Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Ringing in the Southern New Year

             You're probably familiar with the crystal ball drop that occurs at midnight in Times Square, New York, on New Year’s Eve, the massive televised event that rings in the New Year. Not to be outdone, the South has a few of its own.
            Alabama is home to the 12-foot-tall, 350-pound MoonPie that's lowered 34 stories from the RSA BankTrust Tower in downtown Mobile. Known as MoonPie Over Mobile, the celebration attracts 40,000 visitors and has been recognized by Oprah and Good Morning America as one of the most fun-filled New Year's celebrations in the country. And because Carnival begins on Jan. 6, the New Year celebration includes a Mardi Gras-style parade, a laser light show and live performances by the Village People and Evelyn Champagne King. Watch the video here
           A fleur de lis falls over the crowd from the top of Jax Brewery in New Orleans, followed by a 15-minute fireworks display over the Mississippi River at the New Orleans New Year's Eve fun. There's also a ball drop for the kids at the Louisiana Children's Museum starting at noon on New Year's Eve. You can view a video of the fun here
Geno Delafose
            The same can be said for Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Cajun Country, where the Children's Museum of Acadiana hosts a "New Year's Noon" ball drop and party for the little ones. Adults may want to head over to Lafayette's Vermilionville to catch Geno Delafose party on zydeco-style into the New Year.
            The original name for Tallapoosa, Georgia, was “Possum Snout” but was later changed to the more dignified Native American name that means “Golden River.” Folks here still like their possum, however, and drop a stuffed version of one named Spencer on New Year’s Eve. In addition to the New Year’s Eve drop, there will be entertainment, food and the crowning of the Possum Drop King and Queen (who are not stuffed, just an FYI) with a conclusion of fireworks.
Tallapoosa Possum Drop
             A giant pelican drops down from a 100-foot platform at the intersection of Palafox and Government streets in Pensacola. Festivities begin at 3 p.m. on New Year's Eve with live performances, a kids’ area and more. At the stroke of midnight, the whole city celebrates as the Pelican descends amidst fireworks and confetti.
            For New Year’s Eve, Key West drops three items: A large conch shell from the top of the famous Sloppy Joe’s Bar, a pirate wench from a schooner mast in the harbor and drag queen Sushi from a balcony on a bright red six-foot high heel at the Bourbon Street Pub/New Orleans House complex, followed by fireworks on the Back Bay.
            The largest drop in the South occurs in Historic Underground Atlanta, where a giant peach falls in front of more than 100,000 people, the largest New Year’s celebration of its kind in the southeast and second to New York nationwide. 
            For something more traditional, visit Fincastle, Virginia, which dates back to the 1700s. On New Year’s Eve, about 15 minutes before midnight, the courthouse bell begins ringing. Then the town’s churches ring their bells and it all continues until the courthouse bell strikes 12. Taps are then played to signify respect for the dying year and bell-ringers in the courthouse strike the digits of the New Year. Then three shotgun blasts indicate that it is time for the bells to joyously welcome the New Year by ringing for an additional 10 minutes.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Orange you glad Stark moved to southeast Texas?

