Regional Reports from Across the State
Compiled and Edited by JEANNE FROIS
Howling for home
The lack of an animal shelter in Webster Parish prompted animal lovers Liz Harkins and Judy Teague to found the independent animal-rescue network A Second Chance. A string of foster homes between Shreveport and Magnolia, Ark., nurture unwanted animals. One member of A Second Chance’s 20-member volunteer force is Mary Ann Stewart of Springhill. Stewart, who is hearing impaired – but still makes daily forays to feed and water the stray dogs and cats of Springhill – took Snowball, a deaf white Labrador, into her home. Snowball’s original owner was driving her to the woods to shoot her. The plucky pooch thwarted the attempt by escaping from the truck. Blue-eyed Snowball eventually wound up in Stewart’s home and was a languishing lady until another refugee joined the pack. Lady, a Redbone hound, came to Stewart’s home; Snowball’s spirits soared in the company of her new girlfriend. Lady had been left to die in a basket with the rest of her litter, deserted in isolated woods. When Stewart adopted her, the dog was starving. Today, Lady and Snowball, who were both destined to die in the woods, gambol together in canine camaraderie. Lady protects Snowball and acts as her ears.
Temporarily lodging at Harkins’ home is Girlie, part Catahoula hound, part wolf – who haunted the town’s walking track for eight years. A contractor, who paid for the surgical removal of an imbedded fish bait in her mouth, adopted her through the benevolent auspices of A Second Chance.
For kind hearts looking for new additions to their household, five foundling, bottle-fed pups are also available for adoption.
A Second Chance, (318) 539-4089
Shreveport under the Boardwalk
Summer in Shreveport this year will be even more pleasant thanks to the opening of the Louisiana Boardwalk. This elongated structure stretches beneath a bridge bejeweled in neon lights reflected in the Red River. Walk past the statue of the River Goddess and you’ve entered 500,000 square feet of outlet stores such as Reebok, Adidas, Guess?, Dress Barn, Osh Kosh B’Gosh and Ultra. A casting pond lies behind Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World. Restaurants including San Francisco Oven, Joe’s Crab Shack, Hooters, Buffalo Wild Wings and Cold Stone Creamery offer a variety of dining experiences.
As in Alice Through the Looking Glass, or Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, life-size games of chess and checkers were arranged with children in mind. Water droplets from fountains beckon youngsters – they are encouraged to jump in and cool off.
Louisiana Boardwalk, Shreveport, (800) 551-8682, www.louisianaboardwalk.com
FORK IN THE ROAD
Once you’ve seen the inside of Joe’s Crab Shack, you get the impression that, left to their own devices, your older brother or even your father, might have decorated your family home this way. Joe’s walls are festooned with fishing nets and covered with metal signs, starfish and lanterns. Other memorabilia reminiscent of old salts likewise dangle from the ceiling in no particular color scheme except bright. This is a place as comfortable as an outfit of Hawaiian shirt, cut-off jeans and flip-flop sandals.
The food, like the surroundings of this national restaurant chain, are eclectic. The place is scented by well-prepared seafood, and appetizers such as creamy New England clam chowder, fried calamari and crab balls come piping hot from the kitchen to your table. Boiled crabs are served with bib and mallet. Crabs prepared to order – barbecued, steamed or garlicky – are available in plates such as “Joe’s Crab Cake Dinner,” “Crab Daddy Feast” (king, Dungeness and snow crab) and Alaskan king crab legs. The shrimp and generous burgers aren’t bad, either. Joe’s Key lime pie – a tangy froth of Key lime juice combined with the rich divinity of condensed milk in a Graham cracker crust – topped with whipped cream, could have fallen from heaven. Here at this tacky shack, the message is simple: Eat at Joe’s.
Joe’s Crab Shack, the Boardwalk, Shreveport, (318) 549-2332.
Shrimp on a stick
In Madagascar, they grow wild in more than 100 species. Here in Louisiana, shrimp plants (Justicia brandegeeana) are cultivated in sea-green gardens, drawing hummingbirds to their nectar. This perennial shrub with the fuzzy foliage bears charming shrimp-shaped bracts with fluted tails. Shrimp plants, native to Mexico, bloom repeatedly from early spring to winter in translucent tints of coral, yellow, red, burgundy and even kitchen colors such as Tabasco or Cajun-spice brown. Another variation of the plant is the squirrel’s tail, which bears a long bloom loaded with white petals shaped just like a bushy tail. These unusual and delightful bushes grow as high as 3 feet and should be protected from too much Louisiana sun. Keep their spicy colors vibrant with enough moisture but avoid overwatering. Just like their namesake, they need the right amount of water to survive.
