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
            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

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

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
            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.