            William Henry Stark moved to Orange, Texas, in 1870 to work in the area sawmills, working his way up the ladder and marrying Miriam Melissa Lutcher, daughter of a partner in the Lutcher Moore Cypress Lumber Company of Lutcher, Louisiana. Stark managed two mills for his father-in-law and invested in other industries and real estate, leading to him become one of the most successful southeast Texas residents.
Stark Museum of Art
            So why is this weird?
            If you visit the small town — and we mean pretty small — of Orange, Texas, today, you’ll find the world-class art museum, the Stark Museum of Art, surrounded by the historic buildings of the W.H. Stark House and the Lutcher Theatre.
            The Stark Museum or Art contains one of the nation’s most significant collections of 19th and 20th century American Western art and artifacts, in addition to American Indian art, collections of glass and porcelain and rare books and manuscripts. Stark and his wife built the massive 14,000 square foot Queen Anne house in 1894 and lived there until 1936. Today, the exquisite home is open to the public and displays its stained glass windows, woodwork in cypress and long leaf pine and the family’s furnishings. The Lutcher Theater is a 1,460-seat performing arts facility that houses the largest performing arts series from Houston to New Orleans.
W.H. Stark House
            The most astounding legacy of Stark, however, can be attributed to his son, Henry Jacob Lutcher Stark — the magnificent Shangri-La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center. The gardens’ 252 acres houses more than 300 plant species in five formal “rooms” as well as four sculpture rooms, a bird blind to observe nesting birds in Shangri La’s heronry and the Nature Center which includes a hands-on exhibit called the Nature Discovery Center, a laboratory, and three outdoor classrooms located in the cypress swamp. The gardens also include an Exhibit Hall, Discovery Theater, Children’s Garden, Exhibition Greenhouses, Cafe, and Garden Store.
Shangri La
            H.J. Lutcher Stark was inspired by the mystical retreat written about in “Lost Horizon” and wanted to create one of his own in southeast Texas. He established the “Shangri La” gardens along Adams Bayou in 1937, an oasis that included a cypress/tupelo swamp and lines of gorgeous azalea bushes, Stark’s favorite flower.
            In 1946, the gardens were opened to the public and thousands of visitors traveled to Orange to experience Shangri-La. A snowstorm in 1958 closed the gardens and they remained so for almost 50 years when, with the support of the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation, a private foundation that was established by Stark and his wife, Nelda, in 1961 prior to his death, reopened the estate. Today, the gardens are what Stark envisioned and so much more.
            During the holidays, Shangri La offers Evening Christmas Strolls where dazzling light displays and community-decorated Christmas trees greet visitors. The strolls are held from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. Dec. 11-13, 18-20 and 26-27. Admission is $6 for adults, $4 for seniors and children and Shangri La members are admitted free. There is also half-price admission for each visitor with a non-perishable food item for one evening. Food donations will benefit Orange Christian Services. 
            Now orange you glad you read the whole blog?
            For information on attractions by the Stark Foundation, visit http://starkculturalvenues.org.

Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is also the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Southern baby superstitions

            In the old days, out in the countryside, it might be a day's ride or more to get to the nearest doctor. That's why many Southerners took to doctoring themselves, using herbs to cure sickness. Or maybe something else.
            A 1980 article in the Baton Rouge State Times lists some area folklore used on babies to cure illnesses. Have you heard of any of these?
            To stop hiccups, cross two broom straws in the crown of a baby’s head.
            To cure whopping cough, ride a stud horse until he gets real hot, then let him breathe in a baby’s face.
            Mullin leaves soaked in water and wrapped around a limb will ease joint pains and strains.
            Babies born with veils over their faces will see ghosts.
            Boiled and steeped bitter weed used to bathe a child with malaria will cure he of it.
            Ivory soap cut into a small suppository will cure constipation.
            To cure chest colds, mix and heat tallow and camphorated oil, rub on chest and bottom of feet.
            Also good for chest colds is to brown a piece of flannel and put on chest.
            To cure colic, blow smoke from a pile in baby’s diapers and on soft spot of baby’s head.

            Strange sights seen by a pregnant mother will mark a baby. So will the mother’s strong cravings during pregnancy.
           If you cut a baby's fingernails with scissors, it will steal.

Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is also the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Are you ready to ‘Bayou Some Stuff?’

