Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Wright way to celebrate New Year’s Eve

Photo by Elaine Warner
New York has its dramatic, nationally televised ball drop on New Year’s Eve but it’s not alone. Not one to let New York have all the limelight, the South offers many of its own, although these tend to be more colorful, like the MoonPie drop in Mobile or the drag queen known as Sushi inside a giant red high heel that falls on Duval Street in Key West — and boy does she look good!
            My dear travel writing buddy Elaine Warner of Oklahoma alerted me to a fun celebration in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, where a massive olive drops down from the top of the Price Tower into an oversized martini glass at midnight. Now, that’s my idea of ringing in the New Year!
            The Price Tower, by the way, is the only fully realized skyscraper designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Not a “skyscraper” by today’s standards, the 19-story landmark completed in 1956 houses businesses, a hotel and dining. The restored 19th floor executive office of H.C. Price and the H.C. Price Company Corporate Apartment are available for viewing on a tour as well.
            The New Year’s Eve event — if you wish to join the organized fun — includes hors d'oeuvres, music, dancing and a champagne toast for $45. Hotel packages are also available. Proceeds from the event will be applied towards supporting the building’s World Heritage Nominated landmark status.
Here are a couple more weird New Year’s Eve celebrations in the South:
            A 1,250-pound steel-and-copper acorn is dropped at 7 p.m. (for the kids) and then again at midnight at City Plaza in Raleigh, North Carolina, as part of the First Night festivities. This year marks the 25th anniversary and the day brings lots of fun activities.
            Atlanta goes all out for its New Year’s celebration and drops — what else? — a giant peach for the annual Peach Drop, while in Miami they drop an orange and listen to Pitbull bring in the New Year for 2016. In different places in Maryland they drop a duck and a crab. 
In Key West, always known for a colorful good time, there's also a giant conch shell that falls from the top of Sloppy Joe's Bar and a pirate wench dropped from the mast of a schooner in the historic seaport, in addition to Sushi.
            Panama City drops 10,000 inflated beach balls at 8 p.m. on to the families present at Pier Park and at midnight follows with a large beach ball for the hearty partiers. In between there's lots of fun activities. Watch the video here.
            Over in Pensacola, a lighted pelican with a 20-foot wingspan rings in midnight with fun all day and all night as well.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A beer by any other name

We love beers with a sense of humor. Take Great Raft Brewing in Shreveport, for instance, home to Reasonably Corrupt dark lager, the perfect drink while enjoying Louisiana politics. Great Raft has several beers with weird and fun names: Grace and Grit, Southern Drawl, Creature of Habit, All My Tomorrows, At Arm’s Length (good for when creepy men come hitting) and Awkward Uncle (see photo), what they call their "boozy winter seasonal." We’ve visited this brewery twice, enjoying its enormous and hip tasting room, brewery tours and, of course, the delicious beers.
            If you visit the taproom, you can fill up a jug and bring these tasty beers home. But if you can’t make it to Shreveport, Great Raft beers are located in stores that sell craft beers throughout Louisiana; see their web site for details.

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Underground Atlanta — Airport

Atlanta history exhibit
between concourse B and C.
            I’ve moved around so much in my lifetime, there’s not one place I can attribute many years to — except maybe the Atlanta Airport. I’ve been through this transportation hub in the heart of Georgia so many times they hand me my mail when I arrive.
            The Hartsfield-Jackson Airport has been ranked the world’s busiest airport. According to 2012 statistics, it services 260,000 passengers a day and almost one million flights a year. The old joke used to be, when you go to heaven you must first change planes in Atlanta.
            What’s weird about this is I actually enjoy visiting my second home. I know where the good restaurants are, where to find the best reading material, where to sit and enjoy TV in comfort and relative silence — you name it. And if I have a long layover, I take the opportunity to walk the underground hallways from terminal to terminal.
From "A Sense of Place" exhibit.
            This past Sunday I had three hours to kill and I arrived at Terminal A and needed to travel to Terminal D for my final flight. I took the escalator down to the subway stop and walked underground all the way to my destination. It’s great exercise and there’s plenty to see along the way. For instance, between Terminal B and C there’s the history of Atlanta in panels, photographs, videos and more. You can easily spend upwards of an hour reading all about the Southern city from its inception by Native Americans to the Civil War, Civil Rights and beyond. Also around Terminal B and C is a curated photography exhibit on “A Sense of Place” by 11 Georgia-based photographers.
            According to the airport web site, there’s also 20 contemporary stone sculptures from 12 Zimbabwe artists between concourses T and A, but I didn’t venture that far.
            When I finally arrived at Concourse D I was treated to a collection of artwork from some of the city’s school children, including exquisite paintings, drawings and photography from ages as young as 6! And since I still had two hours left on my layover, I picked up a falafel wrap at the food court and kicked back in a comfy chair to watch planes, luggage carts and other vehicles stream by my window.
            So the next time you’re killing time in the Hartsfield-Jackson Airport of Atlanta, don’t curse your bad luck. Go for a walk and experience some culture.

