MARKET FRESH IN WEST MONROE
In addition to being able to boast it’s the home of the Robertson clan of Duck Dynasty fame, West Monroe is also the proud home of the awe-inspiring Farmer’s Market at Seventh Square. This year-round enclave is housed in a rustic wooden structure that looks like something you’d find in a mountain forest. Within its walls are colorful displays of fresh produce. Here you can find delightful seasonal fruits and vegetables. The okra, for example, is so fresh that it easily passes the thumbnail test for crispness, and there are snapbeans just waiting to be smothered in ham, onions and potatoes, swimming in pot liquor. From time to time you’ll catch a whiff of the perfume of hot cornbread dripping with butter.
Cold weather is great cooking weather, and using the farm-fresh ingredients found here only adds pure flavor to any dish you might prepare.
Every visit brings a pleasant surprise, whether it’s in the form of goat cheese; wild honey; homemade preserves or herbs. If your own garden bounty has overwhelmed you, this market offers shelling services for peas, pecans and other various nuts to ease your burden. You can also learn gardening tips from master gardeners strolling through the community garden. A visit to this place is a great way to cure your winter blues.
MOVIES IN MINDEN
In a recent study conducted by the film office in Los Angeles, Louisiana, aka Hollywood South, passed Hollywood in the number of films made in the Bayou State and released in 2013.
Webster Parish and the town of Minden have been players in this Louisiana movie-making trend for the past decade. The quaint, artsy Minden, with its Main Street of charming old buildings, was founded by Germans in the 19th century. Movie crews have regularly arrived there to start the cameras rolling. In fact, Webster Parish is the Rural Connection for the Film Industry in North Louisiana. In less than 10 years, 24 movies have been filmed in the area.
In December 2005, Oscar- and Emmy-winning actor Kevin Costner arrived with Ashton Kutcher at Camp Minden to begin filming The Guardian. A year and two months later, Oscar-winner Sandra Bullock began filming the eerie story Premonition in downtown Minden.
Jessica Simpson came to the town twice to film, Blonde Ambition (2006) with Willie Nelson, and A Major Movie Star in August the following year. Denzel Washington appeared in The Great Debaters that was shot near the Claiborne Parish line. Stephen King’s The Mist with Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Hardin, was partially filmed at Camp Minden.
If you’re curious to hear anecdotes of real-life brushes with movie stars, pay a visit to Miss Milly’s Second Hand Rose antique store. Miss Milly has been to known to regale her customers with tales of friendly encounters with Jessica Simpson, Ice Cube and Dan Yeager (who sawed people to bits in Texas Chainsaw 3D – likewise shot in Minden).
More recently, and slated for a 2015 release date, I Saw the Light, a story about the life of Hank Williams, was filmed at an old house in Minden. Pattie Odom, who is the economic/downtown development director for the city, was thrilled.
“We are pleased to have our 26th film shot partially in Webster Parish,” says Odom.
So many movies have filmed here that a Northwest Louisiana Film Trail was recently established. It is geared to attract tourists and locals who wish to visit locations sites where Katie Holmes, Denzel Washington, Jack Black and the legendary Willie Nelson once walked.
Information, Farmer’s Market at Seventh Square, 1700 N. 7th St., West Monroe (318) 322-2210
HOPE AND REMEMBRANCE IN ALEXANDRIA
Rising where Second, Fourth and Elliott streets intersect in Alexandria, on a thoroughfare where over half a million WWII-bound soldiers once marched, is a memorial to the 6 million Jews who perished in Nazi death camps.
Constructed solely through the support of corporations, private citizens and institutions and overseen by the city of Alexandria, the black granite obelisk was dedicated on Nov. 10, 2013, the 75th anniversary of the infamous Kristallnacht (Crystal Night, or, Night of Broken Glass). In November 1938, paramilitary hordes and anti-Semitic citizens deployed in a pogrom against the Jewish population of Austria and Nazi Germany, shattering the windows of countless shops, buildings and synagogues.
Getting the memorial erected was a cherished crusade of Rabbi Emeritus Arnold Task.
“This is an extraordinary community where Jews and non-Jews come together to build a safer world,” Task said at the dedication. “The monument is a call to action to all of us to come together to eliminate bigotry, racism and bullying.”