            The name alone will draw you inside but there’s so much more to Bayou Some Stuff thrift shop in Sunset, Louisiana.
Marvel Guidry
Drive-by Poetry
            The shop is a throwback to the 60s, with peace signs everywhere and bumper stickers, signs and blankets proclaiming things such as “The hippies were right.” LPs and 45s line the walls, Bob Marley has a presence and every inch is covered with something old for sale. Out front is the heavily decorated hippie truck that’s a reason to visit all in itself.
            Marvel Guidry runs the place, an unapologetic hippie with a love of dogs who also run the shop so be sure and peek behind the counter. In addition to the rare albums, paperback novels, old kitchen items, quart crystals, jewelry and clothes, among so much more, Guidry sells original peace sign sun catchers and other glass art (she's one of several sisters who work in glass art). Again, hailing back to those free-thinking days, Guidry proudly offers a sign proclaiming, “Never apologize for your art.”
            Guidry participates in area festivities, such as the town’s Christmas celebrations and the autumnal Festival of Words, where “drive-by poets” pop in and recite poetry for customers. Poetry readings in a thrift store decorated with peace signs really works, y’all. Word!

            Bayou Some Stuff is located on the main street in Sunset and is surrounded by more antique and thrift shops, so you can make a day out of shopping just within a few blocks of the store. Next door is Café Josephine, a great place to eat, and we heard that a new tea shop has opened across the street next door to Jeralyn Lavergne’s Fused Glass Art Studio, Guidry's sister.

Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is also the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Ziplining over gators, are we crazy?

When I told people I would be ziplining across alligators, they felt my forehead for fever.

The truth was I was going to zipline over 100 alligators not to mention camels and other exotic creatures at Gators and Friends Alligator Park and Exotic Zoo in Greenwood, Louisiana, about 10 miles outside Shreveport!

The first thing you consider is how this has to be a novelty and that there can’t possibly be 100 gators lying beneath you waiting for a snack to fall. But the first thing one sees upon entering the park is several five- to six-foot alligators basking in the sun. Definitely cause for pause. One of my partners in insanity doubted they were real. They were real all right. So were the dozens of gators in the pond stretching beneath the zip lines.

Our guides went to great length to assure us that the cables and all related contraptions attached to our bodies, the poles at the top of the stairs we would climb and the double cables on which we would swing were all completely safe. Once I spotted what was involved, I have to admit I couldn’t imagine anything going wrong.
The real scare, it turned out, was climbing up a spiral staircase that rattled as you ascended and stepping off the first platform and letting yourself fly through the air. We did this several times, through woods and pastures, each one a little more advanced than the previous flight but never less scary in my eyes. Flying across a stretch of land on one of Louisiana’s finest autumn days was a thrill but I found myself gearing up so much to step off those platforms that I was exhausted by the last run.

And what a run that was. The longest stretch and one in which you fly the fastest is also the run over a large pond filled with gators. By this time you’d think you wouldn’t even consider the ancient reptiles below but still I did a double take. Now I would be stepping off that frightful platform and flying over creatures that might not kill me, but would definitely take off a limb or two.
I did it. I ziplined over gators!

“Don’t worry,” our guide informed us. “They are hibernating and don’t eat this time of year.”

Well, that was a relief.

Gators and Friends is great fun and now that I conquered my ziplining trek over unhungry gators I would confidently encourage anyone else to try the experience. The park’s also a great spot for walking among exotic animals and letting the kids pet tamer beasts such as miniature horses and deer. And when the gators are actual hungry, they even let the tourists feed them.

Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is also the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Sweep this! Southern broom superstitions

            I had a friend who freaked out when she spotted me sweeping my living room one night and attempted to sweep the dust out the door. She grabbed my hand and instantly informed me that sweeping out dust after dark invited bad luck and should be avoided at all costs.
            That’s just one of the many superstitions revolving around brooms, many of which are predominant in the South.
            For instance, I’ve heard that if a person sweeps a broom across your feet, you must spit upon the broom or risk either going to jail or having bad luck. Variations on this theme include being hit with the broom while someone is sweeping; again, you must spit on the broom in question or risk bad fortune.
            Sweeping around people or in front of them has also been known to cause that person bad luck. I think the idea here is that you are sweeping away their good energy or sweeping them away.
            Other sweeping superstitions include:
            Don’t sweep out a house on Fridays.
            Don’t sweep out a house on New Year’s Day.
            If you sweep under a sick person’s bed, you will get bad luck.
            If you sweep under someone's feet, they will never marry. 
            If you move, don’t bring the old broom with you or it will bring bad luck.            
            Never step over a broom, even if you have to cross over it to pick it up. Some people place a broom across the door, especially on Halloween, to keep witches from entering the house, assuming that they, too, know that stepping over a broom brings back luck.
            Do you have a broom superstition? Let us know.

