This morning the Junior Fellows and I got an early start on our trek across the south. Once we overcame the effects of a 3 a.m. start, the excitement really set in.
One of the highlights for the day included stopping at the New Orleans Museum of Art’s Sculpture Garden. Here we discovered works of art from several famous artists, one hitting close to home. Artists such as Augusté Rodin (famous for his ‘Thinker’ sculpture) and Jesùs Moroles (a Texas native known for his abstract granite structures) were found throughout the garden, garnishing the site with a wide variety of artistic styles. Moroles also designed the new Outdoor Classroom at Sam Houston State which, coincidentally, will be unveiled Friday at an event hosted by the office of the CHSS—and supported with volunteer work by the Junior Fellows who are not on the Southern Culture Tour.
Of course, not all the artwork present was as visually pleasing as that of Moroles and Rodin. Giant spiders and monkeys growing human arms ruled their sections of the park, invoking feelings of confusion (with a touch of fear) and curiosity.
Although the sense of oddity would sporadically recur, it was not ever-present. Earlier today, for example, we visited the Louisiana State Capitol building. Standing at a height of 34 stories, the beautiful edifice serves as the highest capitol building in the U.S. today. Taking a look inside the state’s senate and house floors gave me a quick shot of inspiration that will hopefully carry over into my studies once we return home. Just outside the capitol stood the statue of Huey Long, the infamous governor of Louisiana who stirred up political turmoil throughout the 1930’s until his death by assassination in 1935. His assassination site, incidentally, is located just inside the capitol, marked by a signature bullet hole about waist high in one of the pillars.
To continue with our historical endeavor, we stuck to the time period and made our way to the National World War II Museum. Here we had the chance to examine various equipment, stories, data, and hand-written manuscripts surrounding the war. I personally enjoyed the weapons and handwritten letters; seeing someone’s genuine note to a loved one cannot be replicated.
From here we journeyed to St. Louis Cemetery #1 to search for two well-known graves: Homer Plessy and Marie Laveau. Laveau, a voodoo queen during her lifetime, was easily found. Due to her reputation as a witch of sort, her grave was clad in incense, notes, markings, and various strange gifts. Does her spirit live on? Some natives with tell you so. Homer Plessy’s grave was nothing fancy or special, but a simple grave deserving certainly more respect than madam Laveau. Seeing such an array of tombs was strangely exciting for me, and finding such historically important individual’s graves made it that much more unique.
To top it all off the Fellows and I enjoyed a variety of dishes unique to Louisiana culture. We had lunch at Elizabeth’s, purposefully written as “Breakfast at Elizabeth’s” across the menu, a reference of course to Truman Capote’s novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s which will play a larger role later in the trip. Here we had the chance to try large portions of authentic gumbo, a pig jowl BLT, cajun bodin balls, and other specialties, like my choice for the day: the shrimp po boy, a New Orleans speciatly. For me, trying out new foods is always nerve racking but also exciting, even if pig jowls taste like pig j’all-the-leftovers.
Dinner was also quite a treat. Located just off Bourbon Street, Oceana Grill provided us with the chance to try turtle soup, oysters (chargrilled for weak, raw for the daring), alligator, and other local cajun classics. Although a roller coaster ride for the weak stomached, the cultural experience was enough to leave me full and satisfied.
To cap off the night, we took a brisk and slightly frightened walk down Bourbon Street, giving us the chance to see street performers, step in local shops, and dodge scantily clad women.
All in a days work, the Junior Fellows experience it all.