first stop Monday was at Lafreniere Park, a park which Kat loves to visit because of the wildlife which can be found there.  It was a first sighting for us of the black-bellied whistling duck.

There were many of them in the park, as well as ibis and sea gulls.  A couple of nutria were also hanging around the birds.  They are a rat-like invasive pest from South America, and look like musk rats.  One other note here, Lafreniere for whom the park is named, was a leader of a colonial revolt in 1764.  He protested the transfer of the French colony of New Orleans to Spain and was executed for his treason.
Our next stop was Metairie Cemetery, one of the largest cemeteries in New Orleans which is a "showplace of tomb architecture" ( quote taken from AAA tour book).   Characteristic of New Orleans, if a tomb is not in a concrete vault it is above ground.  Many of the larger tombs contain more than one family member.  A favorite tomb which Kat likes is the Egyptian sphinx.  We could have spent the rest of our day looking at the many interesting tombstones, but we still had many more places to visit in New Orleans.
Our stop for lunch was a good one, again thanks to Kat.  We ate at Booty's Street Food restaurant.  It features food from around the world, and the menu is changed daily.  Kat had shrimp ceviche from Ecuador.  It was a cold soup of poached shrimp, tomatoes, onions, lime and cilantro served with a side of popcorn.  That was from Ecuador, I tried it and it was tasty.   John had empanadas from Portugal,  I stuck to what I knew with fish and chips- however I did try the chips with curry ketchup!  Not bad at all.
Out of all the cities which we have visited New Orleans remains the most unique.  And the massive destruction of the city by hurricane Katrina in 20005 did not quell the soul of the city.  There are still the famous iron-embroidered balconies with lush green plants draped over them, as well as many colorful buildings and interesting murals as pictured above.  We parked outside of the French Quarter and walked through neighborhoods bustling with tourists and local shoppers.  Live music can be heard everywhere, even in the middle of the day.  The French Quarter was our last stop of the day, more on that in the next posting.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

San Francisco Plantation

One should always see at least see one plantation when down in the southern part of our nation.  There are 10 of them along the Great River Road between Baton Rouge and New Orleans.  As I wrote previously, we are in Hammond, about 40 miles north of New Orleans.  Saturday we drove west along Highway 10 and then south to Highway 44, the road along the Mississippi River.  We were expecting to start seeing large stately plantations with rows of live oaks lining long winding drives along lush green lawns.  No, what we saw were large grain silos with enclosed conveyors belts connected to them arising over the road and a high levee.  Cargil was the name on one complex of buildings.  Further down the road we saw oil refineries and a sign indicating that this was Louisiana Refinery District.  Gone are the days when sugar cane and cotton were the big money-makers of the day!
We almost missed the plantation, only a fence and a sign indicated its presence.  Walking the pathway up to the house we passed by a fountain created from two large kettles.  They were once used in rendering down the sugar cane.  A tour guide greeted us at the door.  She first commented that in the mid 1880s two-thirds of the nation's wealth was located in the south, which was made possible by the slave labor.  We later saw  by a slave cabin a memorial to those people.  The memorial noted that the slaves "contributed immensely to the economy and culture of Louisiana".  The slave cabin is pictured below.
Now back to the tour and information regarding the history of the plantation.  Until the 1970s, when Marathon Petroleum Foundation bought and restored the plantation at a cost of several million dollars, the plantation house was lived in by several families.  The present house was built between 1853 and 1856.  The owner, Pierre Edmond Marmillion, died in 1852, leaving the plantation to his son Valsin and his German-born wife Louise von Seybold.  Over the next 23years while she lived on the plantation Louise wrote faithfully to her mother back in Germany, 100 of her letters have been found.  In those letters Louise writes of her unhappiness pertinent to that time of violent upheaval in Southern history.  Hearing from our tour guide stories about the family (from those letters) certainly made the tour of the house quite fascinating, and brought to life the actual events which took place within the various rooms. 
The house, pictured above,  is touted as one of the most opulent plantation houses along the River Road. Bookend water cisterns are on each side of the house.  The house has Gothic windows, ornate embellishments and gingerbread trim.  Louise did not like the original dull muted colors of the French Creole house of that time.  She repainted the place in bright Bavarian colors, inside and out.  The ceilings were painted in a vivid palate of colors,  also a number of wall panels and doors had colorful designs painted on them.  The fresco designs are of birds, cherubs, jewels, and scrolls.  Various artists from around the world were hired to repaint them during the restoration of the house.   Pictured below is a view from the front porch overlooking the grounds. A sprawling live oak shades the porch.
It is a very large house with 17 rooms.  As most houses of the day, kitchen and bathrooms were located outside.  Valsin complained that the cost of redoing the house and furnishing it with only the finest accoutrements left him poor, so the plantation received the name of Sans Frusquin.  That is a French slang phrase meaning "without a penny in my pocket".  A later owner changed the name to San Francisco.  One final note here, this house was spared by the Union Army.  Valsin supplied the army with food and girls.  He  supported the North- his younger brother Charles was a soldier in the Confederate army.  Valsin died in 1871, Louise managed to run the property until Charles' death in 1875.   Louise returned with her three daughters to Munich in 1879 after she had sold the plantation.