Morning Has Broken

Morning has broken like the first morning
Blackbird has spoken like the first bird
Praise for the singing
Praise for the morning
Praise for them springing fresh from the world
—-Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) (born Steven Demetre Georgiou), Morning Has Broken

Sunrise, Boston, Massachusetts

I was way too tired. We had finished work the day before (a long, tough week) and treated ourselves to dinner at an Italian Restaurant in the North End (Ristorante Limoncello) some pastry (Modern Pastry shop, Mike’s was too crowded – line was down the street) and a drink at the end of the hockey game (The Black Rose). Then, when I settled down in my hotel room I discovered that HBO GO was on the TV complimentary and, against my better judgement, I watched the episode of Game of Thrones I had missed because I was flying the previous Sunday. It was getting too hard to avoid spoilers.

My flight was scheduled for eight (though, due to mechanical problems it didn’t actually leave until ten) so that meant I had to get up at five, which meant only a couple hours of sleep. I was woozy in the morning, but was treated to a glorious sunrise painting the buildings of downtown Boston a bright crimson.

Glimpse the Joyous Isles

“Three or four times only in my youth did I glimpse the Joyous Isles, before they were lost to fogs, depressions, cold fronts, ill winds, and contrary tides… I mistook them for adulthood. Assuming they were a fixed feature in my life’s voyage, I neglected to record their latitude, their longitude, their approach. Young ruddy fool. What wouldn’t I give now for a never-changing map of the ever-constant ineffable? To possess, as it were, an atlas of clouds.”
― David Mitchell, Cloud Atlas

Rotterdam Express Container Ship New Orleans, Louisiana

Rotterdam Express
Container Ship
New Orleans, Louisiana

Today’s technology – the amount of useless information available at your fingertips is breathtaking. Take this ship I watched sail up the Mississippi – there are a number of websites which will tell me where the ship is at any time. Right now The Rotterdam Express is underway in the North Sea off the coast near Dunkirk.

I might check in from time to time, imagine the adventure.

Bodacious Bar-B-Q

When our kids were little we had a little popup tent camping trailer. It was pretty cool – we would keep it loaded with all the stuff we would need for the weekend. All we would have to do is buy some food and head out to one of the wide selection of Texas State Parks within a few hours drive of the Dallas Fort Worth Metroplex. It was worth it even for a single night – we could go to a soccer game on Saturday morning and be in the woods for Saturday night. It was a good thing… until the trailer was stolen from in back of our house… but that’s another story.

One of the places we would go was Tyler State Park – outside of the eponymous East Texas City. It was a large park – held a lot of people in a whole series of camping areas around a resplendent sylvan lake. When we drove to and from we would pass a Bar-B-Q restaurant off the exit from Interstate 20. It always looked delicious and the associated smoke smelled even more so. But in keeping with the whole camping thing we never visited.

That was many years ago but I remember it.

On our last trip to New Orleans (for Lee’s Tulane Graduation) we left early in the morning, but not too early. We would be going past Tyler right at lunch time – and I decided to finally try out Bodacious Bar-B-Q.

There are four major types of Bar-B-Que – Kansas City, Memphis, Carolina, and Texas. Bodacious is, of course, Texas. Texas BBQ is actually a dry, slow cook – with most sauce added after.

The food was great, of course. The place was exactly like you would expect – a little dusty, a little cluttered, a lot of local workers on their lunch hour.

And then it was time to get back on the road.

Bodacious Bar-B-Q Tyler, Texas

Bodacious Bar-B-Q
Tyler, Texas

bodacious4

bodacious2

bodacious3

Dat Dog and Freret

If you have the open mind, patience, and spirit of exploration there are few things as fun as watching a city bloom. It doesn’t happen everywhere, all at once, but springs from many tiny seeds – all over the place – especially where you least expect it.

All these cool places spring up. I’ve been watching it here in Dallas for years. Sometimes it’s in a spot where I remember fast times from long ago and sadly watched fade until a miraculous Renaissance appears – places like Deep Ellum or Lower Greenville. Or maybe its an area that has never been hip – or at least has been forgotten for generations – like Bishop Arts, or The Cedars. It may be an area conceived in high places and supported by big money like the Dallas Arts District or Uptown. Or it may be someplace bootstraping itself up out of a blasted industrial wasteland like Trinity Groves or the Design District.