Navigating through time
A reunion of World War II navigation veterans who received their training at Selman Field in Monroe took place this past April. In the 1940s, when German U-boats were scoping the mouth of the Mississippi and sinking gulf-borne ships, more than 14,000 servicemen received navigation training at Selman Field. Thirty-two of them returned to the field this year to reminisce about their war experiences.
The legacy of Selman is rich in history and goes back to 1912. The Air Force was then known as the Army Air Corps, and Selman Field was created as the only complete navigation training outpost to offer advanced and preflight navigation training. Many commissions and navigator’s wings were earned at Selman. The navigation training became highly concentrated here during World War II.
Retired Col. Lynn LeBlanc, vice president of the Selman Field Historical Association and coordinator of the reunion, believes most people alive today don’t realize nor remember the enormity of World War II’s threat. His mission is to preserve the legacy of the veterans who overcame the trauma inflicted upon them by the war and saved the world as consequence. In 2003, a memorial wall at the Monroe Regional Airport was dedicated to these veterans.
Brig. Gen. Hunt Downer, secretary of the State Department of Military Affairs, attended the reunion and addressed the group at a dinner.
“Thanks to you,” Downer commented, “patriotism survived … it is our challenge to keep that alive and to make sure the sacrifices of your generation and those of today are not forgotten.” Downer further cited the bravery of the WWII vets as an example to Americans fighting terrorism today, telling the group they were living testimony of the enduring strength of the American people.
Into the wood
Twenty-two years ago, Glen Armand of Alexandria veered far from the madding crowd of everyday work life and pursued his dream of creating furniture. Armand takes a holistic view of his craft and practices an almost Buddhist-like approach in his work. He reveres the seedling that broke the ground and sprouted into the magnificent tree whose wood lies beneath his hand. He is a third-generation furniture maker, following in the footsteps of his father, Wallace, and grandfather Flourian, whom he once assisted in his shop after school.
Armand got his start in a garage, restoring antiques precious to Louisiana – after all, someone was sleeping in this bed, for example, when Adm. David Farragut was sailing up the Mississippi River. Intense focus on his restoration work helps him trace the fine blueprint left behind by the builder of the piece he was working on – the subtle balance of a broken pediment top, the gentle cabriolet curve of a Queen Anne chair. His knowledge of the subtle shades of wood grains plays itself out in his work in tones of honey, cherry and mahogany.
Today, his one-car-garage workshop has grown into a firm of wood artisans who handcraft armoires, tables, chairs, cabinets and carved beds magnificent enough for Scarlett and Rhett like a guild of Old World masters. A gleaming patina – the product of elbow grease – completes the effect. Armand also offers private tutoring sessions to the would-be furniture artiste anxious to revel in wood shavings and the smell of varnish. Armand’s furniture is seen in the Cabildo, the Louisiana State Museum in New Orleans and the governor’s mansion, and his style ranges from plantation to art deco to Biedermeier. And like a precious new arrival, Armand’s creations are delivered to your door wrapped in a blanket.
Glen Armand Furniture Maker, 1019 Twin Bridges Road, Alexandria, (318) 473-9287.
FORK IN THE ROAD
Eddie’s Barbecue Smokehouse is committed to rib lovers who grace the confines of Louisiana. But you have to give an establishment a special nod of thanks when they come up with the idea of serving red beans and rice in a French bread boule with mild or hot sausage on the side.
At Eddie’s, slabs of barbecued ribs adorn plates, accompanied by succulent and savory barbecued smoked sausage with side orders of dirty rice, fried bread, fried okra, green beans, corn on the cob, cole slaw and Cajun fries. Smoked turkey, chicken, beef brisket, pork and ham are served and washed down with Barq’s root beer and IBC cream soda. Spuds are elevated to “Potato Jubilee” status, topped with sour cream, cheese and chives and accompanied by sausage. The combination plates consist of at least four servings of meat and sides. Each year, Eddie offers the “Run for Da Ribs” in conjunction with the 10K Trail Run around Lake Kincaid. Runners tank up on his stick-to-your-ribs food after that rigorous race. Eddie’s “world-famous” barbecue sauce, with its special blend of spices, is now bottled and available for takeout to your own private backyard smokehouse. At Eddie’s, you’ve entered the zone of Southern Comfort food, floating in a hickory haze.
