Friday, April 30, 2010

Louisiana April 30, 1812

My very first trip to Lousiana was driving through it on my way from Texas to Massachusetts. I remember stopping for some Cajun food, but other than that, it was a blur. I was just beginning my third trimester of pregnancy and was mostly uncomfortable on the long car trip. My condition also allowed me to see a lot of Louisiana rest rooms along the way!

More recently, though, I presented a poster session on Information Literacy to the 2009 American Speech-Language-Hearing Association conference in New Orleans, and got a better chance to learn about this fantastic city. New Orleans is considered to be the most haunted city in America. I missed a chance to visit a haunted library while I was there, but I did take one of the Vampire Tours of the French Quarter. It was a nighttime tour, which wasn't just for the spookiness effect. There are some things that need to be shown at night to be fully appreciated. My tour guide, Jonathan, knew all about vampire lore, and could tell us where any story we might have heard about vampires originated. Many of course came from Hollywood, but others came right from the Catholic church and the Crescent City.

As a final wrap up to the Convention, I went to a party at Mardi Gras World. Conventioneers were able to walk through the factory where the floats are made, and then into the Grand Oaks Mansion for food and drinks. I felt like I was in the Hogwarts when I realized that the stars I was looking at were actually inside.

Food and drink are a big part of the New Orlean's culture. I enjoyed a walk throught the Southern Food and Beverage Museum, which gave a half price discount to convention goers. I learned about why red beans and rice were a traditional Monday meal - it was also laundry day and women could leave it to cook while they tended to the clothes, plus, they were able to use up the left over meat (usually pig parts) from Sunday's meal. There was also a display about chicory which is often added to coffee in New Orleans, and I remembered that a few years ago a fellow librarian from the area gave me a pound of Chicory blend Community Coffee when I told her that my husband studied coffee. It did taste good - made my pee smell funny, though. The museum is located in the Riverwalk Marketplace, which I correctly guessed was designed by James Rouse, the same person who created Harborplace in Baltimore and Faneuil Hall in Boston. For a great read about New Orleans food I recommend Chapter 16 in Simon Majumdar's book Eat My Globe.

I've mentioned before that I really like memoir as a genre of books. For my Louisiana selection I read In the Sanctuary of Outcasts by Neil White. A journalist, and publisher, White was sentenced to a 18 months at Carville, a minimum security prison, in New Orleans in 1993 for a white-collar crime. Upon his arrival there, he discovered that Carville was not only a prison, it was also the last "leper colony" in the country, and home to over 100 patients who had suffered from what is now known as Hansen's disease. Reading this seemed a bit surreal to me. I can only image what it was like for White. I never really thought of leprosy as a disease of the 21st century. Who knew? Understandably, White is wary of mingling with the patients, and wonders how it can be that the Bureau of Prisons can put inmates in this kind of harm's way. A few weeks into his sentence he experiences a "Sisyphysian" moment and decides to do an investigative expose - no longer an imate, he is once again a journalist and has chosen to be in Carville. Through his work though, he befriends some of the patients and begins to reflect on his own life and how he can change, and starts to see things from others' points of view. Ultimately the table is turned on the question of who is safe within the confines of Carville - the patients had been there before it was opened to prisoners, what must they feel having to share the space with convicts?

This was a good read. I especially liked how often libraries were mentioned! I laughed when I read the description of the prison library which was "organized by book size" to keep things "orderly". As a librarian, I have had any number of patrons request a book that they know neither the title or author of, but could tell me the size of the book and color of the cover. Perhaps the warden was on to something.

By the way, did you know that the nine-banded armadillo is the only species besides humans to contract Hansen's disease?

Interview with the Vampire was fun to watch after having been on the New Orleans vampire tour. I had seen it many years ago, but only vaguely remembered it. I didn't recall Tom Cruise, or a very young Kirsten Dunst being in it at all. James has pointed out that each vampire movie we see has its own set of legends it follows. In this one, vampires are not afraid of crucifixes, but can be killed by sunlight. The sunlight legend was actually invented in the original vampire movie Nosferatu. The director had to finish it up quickly and came up with that ending because it was convenient. Not too gory, and a bit sexy (especially with that Antonio Banderas), this one had everything I like in a vampire movie.

Although there were so many uniquely Louisiana dishes I could have made for our Lousiana meal, I opted for simple red beans and rice. In deference to my vegetarian daughter I made the meatless version, who informed me after a few bites that she doesn't like kidney beans anyway.

Other dishes on my list of things to try later are:

The famous Hurricane cocktail

And Whipped Sweet Potatoes with Pears

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