Use your internet connection and your feet and your bicycle and get to know these places… before they are too hip and unaffordable. It’s a roller coaster ride and you need to get off before the crash… but in the meantime – it can be a fun ride.

All cities go through ups and downs – but nowhere has higher ups or lower downs than New Orleans. It, more than anywhere else is a city of unique neighborhoods – every one worth exploring, learning, and immersing.

One little new stretch of entertaining street is near where my son lives – it’s a district called Freret.

From an article on Gadling.com:

Freret began as a commercial area for people who were left out of New Orleans’ most powerful social groups: the French Creoles, who governed old society, and the wealthy “English” traders and business owners, who dominated the CBD and built their homes in the Garden District. Instead, the neighborhood, named for brothers William and James Freret, became a refuge for Italian and Jewish residents, who shared the commercial district.

But population shifts took place in the 1950s, driving middle class residents to the suburbs, and by the 1980s, when bakery owner Bill Long was shot and killed in the doorway of his store, Freret was disintegrating.

Help came in 2001 when the National Trust for Historic Preservation adopted Freret Street under its Main Street program. Yet, the neighborhood took a body blow from Katrina, whose damage can still be seen, and its comeback never seemed farther away.

But seven years after the storm, Freret is a symbol of the New New Orleans, where a handful of business pioneers and long time stall warts provided the nucleus for its growth to take place. Bars, restaurants, businesses, and a monthly fair have popped up in a few short years, and the sounds of construction resonate as cars and pedestrians ply the bumpy street between Tulane and Loyola Universities.

Lee was working and I needed to find some place to eat… and I had seen on Thrillist that a hot dog place called Dat Dog was listed as one of the “Coolest Restaurants in Town.” So I rode my bike down there.

It is a special, cool little stretch of street – it stands out in variety and quality even in a city as full of options like New Orleans. Restaurants, bars, specialty shops – even a couple of small theater spaces… Every night there was a young, hip crowd spilling out onto the sidewalks… and even filling overhead balconies with mirth and conversation.

Unfortunately, I had to settle for an excellent hot dog (local spicy dog, with bacon and sauerkraut – next time I need to be more adventurous on the toppings) before it was time to head back. But if you are looking to get out of the French Quarter (and you should be) Freret might be a place to look for.

Dat Dog, Freret Street, New Orleans (click to enlarge)

Dat Dog, Freret Street, New Orleans
(click to enlarge)

Freret Street, New Orleans (click to enlarge)

Freret Street, New Orleans
(click to enlarge)

Freret Street, New Orleans (click to enlarge)

Freret Street, New Orleans
(click to enlarge)

FEMA Trailers

Thank You Uncle Sam

Thank You Uncle Sam, FEMA trailers, Opelousas, Louisiana

Thank You Uncle Sam, FEMA trailers, Opelousas, Louisiana

I was driving to New Orleans, moving down Interstate 49, south of Alexandria. My plan was to get on Interstate 10 in Lafayette and then go east over the Atchafalaya to Baton Rouge and on into New Orleans.

But I decided to take a look at my GPS and saw the I10 highway marked in a solid bright red line all the way from Lafayette to Baton Rouge.

If you have never driven that stretch – and you will remember it if you did – that’s an almost twenty mile long bridge high up in the air over the most desolate scary swamp, the Atchafalaya River Basin, that you will ever see. It is not the place you want to spend a few hours stuck in bumper to bumper traffic as the sun sets.

My GPS showed an alternate, older route – US190 splitting off east at Opelousas and going through a more northern section of swamp to Baton Rouge. The GPS showed that route as yellow and green. As I approached the turnoff a sign promised “Alternate Route.” That was all the encouragement I needed and I drove that way.

It was a good choice. Under normal conditions it would have been slower than the uninterrupted expanse of fast concrete belonging to the I10 bridge – but today it wasn’t jammed with stopped vehicles. I only had to wait through the shorter delays caused by stoplights, fish camps, sugarcane factories, bait shops, fireworks stands, fried fish restaurants, local casinos… and the other flotsam and jetsam of the Louisiana backlands.