Eddie’s Barbecue Smokehouse, 1024 MacArthur Drive, Alexandria, (318) 487-0800.
During Avoyelles Parish summers, roadsides fill with wildflowers and lonely bobwhites call their names through the skies. Also during this season, chicory (Cichorium intybus) makes a fine harvest, wild or otherwise. The flavor of chicory defines Louisiana coffee. This hardy perennial was brought to the colonies in the 1700s from Europe and now grows all over the United States. Its deep tap root can burrow into the packed rocky ground of roadsides, like the root of a dandelion. It has been called “Italian dandelion,” “blue sailor” and “coffeeweed.” The root of this cornflower-blue bloom is roasted and ground as a coffee additive. Chicory belongs to the same plant family as asters, and is related to radicchio and Belgian endive, which is used in Europe for salads. The starlike flower opens and closes at the same time daily.
Chicory was used as a coffee substitute when war, plague or pestilence made the precious elixir of life more pricey and inaccessible. Yams, acorns and chicory were roasted together as a drink during the Civil War. A cup of chicory brew devoid of coffee has a roasted flavor. Not only has it given the state’s coffee an added dimension, but chicory is reported to have curative qualities that clean the blood and strengthen the health of the liver.
These charming little flavor enhancers bloom all summer long. Be moderate with hydration if you’re cultivating chicory in your herb garden. Save the water for the coffeepot instead.
Pineville’s dam good site
Slated to open as a new state historic site, Forts Randolph and Buhlow represent the Louisiana equivalent of a Mexican standoff. The Civil War came to an end before any shot was fired from either fort; Louisiana, however, was the last state to concede a Union victory. The earthenwork forts were built to counterattack the Union’s Red River campaign, a plan that resulted in the burning of Alexandria. Confederate forces began construction of the two forts that stand 500 yards apart from each other on the Pineville bank of the Red River. One hundred and forty years later, the artillery placements of Fort Buhlow are still visible.
During their rather heated sojourn on the Red River, the Yankees considered the rapids at Alexandria to be a mad dog foaming at the mouth that needed quieting. Their retreat was delayed by the temperamental waters. Bailey’s Dam, suggested by Wisconsin lumberman Col. Joseph Bailey as a means to deepen the Red River and control the rapids, is now submerged. An overlook will mark its location. This new historic site is designed to serve as a central Louisiana outpost for Civil War buffs looking for obscure but fascinating facets of the War between the States. Civil War re-enactors are encouraged to visit.
Located off US 71, upstream of downtown Alexandria, (318) 443-7409.
In a ceremony worthy of the Old Testament, more than 200 United Methodist Church members from Louisiana met in April at Woodworth and burned the mortgage papers for the Louisiana Methodist Conference Center. The $5-million-to-$7-million mortgage on the 10-year-old facility has been paid off through hard work – and prayer. Now UMC members can move ahead with plans to house spiritual retreats and youth ministries. Considered a center for spiritual renewal, this religious complex is beloved by its church members.
Surrounded by a small lake in a peaceful pastoral setting, older congregants have felt their faith and spirits renewed in this quiet space. The site represents a central meeting point for all of Louisiana’s Methodists.
Rice paddy – Crowley’s legacy
You might wonder how, in the middle of Acadia Parish, a town can exist with an Irish name such as Crowley. This wonderland of rice fields was founded in 1886 by two brothers named Duson at the site of a railroad switch. The railroad switch brought in the construction materials that built Crowley there on the prairie. Pat Crowley, an Irish contractor responsible for grading the roadbed for Southern Pacific Railroad in Acadia Parish, is the town’s namesake. By 1917, the town had grown to more than 6,000 inhabitants. In the late 19th century, Gov. Francis T. Nicholls, then in his second term, imported agronomists well-versed in rice cultivation to the Crowley area, an act that helped propagate this new crop in Louisiana. (The kind-hearted Nicholls likewise sold farmland to Confederate Army widows at a low rate so they could not only survive without their spouses, but also become financially independent.) Americans from throughout the nation came to Cajun country to grow rice, and became fat and prosperous. Today, this seat of Acadia Parish, once a pioneer town, has a historic district with more than 200 structures listed on the National Historic Register, many of them beautiful turn-of-the-century mansions. Each October, the Rice Festival celebrates the glorious little grain that put this town on the map. Fiddle and accordion contests are held amid the poker runs, parades, food booths and contests. As residents will tell you, life in Crowley is “rice and easy.”
