Saturday, February 16, 2013

Mardi Gras in Shreveport or Confessions of a Mardi Gras Bead Newbie

Brad Graff, King of Gemini XXIV Parade

Queen of Gemini Parade

The idea of joining 1.5 million revelers in New Orleans for Mardi Gras made this slightly claustrophobic traveler nervous.  However, experiencing similar parades in Shreveport with more locals than tourists was appealing. I just wasn’t prepared to be caught up in the bead mania.

Mardi Gras was the first celebration of the French who landed in Louisiana on that Tuesday before Ash Wednesday over 300 years ago.   In the 1700s,  then secret societies (or krewes) held balls and other festivities.  New Orleans torch bearers led night parades sponsored by these groups in the 1830s with the first daylight event debuting in 1872  - about the time “throws” from floats were first recorded.  In the 1920s, bead throwing began in earnest but with glass beads from Czechoslovakia and Japan.

Flintstone float
I Love Lucy float
This festival is held throughout Louisiana - a state and school holiday since 1875. Shreveport’s celebrations date back to the mid-19th century although it was dormant for many years before being revived in 1984.  The Gemini Krewe’s parade is the oldest and its theme this year was “Gemini Loves Television” - a far cry from the original mythical and satirical themes.  It’s hard to compare a Gunsmoke float with one called  “The Missing Links to Darwin's Origin of Species”  from 1873.

Beads in Waiting
Beads on a Fire Truck
Yet, the basics are the same.  Members of the Krewes pay to decorate floats and for all of  beads (now plastic ones from China and Korea), candy, toy coins called doubloons,  footballs, and cups that are thrown as well.  This year,  $220 and a membership would also buy you a space on top.  While drinking is part of the fun, both on and off the floats, we saw little excessive behavior.  Families and friends lined the road, many with chairs and coolers.  Kids crowded to the front for the freebies. Experienced adults recognized the more generous floats as they approached and would rush to the front for the bags of goodies.
Beads in Waiting

My plan was to takes notes, photos, and observe.  That fell apart when the first beaded necklace dropped at my feet. I scooped it up and started collecting.  The problem was being only five feet tall.  To really grab the beads in air, I had to be in front with all the kids.  But it didn’t feel right jumping at necklaces in front of sweet five year olds.  If I moved back, taller arms could clutch anything coming my way.  I had to turn to my six feet three inch husband who took some convincing to participate.   But when he did, It was great.  After a while, I could order as in “I need a purple one or  I like the white ones.”   He simply reached up and caught my desired color.   He also shared with others around us whose necks were bare.

A woman who knew what to look for
 At our hotel the next morning, we saw a woman from Tyler who had been at the parade and was an experienced Mardi Gras participant.  When asked  how our parade compared to others, she admitted disappointment in the “crummy” beads.  No  “good”  beads had been thrown.  Only then did I notice the difference in what she was wearing and what we had caught.  Her beads were larger and of different shapes,  with some necklaces having charms or a medallion in the middle.   I realized I needed to pay more attention.

Highland Neighborhood Parade
Highland Neighborhood Parade
On Sunday afternoon, a popular neighborhood parade passed through the Highland area south of downtown Shreveport.  We parked in a nearly full Presbyterian church parking lot and noted all other license plates were from Louisiana.  Floats varied from the large, professional structures to decorated boats or even flatbeds decked out for the Humane Society, Rotary Club or an elementary school’s cheerleaders.  While beads were still the most popular item, throws got more personal.  Candies, gum, cups, balls, moon pies and even hot dogs were tossed into the crowd.  It was here, though, that I caught a small, packaged necklace with a purple and green fleur de lis medal - my first “good”  beaded necklace.

First "Good" Bead Necklace
At midnight Tuesday, Monsigneur Provenza, of Holy Trinity Catholic Church, always meets the two largest Krewes at the center of the Red River Bridge which connects Shreveport and Bossier City.  He blesses the participants and imposes ashes on the forehead of those who request it - an early Ash Wednesday service and an indication that Lent has begun.  All those beautiful beads will now be shared,  stored or sold on Ebay.  But I’m already researching Mardi Gras celebrations for next year - especially those who throw “good” beads.

Recommended Places to Eat

 Herby K's Restaurant - Herby K's has been around since 1936 with no recipe changes according to owner, Janet Bean. The neighborhood has changed for the worse but it is well worth seeking out this jewel. On a long communal table in the adjoining patio, we sat with a local family that had been coming there since childhood. A birthday celebration occupied the other end of the table. it was a warm and inviting place. The seafood was fresh and the fried pickles (one of my hidden pleasures) were outstanding. I would definitely return.