One thing that did catch my eye was a huge field, just east of Opalousas filled with thousands of mouldering empty portable housing units. FEMA trailers.

There were once hundreds of thousands of these left over after Katrina. Cheaply made, even by government standards, spewing formaldehyde vapors, leaking and harboring black mold – they were a controversial response to the disaster – sometimes welcomed, often maligned.

But here they still are, eight years later. Come on down and buy one, they are for sale, pennies on the dollar. What a bargain.

FEMA Trailers (click to enlarge)

FEMA Trailers
(click to enlarge)

Le Petit Baton Rouge

Somewhere miles deep underground the dried salt remnant of an ancient sea is being squeezed by the unimaginable weight of the Mississippi delta building up above. All the loose mud from Ohio and Minnesota ends up washed downstream, piles up, and presses down. The salt becomes a sort of geological fluid and globs rise like pale columns in a crystalline subterranean lava lamp – reaching miles up until they almost burst forth under the starry sky.

One of these salt domes sits under Avery Island – pushing the land upwards above the surrounding sea-level flatness. It is truly an island – a disk-shaped protuberance rising above… not the trackless sea but the feckless swamp – a bit of dry, elevated land looking down on the miasma and the bog.

The salt dome rises and bears a number of gifts. There is the salt itself – mined or boiled from springs for centuries with only a short break when the saltwork was captured by Union troops during the Great War Between the States (as it is known in these here parts). There is the gift of petroleum – oil is dragged along and concentrated by the rising column until, like Spindletop to the west, a forest of derricks sprout up sucking at the black gold.

And finally, there is the gift of high, dry farmland – rich and fertile. The Avery Island Plantation could grow pretty much any crop and – luckily for us – they chose a unique crop, grown from seed brought back from Central and South America… Hot Peppers.

For Pepperheads and fans of spicy food Avery Island is capsaicin ground zero and a visit there, at least once during a lifetime, is a necessary pilgrimage – a hot sauce Hajj.

Avery Island is the home and only manufacturing facility of the McIlhenny Company – the maker of Tabasco Pepper Sauce. Every little red bottle – somewhere around 750,000 bottles a day – are made on Avery Island.

We were going to drive back to Dallas from Lafayette, about a seven hour drive, but I wanted to go see the McIlhenny Tabasco factory on Avery Island first so we drove south instead and, after a couple of wrong turns, crossed the little wooden toll bridge (one dollar per car) onto the complex of green hills atop the salt dome.

The first thing you notice when driving up to the factory is the smell. It is wonderful. It’s not a hot, painful tear-gas like capsaicin reaction like you might expect, but a mellow, complex warm feeling that envelops the whole complex. First, we took a tour of the factory. You get a lecture; watch a film, then walk past the filling lines behind a glass wall. It was a Sunday, so the filling lines weren’t running, which was fine with me – I’ve seen plenty of food filling equipment filling food in my day. It was good enough to be standing behind the glass looking at the place where all the goodness happens.

At the end of the tour was a little museum with facts about Tabasco Pepper Sauce. I already knew most of it, having seen it on the How It’s Made television show. The most amazing thing about Tabasco is that the ground up peppers are aged in second-hand whisky barrels and allowed to ferment for three years before being mixed with vinegar, blended, and bottled. The barrels are covered with a layer of Avery Island salt while they age. Ground peppers (the seeds are developed on Avery Island, though the peppers are grown in Latin America), water, salt, and vinegar… that’s it.

To help the pepper pickers pick the perfect peppers they are given le petit baton rouge – a little red stick. This is painted the color of a perfectly ripe Tabasco pepper.

Then we walked across to the Tabasco Country store and bought our share of touristy knick-knacks and hot sauce products. I looked long and hard at the gallon jugs of hot sauce with the plastic pumps – and was able to resist the siren song. They had a sampling table with all the different flavors, including one I have never seen before – a chipotle raspberry sauce (I bought a bottle). There is no reference to this chipotle raspberry Tabasco anywhere – it’s a bit gimmicky, but it tastes good.

They also had spicy cola, two flavors of ice cream, and anything else you can imagine – plus a few you can’t. Candy bought some stuff for Nick (he loves Tabasco) and a bag of cooking wood made from their broken fermenting barrels.