The black granite structure was purposefully built to be 18 feet high not only to remember victims of unspeakable horrors, but to also honor the triumph of life. In Judaism, the word chai means “life.” Chai is spelled by the Jewish letters “Het” and “Yud” represented by the numbers 8 and 10, respectively, thus totaling 18, a number associated with good luck and life. It is a Jewish tradition to give monetary gifts in multiples of 18. The black color symbolizes the darkness of evil that caused the Holocaust.
But it is also a symbol of hope, reflection and meditation. Alexandria Mayor Jacques Roy said the goal of the monument is to also make the world a better place: “I hope this monument reminds us to do the right thing even when it’s not popular.”
Lest we forget, the Alexandria Holocaust Memorial Board, on the strength of donations, likewise fosters educational activities to teach all generations about the Holocaust. Donations can be sent to: Alexandria Holocaust Memorial Fund, PO Box 66, Alexandria, LA 71309.
SHOE SOUL IN CENLA
One of my first jobs out of school was to work in a classroom of 4-year-olds in the Head Start Poverty Program. One of the students, a little girl named Coretta, always came to school wearing black Mary Janes. One week she missed school and when we called to find out what the problem was, we learned that she had lost her shoes – her only pair – and her mother was trying to get money enough to buy her another.
Eight years ago, a Rapides Parish man named Willie Harp wanted to pay an everlasting tribute to his beloved father, while at the same time making things better for underprivileged children. His father, Jerry Harp, was a revered shoe salesman who ran the extra mile for his customers to ensure their shoes were absolute havens of comfort and support for their hard working pedes. Personally witnessing that so many children lacked decent shoes, the younger Harp found the perfect answer when he established the Perfect Fit Foundation. He began a fund-raising mission that caught on like wildfire throughout the generous Central Louisiana community. The goal of this venture was to raise enough money to purchase and distribute high quality, well-fitting shoes compatible with uniform codes among underprivileged kids in the region.
Nearly a decade, not to mention thousands of shoes later, the Perfect Fit Foundation is still going strong and growing. Incidentally, Harp’s pronounced sense of philanthropy was a spark of inspiration that helped ignite a community now rife with charitable foundations and causes.
A SIP OF ACADIE IN ARNAUDVILLE
When the Courir de Mardi comes thundering to Cajun Country this year with jaunty colors flying, a perfect choice for the region’s unique celebration (or any occasion) is a relatively new brand of beer brewed near the banks of the bayou that bears its name. Bayou Teche Bière, a microbrewery, is an obvious labor of love by brothers Karlos, Byron and Dorsey Knott. Once deployed in Germany where he relished European beers, and then in the Pacific Northwest where he tried his hand at craft brewery beer, Karlos Knott was on a crusade to to brew a beer that would go perfectly with the incomparable food of his beloved Acadiana: gumbos, andouille, jambalya and smoked meats. When he returned home to Arnaudville, he and his brothers joined forces. In a railway car converted to look like an Acadian cottage, Bayou Teche Biere opened on St. Patrick’s Day 2009, complete with tasting porch.
The delicious gallery of beer offerings are like artisan creations lovingly enmeshed with the Cajun Culture and heritage they obviously cherish. Courir de Mardi Gras, fittingly, is based on a French style beer called Bière de Mars (March Beer). This farmhouse style brew has a refreshing wheat malt taste; in Europe, it’s usually brewed in winter. Here in Louisiana, the Brothers Knott release it just in time for the pre-Lenten romp that’s Mardi Gras. Like some really fine French beers I’ve tasted, it reminds me that if one could take a sip of fresh spring air in a glass, it would taste like Courir de Mardi Gras.
From Guinness to Turbo Dog, I love black beers. Somewhat touching is the fact that these fellows brewed LA 31 Bière Noire with their grandparents in mind, citing the Cajun pre-breakfast ritual of having café noir on their farm and the Sunday family gatherings filled with countless pots of coffee and the sounds of French being spoken. A fitting tribute to these loving memories, LA 31 Bière Noire has just the right amount of smoothness at first taste and follows with a bite that conjures up a soupcon of my favorite coffee blend, French Roast. A tribute to the wild cherry trees that fill the Bayou State harvested to make cherry bounce (cherries marinating in a jar filled with bourbon and sugar), LA 31 Boucanée is a sumptuous treat that has the sweet, smoky flavor of wheat smoked with cherry wood, a perfect complement for gumbos, andouille or boudin.