Cheré Dastugue 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.” She also writes Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire, “A Cajun Dream” and “The Letter.” Write her at

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Honoring the three-legged cat of Natchez

A limping cat showed up at the Natchez City Hall in 1979 and employees couldn’t turn away the adorable feline, giving him veterinarian care, food, water and a litter box. The injured cat lost a paw and his teeth but gained an enormous amount of love. Employees, including the mayor, were so enamored with the cat that he became a permanent part of City Hall and the town. "Tripod" was even the star of TV talk shows — including “P.M. Magazine” — and the recipient of gifts from around the country.
Former Natchez Alderman Hal Wilson, however, wasn’t too keen on having Tripod around; he was allergic to cats. He tried to have the cat removed from City Hall but his motion failed to get a second, according to a story in The Natchez Democrat. Former Mayor Tony Byrne then made a motion to remove Wilson from City Hall but the vote was split and the mayor broke the tie in favor of keeping the alderman around.
Wilson eventually changed his mind, the article states. He was the only one able to reach City Hall during a snowstorm (he lived downtown) and he and Tripod kept each other company in the empty building.
Tripod died on Oct. 9, 1983. But his legacy lives on. He’s buried on City Hall grounds underneath an oak tree. There was a full memorial service and Brookhaven Monument Co. and Natchez Monument Co. donated a headstone bearing his name. The engraving reads: " The City's Kitty."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Halloween blows in Grapevine, Texas

Photo stolen from Vetro newsletter
            We visited Vetro Glassblowing Studio & Gallery on a trip through Grapevine, Texas, during the Christmas holidays. Grapevine is the “Christmas Capital of Texas” so we were there to enjoy some of the 1,400 holiday events that occur every year, including making a holiday ornament.
Yes, that’s 1,400!
            The folks at Vetro (means glass in Italian) offer glass ornament making sessions, where visitors can pick out colors and stick a glob of glass into flames and twirl them around until those colors turn into a fun, beautiful globe. I wish I could say that my ornament of lovely sea blue and turquoise was all my doing, but those artisans working at Vetro had a lot to do with it. And really, that’s what you want. I think it would be pretty scary sticking a poll with glass on the end into a 2,000-degree furnace and then blowing air into this sweltering blob that suddenly expands — without someone there to help.
Here I am working hard on my holiday ornament.
            The Vetro folks are offering to help visitors set fire to glass again, but this time for Halloween. For $55 plus tax, you can create hand-blown pumpkins in a host of wonderful colors, either ones you pick or a pre-selected mix. The sessions will be 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 10, 17 and 24 and 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. Oct. 23 and 30 and 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Halloween, Oct. 31, 2015.
            Pumpkins will be available for pick-up the next business day after 3 p.m. unless it’s a Saturday and then available the following Tuesday.
            Want to see how it’s done? Check out this video of Vetro glassblowing.
Granted, making glass pumpkins isn’t that weird. But these blowhards are having a steampunk glass party that makes the weird grade for sure. Glass on the Tracks on Nov. 7 in Grapevine is a mixture of glass art demonstrations, live music and the Truth or Consequences Glass Art Auction, their twisted version of a live auction where what doesn’t sell, gets smashed in their glass guillotine.
Want to see a video of this as well. Click here.
            Want to make a pumpkin or attend the party? Purchase tickets at