Cheré Coen is the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Monday, November 3, 2014

Chimp Haven a wild and rare opportunity outside Shreveport; Fall Festival will be Nov. 8

            This falls under wild and unusual rather than weird, and when they open their doors to visitors it’s a rare opportunity not to be missed.
            Just outside of Shreveport in Keithville, Louisiana, is Chimp Haven, an oasis where chimpanzees used in biomedical research go to retire. This National Chimpanzee Sanctuary is part of the federal plan to move chimps from the laboratory back to nature.
            Many of the chimps are elderly, many enjoy large habitats and some remain  in cages due to not being able to acclimate from a window-less concrete environment in which they had lived.
            Naturally, since these are wild animals, Chimp Haven is not open to the public. But several times a year they open their doors for a peek inside. The Chimp Haven’s Fall Festival will be Saturday, Nov. 8, the second of two yearly festivals held at the facility in the Eddie D. Jones Park off Highway 789. Events will be from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission prices are $6 adults, $3 children  ages 6-12 and free for children ages 5 and under. Activity tickets are 50 cents each.
            Activities include games and food, a local band, Cajun-Dixon Line, cake walks, a string maze, face painting, chimpanzee story time and behind-the-scenes tours. 
            Sanctuary visitors are encouraged to bring jars of peanut butter for the chimpanzees. The individual who brings in the most peanut butter will win a prize package that includes a behind-the-scenes tour.
            Check Chimp Haven before coming if weather starts to turn; they cancel for bad weather. The fall festival was rescheduled from October due to lightning and rain. To check on the fall festival status, call (318) 925-9575 and press 1 when prompted or visit Chimp Haven’s Facebook, Twitter page or website.
             Want to know more about Chimp Haven? I wrote a story on the facility for Country Roads magazine.

Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is also the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Our haunted national parks

            Halloween spooks are everywhere these days. No longer is the annual holiday relegated to tykes and teens; the Celtic New Year’s Eve now attracts every walk of life with events held in every corner of this great and ghoulish nation.
            The National Park Service, not to be outdone, is now getting in on the act. There are several fall festivals held throughout the U.S. offering freakish fun — some even hair-raising!
            DeSoto National Memorial in Brandenton, Florida, for instance, will host “DeSoween VI: Return of the Desoween” from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 25. The event includes “restless spirits, zombies, night creatures, and the most terrifying monster to encounter in the dark, CLOWNS,” according to the park web site.
            I definitely see the connection between Conquistador Hernando de Soto and clowns. Don’t you?
            This terrifying night at the national memorial won’t cost you a dime, either, and is “suitable for ages 7 and up,” they say. For information, call (941) 792-0458 or click here.
            Park rangers with the National Mall and Memorial Parks in our nation’s capital of Washington, D.C., explore the tragedies that have occurred at the Washington Monument with "Strange but True!" from 8 p.m. to 10 p.m. Halloween night. The event is also free. For more information, call Kathy Kagle at (202) 438-5377.
            Not really scary and not a Halloween event, the Vicksburg National Military Park in Vicksburg, Mississippi, offers a tragic step back in time with “Shadows of the Past” beginning at 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 1. Tours will depart every half hour until 8:30 p.m. for an evening candlelight walk with historical personalities. The battlefield was the site of ferocious fighting and death so who knows who will be following behind you in the dark.
            For more information on the parks and other events, visit http://www.nps.gov/index.htm.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Tom’s Wall outside Florence, Alabama, is a reflection in patience and love