One odd thing I did buy was a big ziplock plastic bag of pure pepper mash. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with it, but it makes every room smell wonderful.

I took a walk around and snapped a few pictures, like a good tourist. Down at the end of the factory were some long brick buildings – these must be some of the fermenting warehouses where the sauce ages for three years in those oak barrels because the odor wafting out of the vents was unbelievably wonderful. One must have been the Chipotle warehouse because I could detect a smoky note in the air.

We had planned on stopping by a tony Cajun restaurant north of Lafayette on the way home, but there was a little trailer set up next to the country store selling red beans, rice, and sausage from crock pots. Of course, there was a large selection of spicy condiments available for testing.

I doubt the expensive restaurant had anything on the five dollar foam cup of red beans that I gobbled down with dabs of at least seven different Tabasco sauces on different nibbles.

There is a lot more to Avery Island – the Jungle Gardens and the Bird City went unvisited by us. We had a long drive ahead and couldn’t tarry. I’ll be back though, to smell that smell and explore some more. Once is not enough.

The factory has this crazy bayou gothic look to it.

The recycled whisky barrels with salt on top. The mash ages in these for three years.

Walking around, I found this pallet of old barrel lids after the peppers have been aged.

A box of labels from the filling line.

The food stand - great beans, rice, and sausage.

I haven't seen or read about this anywhere else.

Avery Island, Louisiana

Taking on Big Tabasco – Or, a little undercover research into le petit baton rouge

Tabasco’s Red-Hot Beginnings in Louisiana

The Fascination of Tabasco Sauce

Cajun Country’s Saucy and Spicy Tour

That’s a spicy ice cream

January, 2012. On the Geaux – Again – in Louisiana

McIlhenny Tabasco – Avery Island, Louisiana

Avery Island and Tabasco Sauce

Yes! My Camera Loves New Iberia Louisiana

5 Healthy Reasons to Love Tabasco Sauce

Avery Island – Tabasco, Alligators and Egrets

Touring the Tabasco Hot Sauce Factory and Scenic Avery Island, Louisiana

RV Trip Favorite Photos #51-55

Roadtrip: South Louisiana, Part 1

653: St. Martinville_Avery Island

Prejean’s Famous Gumbo

New Orleans Architecture – Fauberg Marigny and Frenchmen Street

The French Quarter has become too touristified for my taste. Filled with grimy bars, expensive antique shops, tacky trinket emporiums, and overpriced food the Vieux Carré isn’t always what it promises to be. Immediately downriver, however, is another neighborhood that is.

New Orleans is a city of neighborhoods and one of the best is the Fauberg Marigny. At the start of the 19th century, Bernard Xavier Philippe de Marigny de Mandeville (also famous for “inventing” the dice game craps) divided his plantation into residential lots, and the Fauberg Marigny was born. In the middle part of the twentieth, the neighborhood fell into decline, with the area around Jackson Square being called “Little Angola” – after the prison due to the extreme crime. In the eighties, however, commercialization in the French Quarter drove a lot of the residents downriver into Fauberg Marigny. The Marigny became what the Quarter used to be with Frenchmen street becoming ground zero for New Orlean’s essential live music scene.

The neighborhood is a good twelve inches above sea level and escaped the worst of Katrina’s ravages. There is a wide variety of classic New Orlean’s style architecture there – early Creole cottages and townhouses, American cottages, American townhouses, shotgun houses , 19th century corner store-houses, and various modern additions.

If I could live anywhere… I think I would live in Fauberg Marigny.

The Balcony Music Club isn't actually on Frenchmen Street. It's twenty feet down Decatur Street - but it's one of my favorites.

Standing outside the Balcony Music Club last Mardi Gras (I had stepped out for a second simply to catch my breath) a large group of German Tourists came down the crowded sidewalk. The man in the lead asked me in a thick accent, where to find, “Some real jazz music.” I lead them around the corner and pointed them up Frenchmen Street, telling them to stop by each club and pick the music they liked the best. He thanked me and said in very excited broken English, “Goot… Now Ve will get to see the Real New Orleans!”

Entrance to a jazz club on Frenchmen Street.

The Spotted Cat Jazz club on Frenchmen.

A row of shotgun houses in the Faubourg Marigny.

A mermaid stained glass window.