City of Crowley, (337) 788-4100 or (866) 665-4642.
Richard LeBouef, cookin’ and kickin’
Popular throughout Louisiana and the southwestern United States, Cajun musician Richard LeBouef now hosts his own cooking show on KLFY-TV in Lafayette. LeBouef and his band, Two Step, recently released their fourth CD, Kickin’ in Your Own Backyard, which features the songs “Who Stole My Monkey,” “The Eunice Two-Step” and “All Night Long.” His foray into the realm of regional cooking shows, “Richard LeBouef’s Good Time Kitchen,” airs each Saturday morning at 11:30, and welcomes guests for amenable chats about art, music, humor and cooking. The format is as lively as a cane rocker in a hurricane. The show is a gumbo of Cajun history and culture. An accordion-playing butcher has already demonstrated the fine art of deboning a chicken. Later, he grabbed his accordion for a Cajun serenade as LeBouef and his wife, Christie, waltzed around the kitchen. Jennings natives Andrew Guinn and Richard Crochet produce the show and hope the Cajun joie de vivre of their endeavor will grab an audience in America’s heartland. LeBouef also hopes to reel in some big names as guests, adding that he cannot fail as long as he has the loving support of famille et amis.
FORK IN THE ROAD
Lake Charles’ Xanadu on the bayou
Jean Lafitte might have envisioned something like this during his days on the bounding main. Located on Contraband Bayou, in the area where that dashing brigand is said to have buried his stolen booty, stands L’Auberge du Lac casino. In a style worthy of a pirate king’s return to port, patrons may dine at Nevie Beach Club, one of the many restaurants on the premises. Cocktails are served as you lounge in one of the four poster beds available for your trés chic comfort. Having sipped your libation, arise and drift over to the veranda and indulge in specialties which include shrimp, crab and filet mignon garnished with blue cheese. Sun-splashed fabric hangings wave in sultry breezes as you luxuriate in a cloudy haze of fluffy desserts such as Key lime parfait or passionfruit cheesecake. Next, sail over to the spa for a much needed massage.
Out of Africa
Okra (Abelmoschus esculentus, Hibiscus esculentus) arises from rich Louisiana soil. This 6-foot tall plant with yellow hibiscus-like flowers originated somewhere near Ethiopia in the time before Jesus Christ. Belonging to the mallow family, okra is related to cotton, hibiscus and hollyhocks. North Africans, Middle Easterners and Egyptians as far back as the 12th century B.C. grew okra, which thrives in hot weather. The Swahili call it binda. In India, okra is called bhindi. During the 1700s, when it accompanied slaves bound for the Caribbean and United States, okra withstood the extreme heat of the deep South. Okra simmered in slave caldrons over open fires as well as skillets in plantation kitchens. Today it is fried in cornmeal; smothered with tomatoes, corn and onions; or added to the pot liquor of a crab-and-shrimp gumbo. It’s hard to surpass the fragrance and taste that result from the marriage of onions, tomatoes and okra. The tapering, sticky seed pods are harvested during summer. When cut, the slices of okra resemble tan pinwheels, studded with seeds, and the mucilaginous juice or “slime” that oozes out thickens gumbos. The flavor of okra matches the flavor of Louisiana.
This statuesque plant that proliferates in merciless summer heat should be harvested every other day once it begins to bear fruit. It should be fertilized with low doses of nitrogen, but higher doses of phosphorous and potassium. Bigger is not better – the smaller the pods, the better the taste. Frequent stripping of okra results in a higher pod yield, and pods that are ideal for picking have a tip that readily snaps when pushed by your thumb. Favorite cultivars of the Bayou State are Annie Oakley II, Cajun Delight and Green’s Best. When St. John’s Eve has passed and the plants are tall, they may be cut back 8 to12 inches to stimulate regrowth.
Okra is extremely high in nutrients. Half of it contains soluble fiber, the other half is insoluble fiber that keeps the intestinal tract healthy, reducing the risk of colorectal cancer. Half a cup of okra contains nearly 10 percent of the recommended levels of B6 and folic acid.