Originally published Nov. 25, 2009, in The Advertiser, Lafayette, Louisiana

Tom Hendrix
            Our tourism hosts wouldn’t explain where we were going as we drove along the winding woods of northern Alabama as part of a recent press tour. “You just have to see it,” our guides told us.
            Fall was slipping into the area, with a few maples and other hardwoods showing their colors, and a crisp breeze urged us to pull our jackets a little tighter together. We stopped alongside a cotton field and a woman hailing from Seattle immediately headed for a boll, ready to pluck the soft interior out to bring home as a souvenir until she realized wet cotton felt like, well, wet cotton.
            Tom Hendrix wandered out of his driveway across the street, curious as to why we were stalling.
            “The Yankees have to take a photo of the cotton,” our host yelled back.
            Hendrix laughed, as did the Southern journalists among us, but he didn’t appear surprised. After all, he gets hundreds of visitors a year to this remote location, from all corners of the globe.
            They come to see his wall.
            Hendrix’s story begins in the 1930s, when his grandmother used to tell him stories about his family, particularly his great-great-grandmother, Mary Hipp, aka Te-lah-naya a Yuchi Indian. Hipp had lived along the banks of the Tennessee River in what is now Lauderdale County, believing as many of her people did that a woman within the river’s water sang to the residents.
            In the 1830s, Hipp and her teenage sister, like many Native Americans of that time, were deported from 9 miles south of Florence to Oklahoma on the infamous Trail of Tears. They were given silver tags with numbers on them; Hipp’s was “59.”
            But the waters didn’t sing in Oklahoma, and Hipp dreamed of her mother beckoning her home.
            Even though her sister adjusted to life in Oklahoma, Hipp insisted on returning to Alabama. She spent five years on the road, hiding to keep from getting caught. When she arrived back in the Florence area around 1845, she met a white farmer who married her.
            Hendrix researched this amazing woman’s story, having her “59” button as evidence of her remarkable return. He eventually traveled to Oklahoma to speak with members of the Yuchi tribe, who accepted him as one of their own. After much introspection, Hendrix decided to build a wall on his property, stones stretching to the right in honor of Hipp’s journey to Oklahoma and one stretching to the left for her long walk home. A tribal elder advised him to lay one stone for every step she took.
            The result is a massive stone wall on either side of his multi-acred property, complete with benches and places to rest and contemplate, plus a sacred prayer circle. The wall consists of 23 million pounds of stones, created in 32 years by one man.
            “For 32 years I’ve laid one stone at a time,” Hendrix told us.
            “Tom’s Wall,” as the locals call it, is the largest un-mortared wall and the largest memorial to a Native American woman in the United States. On top of his handiwork are stones from more than 100 indigenous tribes throughout the world, a 1907 meteorite, shells from Acadiana, a leather pouch with tokens, beaded necklaces, crystals and other items brought to Hendrix from many continents, even Antarctica.
            But more than the stones is the spiritual nature of the place. As visitors walk the length of the wall, on average about five feet high and spanning several football fields long, sunlight trickles down through the dense woods and birds are heard overhead. There’s a divine peacefulness here, born of love and devotion to an ancestor who would not give up.
The Prayer Circle
            After a tour of the grounds, the group headed back to the van, some still fascinated by that cotton field. I longed to stay within the loving arms of Tom’s Wall, gravitating to the prayer circle and thinking of my own grandmothers, the strongest women I’ve known. After offering them both a prayer and letting them know how much I missed them, I could almost feel their comforting hands on my shoulders. Hendrix gave me a hug upon leaving, and quietly slipped a jasper arrowhead into my hand.
            I could have sworn he saw them, too.

Wanna know more? Click here for a story by NatchezTraceTravel.com.

Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is also the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Louisiana’s Poverty Point is some sweet, yeah!

Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne with a scale model 
of Poverty Point made out of Mounds bars.
            In the northeastern corner of the Bayou State lies a series of Native American mounds and structured city like no other. The 3,400-year-old site named Poverty Point — for the plantation owner who struggled on the land in recent times, not the ancient natives — the site consisted of several earthen ridges stretched in a semi-circle facing a wide plaza with various mounds scattered about and a giant earthen bird in the rear with its wings stretching outward.
            Poverty Point is considered one of the most culturally significant Native American sites in the United States, but don’t take our word for it. The archaeological treasure was just named a UNESCO World Heritage site.
            In honor of Poverty Point being named the 1001st site inscribed to the UNESCO World Heritage List, the Hershey Company donated 1,001 Mounds candy bars to celebrate. (Get it? Mounds candy?) Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne requested the bars last month to hand out at the site’s inscription ceremony beginning at 10 a.m. Oct. 11, 2014, in Epps, Louisiana. Pictured is Dardenne creating his own Poverty Point in Mounds bars.
            The ceremony will include the unveiling of the UNESCO World Heritage Site plaque and remarks by U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu and dignitaries from the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of the Interior. The ceremony will be followed by a community event including free food and living history demonstrations beginning at 11 a.m.
Sunset over the eagle mound at Poverty Point.
            Poverty Point is the 22nd World Heritage Site in the U.S. and joins the ranks of others worldwide including the Great Wall of China, Stonehenge and the Pyramids of Giza in Egypt. Poverty Point was the U.S. Department of the Interior’s lone nomination for World Heritage status — adding to the site’s accolades as a National Historic Landmark, National Monument and Smithsonian Affiliate.
            But I’ll bet none of the World Heritage Sites or other landmarks were replicated in Mounds candy!

Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is also the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Dog days of autumn?

            Most people think the saying “dog days of summer” refers to it being so hot that everyone turns into dogs and lies around sleeping.
            The saying actually comes from the period of July through mid-August when Sirius, the dog constellation, is in the sky. Which is also when everyone turns into dogs and lies around sleeping.
            It’s now officially autumn (the first day of fall was Tuesday), but in the Deep South summer weather persists. Which might be why Texas has gone to the dogs.
            This Friday through Sunday, Sept. 26-28, canine athletes from Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana will compete in the South Central Regional Championship at Discovery Green in the heart of Houston. There will also be a doggie costume contest at 4:30 p.m. Saturday and America’s Got Talent-winning Olate Dogs — a high-energy, fast-paced theatrical act — performing pet tricks at 7 p.m. Saturday and 6 p.m. Sunday. 
            For information, visit http://www.discoverygreen.com.
            Over in Beaumont, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 4, it’s DOGtober Fest, a fido-friendly event with food at the Bone Appetit Food Court, music and canine activities such as contests for Master/Dog Look Alike, Cutest Dog, Best Howlin’ Dog and Best Dressed Dog. In addition, there will be Bark Art, The SPAW, The Barkery, PAW Readings, Neiman Barkus shopping, Strutt Your Mutt Parade and more.
            It’s all free and happening at the grassy area between the Julie Rodgers Theatre at 765 Pearl St. and the Beaumont Public Library at 801 Pearl St. in downtown Beaumont.
            DOGtober is presented by Beaumont Main Street and was named Texas’ best downtown event by the Texas Downtown Association in 2013. Can I get a bark? For information, visit http://www.dogtoberfestbeaumont.com/.

Cheré Coen is an award-winning travel writer specializing in the Deep South. She is also the author of “Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History,” Haunted Lafayette, Louisiana” and “Exploring Cajun Country: A Historic Guide to Acadiana” and co-author of “Magic’s in the Bag: Creating Spellbinding Gris Gris Bags and Sachets.” Write her at cherecoen@gmail.com.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Legendary Flora-Bama bar located on two states celebrates 50 years of Gulf Coast craziness