REEL TO REEL IN LAFAYETTE
Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival in Lafayette is the state’s second-oldest film festival. For the past decade it has rendered a fine commitment to the magic and artistry of filmmaking by showing nationally and internationally acclaimed features, shorts and documentaries. Interspersed within a venue that not only exposes attendees to quality movies that trigger thoughts, discourse and emotion, the five day festival is rife with exposure to the unique Cajun heritage of the Lafayette area – delicious food, culture and music. Run by volunteer celluloid worshipers and generous donations, the fest was founded by filmmaker Pat Mire in 2006.
Its jury once awarded the “Audience Award” to the film, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore a year before it was nominated for an Academy Award – and won. The festival is geared to render greater understanding internationally about Creole and Cajun culture through the media of film, panels and discussion. Here, the original is lauded, and independent filmmakers are encouraged to join, submit and communicate their concerns.
Information, Bayou Teche Biere, 1106 Bushville Hwy., Arnaudville, (337) 303-8000. Cinema on the Bayou Film Festival, Lafayette, Jan. 21-25, cinemaonthebayou.com
BOOK REVIEW: THE LAST SICARIUS
The Last Sicarius is a sequel to Van Maryhall Jr.’s most impressive debut novel, the award winning, Judas the Apostle (reviewed in March-April 2013 issue). Mayhall, a Baton Rouge attorney, has penned another winner.
Having escaped the clutches of the murderous Kolektor who coveted the jar of Judas found by her murdered father in WWII, and after being rescued by the enigmatic group called the Sicarii, Dr. Clotile LeJeune has returned home to Madisonville mistakenly thinking the worst is behind her. The Sicarri, women descended from the Judean freedom fighters from the time of Masada, are a sacred sect of sentinals guarding the unknown cave that holds countless jars filled with ancient writings linked to Judas and the life of Christ. Hard at work interpreting the writings found in the jar for which she was almost murdered, LeJeune knows her work has the possibility of setting the religious world on its ear concerning the public ministry of Christ. Her sense of safety is shattered when she narrowly escapes a car bombing in New Orleans and is then summoned to a personal audience with Pope Francis. The pontiff informs her the now-dead Kolektor’s underworld billionaire empire has been taken over by a maniacal subordinate known as the Karik. Like his former master, the Karik is on a mission to find all the sacred jars to destroy the face of Christianity. Unlike the Kolektor, this new madman likes iced tea with peanut butter and jelly sandwiches instead of frozen gin, and this I assure you, is quite an insight regarding things to come.
Sent on a crusade by Pope Francis, assisted by Vatican operative Monsignor Albert Roques, her military son named J.E., a chubby camerlengo and members of the Swiss Guard, the quest to find the religious relics in time is also an odyssey of nonstop excitement for the reader. As I was transported to hidden chambers in the churches of Lyon, France, to the mountains and caves of Tunisia, with one last suspenseful and thrilling showdown at Masada, it was hard to put the The Last Sicarius down. Qualifying as an international thriller, it is rich with red herrings and plot twists. Mayhall has a way of skillfully wrenching you in several different directions, yet always manages to satisfactorily connect all the dots in the denouement. Cleverly original in nearly every detail, he also takes you into the world of the Vatican, a self-sustaining little nation with a crew of surveillance ops who are monks. The ending is an extraordinary tribute to Louisiana.
This novel reads almost cinematically, leaving you with the impression that it would make a fine celluloid thriller.
MARDI GRAS IN NEW ROADS
Simply driving the road that runs along the False River in New Roads is celebration enough for me. The town, with its charming old houses, trees with branches extended like arabesque-casting shade, rising in tiers above the gleaming water, is unequivocally lovely. Driving this route at night is to witness blue black skies filled with stars draped like Mardi Gras necklaces. But when 12th Night passes and Fat Tuesday rolls around, the streets of New Roads fill with revelers who party no less atheistically, but perhaps with a little more decorum than the celebrants down in the Big Easy.