Morgan City’s elevated image
Just in time for the Louisiana Shrimp and Petroleum Festival this September, landscaping, nautical ropes and wooden bollards will decorate a pedestrian crosswalk located in Morgan City. The crosswalk, which lies beneath an elevated portion of US 90, bustles with activity, especially during the festival. The intersection, vital arteries for traffic in Morgan City, is in clear sight of the US 90 on-ramp at Brashear Avenue. The intersection’s refurbished crosswalk is the result of the conjoined efforts of the Morgan City IMAGE Commission, the Morgan City Garden Club and the Morgan City Main Street Program.
BATON ROUGE/PLANTATION COUNTRY
Joy Manthey, a Catholic Sister of St. Joseph, has something in common with Mark Twain: a river pilot’s license – specifically, a master’s unlimited license, which qualifies her to command any vessel that sails the muddy Mississippi, from tugboats to oil tankers. Manthey played on the gangplanks of the old President steamboat on the docks of New Orleans when she was a child. Later, she became its captain. In Baton Rouge, she was Capt. Joy, skipper of the Samuel Clemens. The life of a river mariner has always called her, but in 1995, she answered another call by becoming a member of the Sisters of St. Joseph. On a visit to Paducah, Ky., where the Seaman’s Church Institute had established a mariner’s simulator, Manthey met its executive director, the Rev. Jean Smith, who quickly realized the Louisiana nun was a godsend. Before meeting Manthey, Smith had been praying for someone to minister to all the “nameless people” who lived the seafaring life. Sister Joy was tailor-made for the task. The Institute’s “Ministry on the River” was established in 1998. Sister Joy became one of its three full-time river chaplains, navigating the Father of Waters to offer support to the mariners and families immersed in river life.
Outgoing and generous, Manthey spends each Christmas at the helm of a towboat, allowing the captain time off to spend the holidays with his family. When the levee bonfires sparkle on Christmas Eve, you might think of Sister Joy out on the river, and the papa she helped send home to his children. Her cell phone is always available; she has talked panicky captains through treacherous ice floes hundreds of miles away on the river. Her parish is the inland waters of America: When there’s a drowning or accident, she travels to the victim and family, who may live anywhere between New Orleans and Pittsburgh, bringing with her the high tide of tender mercies.
Flowing our way
Simone Theriot, executive director of Restore or Retreat, a nonprofit group fighting coastal erosion, is a proponent of the Third Delta Conveyance Channel, calling it an “aggressive long-term action” that would permanently stymie the rapid land loss in the Barataria and Terrebonne bay basins. This channel would be a man-made waterway, 100 miles long, and would carry sediment and water from the lower Mississippi into the two eroding basins. The channel would begin downriver from Donaldsonville and trace the path of Bayou Lafourche. At Lockport, the channel would split into two branches that would empty into the Barataria and Terrebonne basins.
FORK IN THE ROAD
Some of the creations at Mike Anderson’s Seafood have regular-guy names such as “The Howard” (red or black drum marinated in olive oil, herbs and seasonings, with perfectly baked skin) or “The Norman,” butterflied shrimp or a fish fillet topped with crab etouffeé. And then, amid the down-to-earth monikers for these swimmingly delightful dishes, the place gives us “The Joliet Rouge,” a broiled fish fillet topped with lump crab meat and mushrooms soaking up butter, wine onions and spices. Sides include fried green tomatoes and sweet potato fries. At the end of a meal on these hot summer days, the Swamp pie, with a graham-cracker crust, double layer of vanilla ice cream, whipped cream, hot fudge sauce, almonds, coconut and chocolate syrup will definitely make you chill.
Mike Anderson’s Seafood, 1031 West Lee Drive, Baton Rouge, (225) 766-7823.
The color of no money
Driving from New Orleans amid sugar mills, andouille country and tin-roofed houses, San Francisco Plantation comes as a surprise in a bend of River Road. Its large cerulean and peach cistern topped by an onion dome hails from the sun-dappled shade. And then the house unfolds as you drive by, proportioned, ornate, washed in refreshing color contrasts and trimmed in white gingerbread. It is common knowledge that San Francisco Plantation inspired author Frances Parkinson Keyes (and please remember the name rhymes with “eyes”) to write the novel Steamboat Gothic.