           We didn’t know which was funnier, the sound engineer dressed in flip flops, a straw hat and a Scottish kilt or Cathy, the leader of the open mic who calls herself the “big butt bitch of the beach.”
            Welcome to the Flora-Bama, titled as such for the fact that it sits on one side of the Alabama state line and the other in Florida and is world-renowned for its rowdiness.
            The Flora-Bama has been a landmark in the Gulf Shores-Orange Beach area since 1964, back when the Alabama coast was called the “Redneck Riviera.” The romping roadhouse with its multiple concert spaces, oyster bar, gift shop, pool hall, beachside bar and eatery and liquor store celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, still going strong even though the emerald coast has since turned upscale. In addition, the sprawling venue over two states hosts special events, including the immensely popular Mullet Toss where people — yes — toss fish for prizes.
            A few things to note if you’re heading to the state line bar:
            Try the Bushwacker, the bar’s signature drink, a combination of rums and other wonderful ingredients. So creamy and good you’ll forget yourself and your rowdy attitude will fit right in.
            If your date’s a bore or you don’t like the music, try reading the walls. They’re covered with wit from past customers, plus there are some awesome relics from by-gone music days.
            If you’re looking for more sophistication, the Flora-Bama Yacht Club waterfront restaurant is across the street, just behind the Waffle House.
            While we were listening to Cathy belt out crowd favorites in the lounge area closest to the street, we noticed children with parents wondering around and had that bar scene in “Sweet Home Alabama” flitting through our heads, the one where Reese Witherspoon spots an old friend in a bar with a child on her hip and says, “You have a baby…in a bar!” If you must bring kids, you might want to avoid the large bar-concert space toward the back with the bras hanging from the ceiling. The time we visited after Katrina there was a man belting out how much he despised insurance companies in very colorful language.
            And don’t even bother asking the sound engineer what’s beneath his kilt. He’ll do a little striptease that ends up showing another layer beneath, like a tease.
            “Nothing more scary than Velco,” he said when he pulled apart his kilt revealing more fabric. “Just like a shotgun being pulled.”
             After a few Bushwackers, we weren’t scared. Just disappointed. And we yelled out frustrations with the other women in the crowd.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Take a big seat in Houston's Heights

            Houston gets a bad rap. Like L.A., it’s charged with having no culture, no soul, just a sprawling urban mass of concrete and strip shopping centers. Look deeper and you’ll find quaint neighborhoods, funky weird attractions and a few fabulous eateries, which is what we brake for.
            The Heights is one of those places. Located north of I-10 just outside downtown Houston and a few feet higher than sea level, the neighborhood was created by self-made millionaire Oscar Martin Carter at the turn off the 20th century. Carter saw an opportunity to build a Utopia, with an emphasis on education, progressive planning and entrepreneurship — not to mention a healthy community free of yellow fever scares. Today, that legacy continues with fun places to shop, great restaurants (breakfast at The Down House is divine) and wonderful architecture.
            One of the best places to see the Heights is to travel up Heights Boulevard, a large esplanade with lovely homes on either side and a “Scenic Right of Way” median from White Oak Bayou to 20th Street that sports a walking-jogging path and some weird-looking sculptures. Called “True North, Sculpture on the Boulevard,” this collection of outdoor art produced by Deep South artists includes a half-buried church (yes, we said church), giant lawn chairs and something resembling a silver paper airplane.
            The project was the brainchild of Gus Kopriva, owner of Redbud Gallery on 11th Street, and made possible through Houston Arts Alliance and City of Houston grants, along with private donations. You can read more about the art up close and personal, but we’re borrowing some information here from The Heights Pages, a neighborhood free publication, among other sources.
            Let’s start with the church by artists Dan Havel and Dean Ruck, who “repurpose architectural structures and remnants of no perceived market value into works of art” until the name of Havel Ruck Projects. The church, known as “Wildlife Sanctuary,” contains pieces from an old neighborhood church with small areas where bird seed lures little ones in.  
            Artist Paul Kittelson loves taking art to a higher level (his silver trees at the Houston Hobby Airport are exquisite!) and does so with “Lawn Chairs,” a bit too high to sit on, even for Texas. Kittelson also has pieces in The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, The Menil Collection and The New Museum, New York.
            Ed Wilson hails from Arcadia, Louisiana, (who let him in?) and has created “Folded Plane,” a giant stainless steel paper airplane that has found its resting place in the median.
            And there’s more, from a giant northward-looking dog titled “Pointing North”  by Carter Ernst to a green building supported by what looks like massive oars in “From the Hood to the Heights.” For more photos, visit TwistedHeights.com.
            The sculptures will remain through November 2014, but they are also for sale. If you can pony up between $5,000 and $28,000, these pieces of outdoor Houston can rest in your front yard.
            And if that’s not enough outdoor art, right now the Discovery Green park downtown is featuring a series of angelic bronze sculptures by Mexican artist Jorge Marín titled “Wings of the City.” These angelic figures with idealized male forms are meant to “spark dialogue around themes of desire, will and determination,” according to the web site. One of the sculptures is a pair of enormous bronze wings with steps in front to allow visitors to pose for selfies. Share your photos on our Weird South Facebook page and other social media, hashtag #wingsofthecity.
             The exhibition runs through Feb. 8, 2015.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Celebrate earth’s rotation in Key West’s Mallory Square

