Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Inching Into The South . (No Astro)

Home again!

As a birthday celebration, and with weather forecasters promising a few days of very decent weather, on Wednesday 26 January we headed south and east through Texas into Louisiana. Weather, time and distances made New Orleans a bridge too far for us this time, but north-eastern and mid- Louisiana seemed like a possibility, before winter was due to resume its performance.
(Route was roughly diagonal from top left to bottom right on map below - 1375 mile round-trip).

There was an overnight stop in Mount Pleasant, Texas. Let's see - what has Mount Pleasant got to recommend it? Well - a lorra lorra churches; also a meeting hall with a big sign outside "The Devout Women of God", nextdoor a design company called "Redemption Design", and nearby a Bikers' Church. Feeling pretty unworthy in such surroundings we holed up at a Best Western, stayed in and watched American Idol. The thought of Mount Pleasant's Devout Women was even more scary than some of the manic Idol auditioners!

Next day we kept heading east and onto Interstate 20, entered Louisiana at Shreveport, arriving in West Monroe around mid-day. Checked in at the Hilton Garden Inn for 3 nights.

The weather, for those three or four days, was just perfect: skies cloudless, sunny, warm (high 60s/70 degrees) - in late January, it could not have been better if I'd ordered it myself!

West Monroe and Monroe are called The Twin Cities by locals. They are, these days, really just one big city divided by the river Ouachita (pronounced Washitaa). Once upon a time, in the state's French days Monroe was called Poste-du-Ouachita. West Monroe is itself made up of what were originally two different towns, Cotton Port and Trenton. I guess that cotton grown in the surrounding area used to be transported along the river by steamboat.

Up in the north-eastern section of the state there's not much evidence of the Cajun influence referred to in most movies and books set in Louisiana. They still get into Mardi-Gras mode though. 2011 Mardi Gras will be on 13 February, stores are already "suiting-up" with tinsel, wreaths and decor in the traditional Mardi Gras colours of purple green and gold.

We visited West Monroe's Antique Alley - an old street full of antique shops. We asked a lady in one of the stores about the Mardi Gras colours, but beyond knowing they were traditional she wasn't aware of their significance. Yours truly needs to know these things (of course!) Google, on return home, satisfied my curiosity (I say "on return home", because although we carried our laptop on the trip I swore off the computer for the duration, apart from brief checking of a map and weather forecast.)
The traditional colors of Mardi Gras are purple (symbolic of justice), green (symbolic of faith) and gold (symbolic of power). The accepted story behind the original selection of these colors originates from 1872 when the Grand Duke Alexis Romanoff of Russia visited New Orleans. It is said that the Grand Duke came to the city in pursuit of an actress named Lydia Thompson. During his stay, he was given the honor of selecting the official Mardi Gras colors by the Krewe of Rex...thus, did these colors also become the colors of the House of Romanoff. The 1892 Rex Parade theme ("Symbolism of Colors") first gave meaning to the representation of the official Mardi Gras colors.

So now we know!

On Saturday we ventured a little deeper into Louisiana, taking Highway 165 through Columbia - a small town - an old steamboat stop on the River Ouachita.

On to Olla where, wandering along a row of mostly deserted stores fronting the railway line, we met Madge, who had recently bought some of the properties there, one of which used to be a hotel. Madge (the figure in a red sweater; Himself is in foreground, in photo below) intends to refurbish and reopen the hotel. This is going to take a lot of hard work -and optimism! Madge was full of enthusiasm for her task. If anyone can do it - I reckon Madge can.

Madge shows us how the row of buildings used to look in the 1920s.

She told us that most of the bricks used to construct this row of buildings came from "the fires in Chicago" - early-ish 20th century I think. They were carted away from Chicago by rail and dumped at various points on the route, then used to build property in the new locations. Some of the bricks still bear shiny dark markings - scars of the fires.

As we left, Madge ran after us with some leaflets and a couple of lapel pins in the shape of the state (an "L"-shape as it happens) with "Olla" printed on them. "Wear them with pride!" she called. And we shall.

Next town.....well, well, well.... Urania. Muse of astronomy and (in my book) astrology!

Not a lot to see in Urania though. We are told by the sign that it has a "Population of 792 Good People and a few old KNOTHEADS". Wikipedia tells me that: Urania was established in the late 1890s by lumbering magnate Henry E. Hardtner, who is considered "Louisiana's first conservationist." But can one be both lumbering magnate and conservationist in one lifetime? Conserving his fortune, perhaps, hardly conserving the forests. Perhaps he was one of the old Knotheads!

We then drove a short distance west before heading back north along Highway 167 to West Monroe, and came upon Winnfield, birthplace of Huey P. Long. I'd read about this guy a while ago, and had admired his story. Though when I mentioned Long to my husband he had said, "But I thought he was a crook".

"Huh? Well if he was, we need a crook just like Huey Long in this country NOW!"