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

No cats allowed at Beaumont’s Dogtoberfest

Courtesy of Beaumont's Dogtoberfest
            Beaumont, Texas, is going to the dogs.
            From 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, downtown Beaumont will be barking with Dogtoberfest, all happening at Central Bark, the green space between the Julie Rogers Theatre and the Beaumont Public Library. Bring your pooch and a plastic bag.
The fun begins at 8 a.m. with a Puppies and Pancakes Breakfast followed by the “Strutt your Mutt” Parade at 9 a.m. Contests include Master/Dog Look Alike, Cutest Dog, Most Talented Dog, Best Dressed, Best Tail Wagging and Best Howler (human and/or canine). In addition to the contests, Mr. & Mrs. Dogtoberfest 2015 will be chosen from the crowd and the winner of the Facebook Favorite (the canine receiving the most “likes” on the Beaumont Main Street Facebook page) will be announced. A style show showcases adoptable dogs dressed in Ruff Lauren and Canine Klein. Want to tell Fido’s future? Madam Poodle Paw reads paws. How about some pampering? There’s the Day SPAW and shopping at Neiman Barkus.
Courtesy of Beaumont's Dogtoberfest
For kids, there’s Pappy’s Barnyard with pony rides, a petting zoo and activities kids can do with their pets. A Bone Appetite Food Court exists near the Fountain of Woof and Puppy Dog Lane features dog rescue groups and canine advocates sharing information and awareness.
Admission is free but a minimal donation is required to compete in contests, participate in games and enjoy refreshments. All proceeds and sponsorships benefit the revitalization efforts of Beaumont’s historical downtown.
            For more information, call BeaumontMain Street at (409) 838-2202 or visit

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Here’s looking at Key Largo for a fun film fest

           If everyone in America threw a festival in honor of a film made in their city (or the story set in their city, more like it), we'd have festivals everywhere. And yet, a Humphrey Bogart festival in Key Largo works. I mean, really, a Humphrey Bogart festival in Key Largo!
            Who remembers Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Becall in the John Houston-directed film noir “Key Largo?” The story of a man finding a gangster running a friend's hotel who he confronts during a hurricane was set on Key Largo, the island south of Miami, and it’s here that film buffs can celebrate one of its stars in the third annual Humphrey Bogart Film Festival, Wednesday through Sunday, Oct. 21-25, 2015.
            Although the annual event — formerly held in May — celebrates Bogart's life and films, this year's festival honors the life of his wife, Lauren Bacall. “Key Largo” was the fourth and final film that paired the married actors. Click here for the film trailer.
Returning to co-host events and film screenings is Bogart and Bacall's son, Stephen Bogart, to be joined by Eddie Muller, a novelist and film historian nicknamed “Czar of Noir” and special guest Monika Henreid, a documentary filmmaker and daughter of “Casablanca” star Paul Henreid, who played Victor Laszlo in the famed movie alongside Bogart.
Festival highlights include indoor and outdoor screenings of several Bogart classics as well as special events including the Costume or Casual Cocktail Reception, Bogart Block Party and Seaside Soirée. Throughout the weekend, fans can view Bogart memorabilia, find festival collectibles and book canal cruises on the fully restored African Queen, the original boat from Huston's 1951 film of the same name that starred Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. The African Queen is docked at the Holiday Inn Key Largo, mile marker 100.
All-access and single-event passes and merchandise can be purchased at
In addition, the 2015 festival has partnered with the faculty and graduate students of the University of Miami Department of Cinema & Interactive Media to host a student short film competition and festival. Student film submission categories include film noir, crime, thriller, comedy, documentary, action-adventure and more. The winning films are to be shown during the festival. There will also be workshops on “Filmmaking in South Florida” as well as “Floridian Noir Storytelling,” a practicum hosted by award-winning directors Billy Corben and Tom Musca.
            For event information and schedule, visit For a video teaser, click here. For Key Largo visitor information visit or call (800) 822-1088.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Arnaud's of New Orleans celebrates humble potato with an elegant five-course meal with wines

If you think New Orleans is only about the celebration of alcohol and food that makes you say “Bam!,” think again. Arnaud’s, one of the city’s classic restaurants dating back to 1918 in the heart of the French Quarter, plans to celebrate the humble potato. Yes, the potato.
            Arnaud’s will celebrate National Potato Month with a five-course dinner with the wines of Willamette Valley beginning with cocktails and hors d’oeuvres at 6:45 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17, followed by dinner promptly at 7:30 p.m. For $100 per person (inclusive of tax and gratuity), guests will enjoy each course featuring variations of the potato, paired with wines. The menu will also include specialty cocktails – the Raspberry Moscow Mule and Vodka with Small Batch Tonic, created by Chris Hannah of Arnaud’s elegant French 75 Bar.
            If you’ve never been to Arnaud’s, you’re missing one of the finest meals in the Crescent City, delicious cocktails in one of the best bars in the world (don’t take our word, GQ magazine named it one of the country’s best and may we suggest the French 75 cocktail), plus, of course, outstanding Creole cuisine.
            Sept. 17’s Potato Perfected Wine Dinner menu includes:

            Cocktails & Canapés
Arnaud’s signature Soufflé Potatoes
Potato Cake with Caviar
Gulf Shrimp and Andouille Croquettes with Goat Cheese and Rosemary Jelly
Sweet Potato Hash with Tasso Ham and Pepper Jelly
Raspberry Moscow Mule
Vodka with Small Batch Tonic

A demi-tasse of cold potato soup
Elk Cove Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley 2014

Pan-seared with new potatoes, baby greens and truffled honey vinaigrette
Elk Cove Pinot Gris, Willamette Valley 2014

Black Drum
Potato-encrusted and pan-seared with fennel and herbsaint butter
Soter North Valley Chardonnay, Willamette Valley 2012

Deconstructed Shepherd’s Pie
Roasted beef tenderloin, Saint-Andre potato gratin, summer peas and Bordeaux jus
Willamette Valley Vineyards Estate Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley 2013

Sweet Potato Cake
Caramel crunch ice cream
Warre’s Otima 10 Year Tawny Port

 Limited seating is available and reservations are required. To make reservations or view the entire menu, call (504) 523-5433 or visit

Thursday, September 10, 2015

The Louisiana town that moved to Arizona

Excerpted from "Forest Hill, Louisiana: A Bloom Town History" by Cheré Coen

            William M. Cady and his Cady Lumber Company established two mills at McNary, Louisiana, a town 25 miles southwest of Alexandria that was chartered in 1913. In the mills’ heyday, McNary had a population of nearly 3,000 residents with a church, school, post office, fully-staffed hospital, swimming pool, depot and a large theater.
           In 1923, however, Cady decided to move his operation to Cooley, Arizona, a small Native American village about 150 miles from Flagstaff named for Colonel Corridon Cooley, head of the Apache scouts. The Cady Lumber Company — comprised of William M. Cady, Alfred Smith and James McNary — purchased the Apache Lumber Company, its Ponderosa Pine timber leases, the accompanying Apache Railway and sawmill.
            But Cady didn’t just take the business to Arizona, he took the whole town of McNary with him. In January 1924, Cady loaded up trains with Cady employees and all their possessions, plus the logging and sawmill machinery, and moved the entire operation to Cooley, Arizona.
            “The tragedy of the timberland was symbolized Monday when the last of McNary, Louisiana, moved away in a twenty-one coach train bound for the new village of McNary, Arizona,” wrote Clare D’Artois Leper in “Louisiana Place Names: Popular, Unusual, and Forgotten Stories of Towns, Cities, Plantations, Bayous and Even Some Cemeteries,” quoting a story from the October 1924 American Forests and Forest Life magazine. “As the forests became denuded of pines, the employers of the village began looking about for a new site. They found it in Arizona.”
            Because Cady had built a name for himself at McNary, Louisiana, the town of Cooley was later changed to McNary, Arizona.
            “Most of the Central Louisianans who went to Arizona with the Cady Lumber Company stayed in their newfound McNary for at least seven years,” said Mrs. N.H. Goff of Alexandria who was raised in McNary and traveled to Arizona with most of her family. She was quoted in Jim Hammock’s Alexandria Town Talk newspaper column of July 16, 1967.  “They then began drifting to other points in the West, and many returned to Central Louisiana.” Goff added that the cold weather may have contributed to their return.
            Local Native Americans were hired as well, Goff said, but preferred their native housing and moved out.
            The abandonment of its industry and people failed to make McNary, Louisiana, a ghost town but it struggled to survive. In 1929, its charter became inactive. The community of several hundred residents petitioned the state to have its charter revived and the town was reestablished in 1965. Today, several of the original mill town houses remain and remnants of the drying kilns used at both mills can be spotted in the countryside on the outskirts of town.
            Not too long after McNary moved to Arizona, John D. Clark and Charles Linze McNary — no relation to the town — authored the Clarke-McNary Act of 1924 to authorize the government to buy “cut-over” timber land, or land stripped of its trees. Since an enabling act in Louisiana prevented such acquisitions within the state, Alexandria naturalist Caroline Dorman wrote legislation that was passed in Baton Rouge with lumberman Henry Hardtner’s assistance to preserve forests in central Louisiana. In 1928 the Kisatchie, Catahoula and Vernon units of the Kisatchie National Forest were established with more acreage bought at later dates.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Hail to football season starting — and all the weird yells of the Southeastern Conference

             Football starts tomorrow — Saturday, Sept. 5 — throughout the Southeastern Conference, where thousands — and we mean thousands — pack into stadiums and double the sizes of their perspective towns. Thousands more arrive just to tailgate, with the smells of delectable Southern treats emanating everywhere.
            If that’s not weird enough, there’s those crazy collegiate traditions, cheers and superstitions. We’ll looking at a few these coming weeks, but today it’s all about the cheers.
Ole Miss
Want to incite the crowd at Ole Miss games? Simply ask one question. Here’s what you receive in crowd noise when you shout out: “Are you ready?”

