Saturday, April 24, 2010

When in Rome

…do as the Romans do, and when at home, do as the Houmans do. (Photograph of controversial 1929 gift from Il Duce to the city of Rome, Georgia, from our 2007 trip.) While Watson nursed a mild hang-over, Melvin and I spent the morning at the conference. We then all headed off for Houma, Louisiana, via the Huey P. Long Bridge. (Actually, it is one of several bridges named for the former Louisiana governor, senator and progressive-minded dictator who built over a hundred of them in his relatively short time in office.)

The 1935 Mississippi River crossing is a unique steel through-truss bridge, with a two-track rail line down the middle and a two-lane (US 90) highway on each side. The travel lanes were constructed at just nine-feet each but are currently being widened. I bet some folk will be nostalgic after the project is complete in 2013, because the narrowness of the lanes, the height of the bridge (153-foot clearance) and particularly steep grades at each end create an exciting driving experience. Although the highway ascents and descents are extreme, trains cannot climb a comparable grade so the railroad trestle continues long after drivers return to earth, almost three times further then the highway bridge.

Houma was just a pit-stop—lunch at Abear’s (“Hébert’s,” get it?) Café––before heading down the bayou to Chauvin, Louisiana, to see the Kenny Hill Sculpture Garden. Hill, a bricklayer by trade, spent just over a decade constructing 100 concrete figures into a personal cosmology of Christianity, Americana and self. About a decade ago, he reportedly abandoned his art, his religion and his lawn care, the last resulting in the parish (county) evicting him from the land. Hill knocked the head off of (a) Jesus and took to the road on foot.

Watson, Melvin and I returned to New Orleans and had a short rest. We then went out for a late dinner at Bacchanal Fine Wine & Spirits‎, in the Bywater section of the city, an excellent suggestion by a friend. Patrons enter first a retail liquor store and proceed through a deli counter and kitchen to the rear yard, where there is a grill. We shared a couple bottles of white wine; grilled shrimp, ceviche and a short rib from the grill; and from the deli, a "Bacchaletta" (Tuscan ham, pan-fried pancetta, Greek olives and swiss on ciabatta) and a "Holyfield" (arugula, goat cheese, truffled portobellos and oven-dried tomatoes with white truffle oil). In the far corner, The Mark Weliky Trio helped set the mood.

Some psychologists might compare the progression from street to back yard to a shift from the conscious mind to the unconscious, especially after dark. In any case it is an escape from everyday stress into an oasis of relaxation. For me, it was a highlight of the trip that couldn't even be spoiled by my saying something inane when, "I don't feel a sexual attraction," would have sufficed.

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