Photo by Bob Krist/Florida Keys News Bureau
             My mom’s favorite time of day is sunset. When we lived in South Florida we would carry our cocktails out on the dock and watch the sky turn brilliant shades of auburn, orange and magenta.
            But we got an earful if we called it a sunset.
            Tom, my physics loving stepfather who had degrees in electrical engineering, used to chide us for such language, insisting the earth was tilting away from the sun and the sun wasn’t moving — or setting — at all.
            He was right, of course, but we still call it sunset. And yet, as I write this blog about Key West’s daily sunset celebration, I can’t help wanting to call it an earth tilting party. Because Tom’s favorite place in the whole world was the Florida Keys, and he left us recently and we imagine him still fishing right off the coast of the southernmost U.S. city.
            In Key West, that eclectic island at the bottom of a long chain of islands known as the Florida Keys, the Atlantic Ocean exists on one side and the Gulf of Mexico graces the other. Key West exists in its own time zone, so to speak, where no one needs an excuse to have a party or a chance to raise a drink in homage. For instance, when the sun appears to be descending into the Gulf of Mexico, it’s time for a celebration.
            Every day at sunset (or earth tilting time) folks gather at Key West’s Mallory Square on the west side of the island and watch what looks like the sun sinking into the water. While the “sun sets” people play music and perform other theatrics (check out the photo of Busker Will Soto juggling on a tightrope) until the last rays of sunlight are visible.
            As the light disappears from the sky, everyone applauds, because the earth’s tilting is indeed a great performance.
            And I’m sure Tom’s out there watching.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Fab Four beetles visit New Orleans

            Not exactly what you had in mind when thinking of the Fab Four coming to New Orleans (the Beatles actually played City Park's Tad Gormley Stadium in 1964), but Beetlemania will invade New Orleans Saturday and Sunday, Sept. 6-7, 2014, at the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium.
             To honor the 12,000 different kinds of beetles in the United States and more than 400,000 species in the world, the Audubon Insectarium will offer beetle-themed activities such as beetle races featuring native and exotic beetles and “Beetle juice” and chocolate “chirp” cookies served in the Bug Appétit cafe.
            In the lobby will be pinned beetle “look-alikes” displayed with guitars resembling John, Paul, George and Ringo. (Yeah, they look just like them!) And children will be invited to learn how to pin a beetle and take home a mounted insect as a souvenir. We want to take home Ringo.
            Tickets to Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, located at 423 Canal St. in downtown New Orleans in the U.S. Custom House, are $16.50 for adults, $12 for children and $13 for seniors. Admission is free for Audubon Nature Institute members.
            To watch a video of the Audubon Butterfly Garden and Insectarium, where you can get up close and personal with bugs, click here.