This will come as a surprise to those who know me well – perhaps even a shock – but I love discovering I am wrong about some things. I relish being pleasantly enlightened by new discovery.
So let’s talk Grand Isle. That far flung southern outpost of Jefferson Parish dipping its toe into the Gulf of Mexico; next stop Cuba.
Truthfully, I had always taken a pretty dim view of the place. Many years ago – well, decades, actually – I made a few trips there for work, reporting for the Times-Picayune. They were usually in-and-out affairs.
But one lost weekend, back in my younger and more vulnerable years, I made a weekend road trip down there with a bunch of friends, strictly for pleasure, to hang out, have fun, party, fish, eat, play.
And the place left me desperately wanting. My strongest impression, all these years later, was of the color gray. Everything there seemed gray. The sky. The sand. The water. The road. The houses. The food. Even the mood.
Even when the sun was shining, it just seemed….gray.
And so years, decades, pass. Everything changes. Grand Isle. Me. Probably both.
One night, in a conversation with my companion, she mentions that she’s never been to Grand Isle and wants to see it.
I tell her I haven’t been there in a million years, but I’m always up for a road trip. But, I warn her: It ain’t pretty. It’s certainly interesting, being located at the end of the world and all that, but it ain’t no Turks & Caicos.
When she told friends about our plans, more than one asked her: Why are you going there!
And so we agree to steel ourselves for any possibility and we head south to the Gulf as the horizon shifts from land to water, barns to barges, bayous to beaches. And then we are there. And then….
I didn’t recognize the place. Not even remotely. It was as if I had actually never been there before. Had I? What happens to memory?
It was immediately enchanting. Quiet. Peaceful. And bursting with color. All the houses are raised 20 feet off the ground now and painted in bright tropical hues that greet you coming into town like pastel welcome flags waving in the breeze. I’m thinking: Haiti, maybe Puerto Rico, not Jefferson Parish.
The beach is clean and expansive, the water a slow rolling twinkling blue(ish!) in the distance. In the morning, lolling trawlers quietly thrum for catch, silhouetted against the big ball of red rising in the east. They follow the gulls and pelicans, who follow the fish who follow the shrimp. The ecosystem at work.
Lone fishermen wade out into the surf, casting hopefully. Shell collectors bend to inspect the day’s new deposits of treasure. Wild boys roar down the beach in their dads’ 4-wheelers and teenage girls huddle on the big beach rocks along the dunes, giggling into their iPhones and doing what teenage girls do.
Schools of dolphin make their morning pass. The air smells of brine, hermit crabs are scruffing in the sand and there are wildflowers everywhere. Tiny paintings on the berms. Everywhere.
I was seduced, sedated, delighted. And best of all, totally relaxed. I forgot about everything. (Including my deadline for this story; sorry editors!)
We stayed at the Wateredge Beach Resort, a clean and homey inn with a private beachfront deck from which to look out and just …. breathe. We didn’t want to leave it. Not just to explore the island, but to even come home.
But we did explore and were greeted with famed Cajun Coast hospitality everywhere we went. The Lighthouse and Yum’s restaurants kept our bellies full with blackened soft shell crab and the best pizza on the island.
Our favorite hangout was Pirate Island Daiquiri’s, where – between Jule, the bartender, and Pop’s, the ever-present barfly and raconteur filled us in on the news, history and gossip of the island.
The existence of a Subway sandwich shop on the main (and only) drag – accepted by many locals with begrudging resignation – is the only anomaly in what is otherwise a distinct and proudly local community where everybody knows everybody. Literally.
But they also put on a damn good show about wanting to know you, too.
I am aware that – to long time locals, fishers, shrimpers and birders – this account all sounds so hopelessly naive and uninformed. Agreed. It appears I’ve been missing the boat (pun intended) on Grand Isle for a long time.
But I get it now. Very much. We are already planning our next trip back.