Bistro Byronz - The restaurant is one of a small chain in Louisiana offering authentic cajun/french food. Small, local chains are my favorite kind. This means you don't have to go to New Orleans or Baton Rouge to enjoy shrimp and grits or etoufees or creole pot roast. The drink offering of Pimm's cup only sealed this restaurant as an authentic southern experience. A great Sunday brunch locale.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

What is There To Do in Bonham, Texas

Fountain at Creative Arts Center, Bonham, Texas
Several years ago, Highway 82 was diverted around Bonham, Texas and I had not been to the downtown area is as many years.  On a cold and rainy day, my husband and I decided to explore this old Texas town and were surprised at its offerings.  Bonham really is one of the oldest towns in Texas, dating back to 1837 - a time when Indian raids were common and  Fannin County covered what is now 37 counties.  As that fear subsided, Bonham grew and in 1885 it had eight churches, three colleges (Carlton College, Fannin College, and the Masonic Female Institute), two public schools, three weekly newspapers, a furniture factory, a saw mill, two grist mills, and gins; and a population of 2300. None of those sites remain but there’s history and more to be found.

The Creative Arts Center has become just that - a place for the arts to be enjoyed.  Executive Director, Lisa Aviles, led us through the front gallery with its display of fine paintings and pottery into the classroom and out to the garden area that most recently hosted a performance of Peter Pan.  Children theater classes, art seminars, lecture series, poetry readings and changing art shows keep this place busy.  A very nice discovery was the gift shop with small works by local artists, hand made chocolates, and more.  Creative Arts Center

At the registry of National Historic Landmark Sam Rayburn’s House, guests from Maine, New York, Illinois and California had signed in that week, an indication of Rayburn’s continuing fame.  When he was first elected to Congress in 1916, Mr. Sam and his brother bought this home and 200 acres  for their family.  During the 48 years he served in the House of Representatives, he returned on Congressional breaks to visit with constituents.  The interior is so perfectly maintained as Mr. Sam left it, you expect him to walk out to greet you. His close relationship with LBJ was obvious.   By the phone downstairs is a pop-up phone directory opened to HIJ.  Listed are Hotels in Washington and below it, “Lyndon - WO6-7273".  Our guide, supplied small details of Mr. Sam’s life - he admired Robert E. Lee under whom his father served, he  smoked filterless Camels, drank bourbon and branch water, was frugal, loved to ride horses, hated TV, and was a passionate Washington Senators fan, listening to games on the radio.  With its first renovation in 37 years, the house and grounds are well worth a visit.  Sam Rayburn House Museum

Buffet at Cappy's Cafe
Cappy’s Restaurant in downtown Bonham was the first restaurant recommended by all those we asked.  Begun eight years ago by a mother/daughter team, its exterior is easy to miss.  But locals know it well for the daily buffet.  Sandra Lowrance, a retired school counselor, and her daughter, Mandra Caplinger, use old family recipes and selections from their extensive cookbook collection to vary the homemade offerings.  “I love Paula Dean”, admits Sandra.  Garlic cheese biscuits are always available and desserts often include cobbler and their famous gooey butter cake.  For $7.95, it the best deal out there.  Cappy's Restaurant

Softly lighted interior of Luna Azul Cafe
Around the corner is Luna Azul, a beautifully restored restaurant that understands mood lighting.  With its tin ceilings, plastered and brick walls, and Mexican pottery and tin works, Luna Azul just feels authentic.  Add in a bar that can serve Dos Equis and Corona beer with the homemade enchiladas, and it’s a place to be enjoyed. Luna Azul Cafe

Dennis Sweeney Art Studio
One more downtown discovery was 3rd Street Gallery, week-end studio of Dallas resident, Dennis Sweeney.  The affable artist invited us to view his finished works as well as those in progress.  He was particularly proud of the building itself that he restored “to code”.  Each piece of furniture has a story, including the pristine motorcycle resting at court center.  You’d be lucky to find him in.

Last stop was the Sam Rayburn Library, the closest most North Texans will ever come to real power.  As the longest serving speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives (17 years), Mr. Sam knew the rules and used them.  Yet, he was known for his honesty, often saying that you’ll never get mixed up if you tell the truth and you won’t forget what you said.

Podium from
House of Representatives
Bust of Sam Rayburn
Rayburn’s office there is the real thing - not a replica.  The chandelier came from the White House and  the 92 year old fireplace from the House of Representatives.  If you could stand on the rug, you would join presidents, senators, kings and queens who paid homage to this powerful man.  Photos from Mr. Sam’s funeral were most poignant, especially one of President Kennedy, Vice-President Johnson, and former presidents Truman and Eisenhower sitting on the first row of the First Baptist Church of Bonham.  Come for the history or the research or just to pound the speaker’s gavel.  Sam Rayburn Library Museum

Bonham and environs had more offerings such as the historical museum,  Bonham State Park, and two wineries but we’ll wait for the next sunny day to explore those.

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