New Roads boasts two parades that are filled with community spirit. The older, sponsored by the Community Center of Pointe Coupee, rolls in the morning, and was founded 92 years ago by a gentleman named Jimmy Boudreaux. The Lion’s Club sponsors the afternoon parade that has rolled past crowds since 1941. Both of these parade krewes invite the public to join, thus banishing the exclusivity found in other cities.
CAUSE TO CELEBRATE: PAWS IN THE PARADE
The Mystic Krewe of Barkus began 22 years ago on a November evening. The setting: Good Friends Bar in the French Quarter; the event: a meeting of Margaret Orr’s (the meteorologist on WDSU-TV) Fan Club. Present at the event was one Thomas Wood, who brought along his prone-to-neurotic-behavior dog, Jo Jo McWood, to be his barmate for the outing. Mutually annoyed that his fellow club members became annoyed with Jo Jo McWood’s somewhat irrational attitude, Wood avowed comeuppance by making Jo Jo queen of her very own parade – and captain for life. This prank gave birth to the Mystic Krewe of Barkus, a bona fide, licensed Carnival krewe, with crowned canine King and Queen.
Two months later, Jo Jo was officially elected Queen Barkus I. The theme of the first parade was, “Welcome to the Flea Market.” On the day of the parade, the streets of the French Quarter were filled with costumed dogs and masters ambling past the old buildings amid much drink and merriment. The next year, the streets swelled with even more pooches decked out in feathers, sequins, tutus and dyed fur parading to theme, “Jurassic Bark.” Each year that passed only fueled the popularity of the event: previously, we’ve seen doggies adorned as Hollywood “royalty;” prancing to the theme, “Lifestyles of the Bitch and Famous.” “Tailtanic: Dogs and Children First” in 1998 literally had mutts wading through water as a downpour fell on the Crescent City; “Joan of Bark” saw thousands of pooches dressed in medieval garb trotting in procession, with more sniffing noses and drooling tongues than you could throw a stick at.
The king must be a purebred, however the queen must always be a homeless, rescued/adopted dog whose election transforms her into a pampered glam queen as well as reigning monarch.
Last year’s theme, “Dogzilla: Barkus Licks the Crescent City,” rolled to record crowds. This year, dogs will compete to be named “Mystical Dog,” as the parade bounds off from Armstrong Park and ends at the VIP Reviewing Stand at Good Friends Bar where the Royal Court will be toasted. Fittingly, each year Margaret Orr is the mistress of ceremonies for these festivities.
The Krewe has grown into an organization with more than 1,500 members. All membership and registration fees are donated to dog-related nonprofits, with a strong emphasis to promote adoption and rescue of homeless tail-waggers.
FORK IN THE ROAD: JACK DEMPSEY’S IN BYWATER
Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant on Poland Avenue reminds me of those perfect Mardi Gras holes-in-the-wall in which to dive, rest your feet from the weight of parade standing and have a superb meal of wonderful comfort food in the New Orleans tradition. It’s like driving past an open bar on Mardi Gras Day and hearing Al “Carnival Time” Johnson sing,
The Green room is smokin’
And the Plaza’s burnin’ down
Throw my baby out the window
And let the joint burn down
All because it’s Carnival Ti-i-ime…
Named for a legendary Irish Channel police reporter for the defunct The New Orleans States newspaper, an afternoon daily, at this Bywater eatery, you can indulge in those pre-Lenten dishes perfect for Mardi Gras season indulgence – from the seafood platters piled sky-high with divinely crusted fried shrimp, catfish, oysters, soft shell crab or crawfish to the incomparable gooey macaroni and cheese and creamy potato salad. Begin your meal with an appetizer of fried okra or eggplant and have a side of onion rings. Finish your feast with a Barq’s Root Beer Float or Banana’s Foster Ice Cream Cake – it’s Mardi Gras in New Orleans, dawlin’!
Information, Krewe of Barkus Parade, barkus.org; Jack Dempsey’s Restaurant, 738 Poland Ave., New Orleans, (504) 943-9914