In 1856, handsome Louisianian Edmond Marmillon and his Bavarian wife, Louise, built this splendid house, a decided departure from the de rigueur Greek Revival plantations. It was often said that the cost was so lavish that Marmillon was left sans fruscains, a French expression meaning “not a penny in my pocket.” Not lacking a sense of humor, the young couple incorporated this state of affairs into the name of their new home and christened it “St. Frusquin.” Subsequent owners changed the name to San Francisco.
Now fully restored to its original 1856 luster, this vibrant confection reflects the Bavarian influence of its first mistress. Door frames and ceiling moldings are hand-painted with delicate pastel flowers and garlands. The walls glow with the colors of a magnificent dawn – bright lavender, Delft blue and creamy ivory filtered by gold. The place exudes the love and happiness that once lived within its walls. During the Marmillons’ time, the house had a clear view of the Mississippi River. During moonlit soirees, every window and door on the gallery was wide open to the Mississippi. After the 1927 flood, the Army Corps of Engineers built the levee around the house.
After the death of Marmillon and his invalid brother, Charles, Louise returned to Bavaria with her children. The family still remains in touch with the foundation that preserves its ancestral home. Some letters Louise wrote to her family from Louisiana were recently found in an attic in Germany, having survived the bombings of two world wars; these letters will shortly arrive at their point of origin for display. The old sugar barn, a slave cabin and the schoolhouse have been moved back to the grounds. Fourth-grade students in St. John the Baptist Parish are frequently invited to partake of living history and plantation craft demonstrations there on the grounds of this colorful River Road bonbon.
San Francisco Plantation, Highway 44 off River Road, Garyville, (888) 509-1756.
Rooted in Louisiana’s culture as well as her soil, the catalpa tree (Catalpa bignonioides) is said to have derived its name from the Catawba, an American Indian tribe. This South Carolina-based tribe used to smoke the catalpa’s hallucinogenic bean pod, which led to the tree’s nicknames “Indian cigar,” “smoking bean” and “Indian bean.” Louisianians, who get high at the prospect of a good seafood dinner, used to cut a cane pole, grab catalpa worms and head straight for the river or bayou. This “fish bait tree” worm is an excellent lure.
Catalpas belong in Louisiana. During spring and early summer, the heart-shaped leaves cradle clusters of white, curly-edged, bell-shaped flowers, marked with purple and gold. Butterflies, bees and birds linger over the flowers for deep sips of nectar, like patrons lingering over Hurricanes. Speaking of hurricanes, this sturdy tree with its deep tap root is considered a fine, wind-resistant buffer for hurricanes. It requires regular, moderate watering. And the presence of a Catalpa binonioides aureas (golden catalpa) flares in your garden like Mardi Gras flambeaux.
GREATER NEW ORLEANS
FORK IN THE ROAD
Ye olde college try
If you grew up somewhere between the tolling bells of Incarnate Word and St. Rita churches in Uptown New Orleans, straddled the stone lions on Pritchard Place and were chased away from Notre Dame Seminary by a priest as you skateboarded down its ramp, then you know Ye Olde College Inn Restaurant on South Carrollton Avenue. Your relatives might have told you how they ate in the back lot during the ’40s, listening to radio shows such as “Our Miss Brooks.”
The College Inn hasn’t changed much. Today, it still brims with customers and peerless chicken-fried-steak poor-boys and breaded pork chops with mashed potatoes. But the old place has lightened up a bit, now offering crab cake salad with spinach, mushrooms, feta cheese and dried cranberries, a heaping bowl of grilled chicken salad, and grilled amberjack with shrimp and wilted spinach. Veal Parmigiana, red beans, corn maque choux, stewed okra and mustard greens remain menu choices that reassure you this beloved restaurant won’t completely part from its 72-year past.
Ye Olde College Inn, 3016 S. Carrollton Ave., New Orleans, (504) 866-3683.
Horne of justice
Jed Horne, a native of Massachusetts, Harvard University graduate and city editor of The Times Picayune in New Orleans, has written a highly acclaimed book, Desire Street: A True Story of Death and Deliverance in New Orleans. The love Horne has for the Big Easy is apparent in his writing – much like the love of a parent who knows when his child needs a fast trip to the woodshed.