From Answers.com

During the era of the Great Depression, Huey Pierce Long was a larger-than-life politician who gained national attention as Louisiana's "Kingfish" -- a nickname he gave himself. Long was a high school drop-out who taught himself law and became a member of the Louisiana bar in 1915. In 1918 he moved to Shreveport and began a political career as a lively opponent of corporate wealth and privilege, targeting giants such as John D. Rockefeller's Standard Oil Company. From 1928 until 1932, Long served as Louisiana's governor and launched an ambitious and successful program of public works. Long also ruled over a statewide political machine whose corrupt methods caused critics to regard him as a demagogue and political thug. While still governor, he was elected to the U.S. Senate in 1930; preferring to stay on as governor for a while, he didn't show up in Washington until January of 1932. Moderately a Democrat, Long was a radical populist with presidential ambitions who began a national campaign called "Share the Wealth," a campaign that included minimum salaries and caps on income and property. He openly opposed the economic policies of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, a fellow Democrat, and railed against the influence of the wealthy few.
A month after announcing that he would run for president, Long was shot in the Louisiana statehouse in Baton Rouge on 8 September 1935. He died two days later at the age of 42. The official story is that Long was shot by Dr. Carl Weiss, who was then shot to death by Long's bodyguards. Weiss was the son-in-law of Louisiana Judge Benjamin Pavy, a long-time political foe of Long's. The absence of evidence in the matter has been fodder for conspiracy theories ever since, a minor part of Long's legacy in Louisiana.
Long was the basis for Robert Penn Warren's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, All The King's Men (1946).
We happened upon this bayou, a typically Louisiana swampy scene, trees garlanded with graceful mossy pendants.

One more evening in West Monroe - went to see The King's Speech - then, eager to miss some threatened winter storms, on Sunday we headed homeward with one more overnight stop in Paris, Texas. The weather forecasters were becoming quite excited about an arctic storm coming in from the west and another system headed up from the Gulf of Mexico. The word tornado was mentioned more than once. We decided to get home as early as possible on Monday, which they said was due to be "very bad". However, we arrived home around 2.00 PM under blue skies and mild temperatures. Those weather forecasters do like to scare the wotnot out of us at times, but they mean well.

We enjoyed Louisiana. Some natives may not be as enthusiastic. One waitress, asking me if I was homesick for England, when I answered, "Not as much as I used to be", she said "It has to be better than Lousy-ana!"

And so, tucked up safely in southwest Oklahoma, we awaited arrival of the winter storm. It arrived before midnight - this morning we have a covering of a couple of inches or so of snow layered with nasty, dangerous ice pellets, brisk winds, blowing snow and brutal cold continuing. We are, though much better off than the Oklahoma City area, 80 miles north of us, and better too than the places we drove from yesterday, some of whom now have tornado warnings to add to the "fun".

I hope we don't lose power - but it's a distinct possibility.

(Clicking on most of the photographs should enlarge them. Some are by me some by Himself.)


Kaleymorris said...

So glad you were able to make this trip and make it back in time for the annual "holing up."
I think everybody is feeling a little gun shy about the power going out. I think we might be OK this time, though.

Wisewebwoman said...

Oh it is so worthwhile sending you on the road, T, I always look forward to your posts when you come back.
I preferred the original names of the towns.

Gian Paul said...

Just discovered that you are back after a good excursion (some 2000 Km!) And enjoyed reading your reporting. You truly got some style.

Gian Paul said...

Just discovered that you are back after a good excursion (some 2000 Km!) And enjoyed reading your reporting. You truly got some style.

Twilight said...

Kaleymorris ~~ Hi! Yes, the trip slotted into a wedge of good weather rather well. :-)
And it looks as though we'll not be in the dark/cold this time around, at least in our area.
Oklahoma City and Tulsa might not be as lucky.

I don't think any soul has ventured out in our road for around 36 hours. Not a lot of snow but what there is seems to have frozen over.

Take good care if you are on the road !

Twilight said...

WWW ~~~ Thanks for reading! The original names were so much more "organic" weren't they?

Twilight said...

Gian Paul ~~~ Glad you enjoyed, GP, and thanks! :-)

Back to astrology today!

Rossa said...

Hope you've survived the storm intact. Some places in Oklahoma have had 12-14" of snow so from what you have posted it seems you may have missed the worst of it.

Twilight said...

Rossa ~~~ We did miss the worst of the snow this time. Even so, schools here and municial offices etc. have all had "snow days" (closed). The temperatures have been much lower than usual, and are keeping the snow covering dangerously icy. Tomorrow should start a slow thaw. I don't recall ever having a day off either school or work due to snow back in the UK. We were dang well expected to walk to work if the buses couldn't run! ;-)

anyjazz said...

A fine account of our latest adventure. We got lots of pictures and lots of thing to think about. I think Urania might have been the most interesting on this trip.

R J Adams said...

Sorry, I read this shortly after your return, but what with the "storm" and everything I just couldn't find time to pick up the computer for more than a quick browse. The tale of your trip was such a pleasant change after the world and his wife talking 'Egypt' for an eternity.
I hope you're managing to keep warm?

Twilight said...

anyjazz ~~~ thanks. Yes, an interesting trip to a new (to us) area. :-)

Twilight said...

RJ Adams ~~` Well...thanks for reading! The Egypt stories, serious as they are, can get a bit wearing after reading the 97th account of it all - agreed.