In 1984, New Orleans was horrified by the shooting death of a 60-year-old housewife, Delores Dye, in the parking lot of a grocery store. Not long afterward, 25-year-old Curtis Kyles, a black drug dealer and fence, was arrested for the murder, tried twice, convicted and sentenced to death. Horne’s book, through meticulous research and interviews, paints a disturbing picture of a justice system that circumvented itself. Instead of working to achieve justice for the slain elderly lady, some members of the New Orleans Police Department and the district attorney’s office got sidetracked by vanity and vigilantism. Through witness manipulation, suppression of evidence and bungling by the district attorney’s office that resulted in a tongue lashing before the U.S. Supreme Court, the fanaticism to get “another [black] off the street” backfired in their faces. After 14 years in prison, Kyles was freed on reasonable doubt.
With strong, competent prose that captures the mood of New Orleans, Horne documents these events and builds his story. The author admits he began the project after Kyles had been acquitted and was protected by double jeopardy – hoping Kyles would eventually confess the murder. But each fact the author unearthed moved his opinion in a different direction and possibly to the true murderer of Dye – Kyles’ counterpart, also black, a drug addict obsessed with Kyles’ common-law wife.
The author doesn’t so much as make a case for Kyles’ innocence as it does the for fundamental tenet of jurisprudence that protects us all: reasonable doubt. Horne says “howls of outrage” have erupted from Kyles’ family because he didn’t paint him as a “martyred angel,” and from the police and prosecutors still smarting from the “excoriation of the United States Supreme Court.” Horne doesn’t hesitate to note the irony that in the fanaticism to “get another [black] off the street,” the likely murderer of Dye walked free.
Grand Isle: sands of enchantment
Grace King, Lafcadio Hearn and Kate Chopin drew literary sustenance from Grand Isle, the seductive 7-mile-long buffer that shields Louisiana from the dazzling sea.
Jean Lafitte’s pirate galleons once slipped past Grand Isle’s many lagoons. It has been said the old bell of Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Cheniere Caminada, like a precognitive death knell, began pealing on its own as a hurricane approached that would rob 1,600 inhabitants of their lives.
Grand Isle draws you into your own personal oneness with nature. Walking the shore, I spotted a small shell moving through the sand and picked it up. The hermit crab drew its spindly legs deep into the recess of the shell at my intrusion. I carefully placed it back beneath the water and watched it as its legs emerged and spread out on the sandy bottom, and it began heading out to sea; I was reminded of someone who had propped up their feet with a glass of wine, having regained the sanctuary of home. The water that laps over your ankles here is sage green with citrus undertones. Pelicans, seagulls, shrimp boats and delicious breezes fill the horizon and the sound of the sea fills your ears.
The road that takes you to this southernmost region of Jefferson Parish is the Lafourche/ Terrebonne Scenic Byway. The state park at Grand Isle offers camping, fishing, crabbing, sunning and a 400-foot fishing pier. Grand Isle is considered to be one of the top 10 fishing places in the world. The warm gulf waters are swimmer-friendly nearly all year long, yet the eastern point of the island juts into the waters of Barataria Pass, which has a dangerous current. In the evening, under the stars, visiting families cook the catch of the day while the spirits of the gulf look on and smile.
Grand Isle State Park, (888) 787-2559.
Untax your burdens
Louisianians who auffered through flooding after recent hurricanes and other disasters received further punishment in the form of the soaring taxes they were forced to pay on disaster-mitigation relief funds. U.S. Treasury Sec. John Snow had high praise for Rep. Bobby Jindal and Sen. David Vitter for their work in relieving fellow Louisianians of these tax burdens. Jindal co-sponsored a bill that ensured the end of flood victims’ tax nightmares, and it was passed into legislation and signed into law by President Bush.
At the insistence of Sens. Mary Landrieu and Max Baucus of Montana, the bill was amended to be retroactive prior to legislative approval.
A true Spartan
Gulf Coast marsh hay cordgrass (Spartina paten) is the verdant tie that binds the fading coastal areas of Louisiana together. This billowy green growth that ripples like waves in sea winds embeds itself deep in coastal marshes.
Just 50 days following the watery onslaught of Hurricane Andrew’s surge, this grass showed rampant regeneration. Cultivated in Golden Meadow in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, one-fourth of coastal marshland vegetation consists of this sturdy saver of our ecosystem. It flourishes in brackish and salt marshes and on coastal beaches, restores marshes and stabilizes shorelines, levees and barrier island dunes.