Hell yes!
Damn Right!
Hotty Toddy, Gosh almighty
Who the hell are we?
Flim Flam, Bim Bam
Ole Miss, By Damn!

Called the Hotty Toddy, its origins are unclear, but claims it may have started as the “Heighty! Tighty!, which appeared in a Nov. 19, 1926, issue of the student newspaper, The Mississippian:

Heighty! Tighty!
Gosh A Mighty!
Who in the h--l are we?
Rim! Ram! Flim! Flam!
Ole Miss, by D--m

However it came to be, it’s something to see — and instigate. Here’s James Franco egging on the crowd when he was in Mississippi shooting a film. Click here.

            I hail from South Louisiana, where the only place we want to see a hog is over an open fire. In Arkansas, however, there’s one hog who lives in hog heaven. This Russian boar’s name is Tusk and he’s the mascot for the University of Arkansas, otherwise known as the Razorbacks. Tusk III (yes, he’s one in a long line of honored pigs) lives on a farm in Dardanelle, Arkansas, a place that’s so special he gets to roam around a 9,000-square-foot arena when summer gets too hot or in an almost equally spacious outdoor area.
            Tusk does get to travel, however. On game days he’s loaded up in a red truck and brought to Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It’s here that fans love to turn into hogs by cheering what is known as the “Calling of the Hogs.” Fans wiggle their fingers and raise their hands over their heads for about six seconds as they say “Woooo.” They then bring them down as they call out “Pig, Sooie.” You do this three times and on the final cheer call out “Razorbacks.”
            To see this in action, visit here.
Texas A&M
            Texas A&M is one of the most spirited colleges in the SEC, with many colorful traditions. Students say “Howdy” to others they meet, an act encouraged as the official A&M greeting. Many say goodbye in a unique way as well, spouting out “Gig ’em!” This tradition hails back to a 1930 football game against Texas Christian University, known as the Horned Frogs. A&M graduate Pinky Downs wanted to incite a crowd gathered for a midnight yell practice and asked, “What are we going to do to those Horned Frogs?” The answer was “Gig ‘em,” referring to what Southerners do to frogs when hunting them. Downs gave them the thumbs up while holding a fist and this hand gesture became the first of its kind in the Southwest Conference. You can hear the crowds chanting this now during A&M football kickoffs.
            Texas A&M is now a part of the Southeastern Conference.

            By the time football season is over you will know where my loyalty lies — hint, it bleeds purple and gold — which may be why I’m not mentioning that Roll Tide nonsense of Alabama. (Just kidding, I’ll give them airplay too. Maybe.) But we have a lot of cheers that veer toward indecent.
            When I worked at The Advocate newspaper in Baton Rouge my coworker hailed from South Carolina and said he was appalled at the first LSU game he attended and heard such “obnoxious behavior,” including one such cheer against Alabama. Are we that bad? Probably, but I laughed and sang it out, adding that the one about Ole Miss wasn’t too nice either.
          I’ll leave you all to ponder those. But check back in the next few weeks as we look at more cheers, jeers and Weird South football traditions. If you know of a few, pass them along.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Finding Scandinavian trolls in the Smoky Mountains

There are most definitely trolls lurking in the Smoky Mountains and you’ll find a wide variety of them at 5 Arts Studio in Cosby, Tennessee.
Denmark natives Ken (Knud) Arensbak and his wife, Neta (Agnete) Arensbak immigrated to the U.S. in 1949 and brought with them the legends of Scandinavian trolls, secretive little creatives who live in woods and caves and the deep recesses of homes. When they told their children these tales, the kids wanted to know what they looked like. So Ken brought a few to life, utilizing nature’s materials — acorns, nuts, pinecones, rope fibers.
Pretty soon others wanted their trolls too, so Ken created more and handed them off with little troll stories. Then stores wanted to sell them.
            The rest is troll history. Family members carry on the thriving troll tradition at 5 Arts Studio on Troll Mountain Way in Cosby, about 15 miles east of Gatlinburg, and a visit to the “troll factory studio” is as much an adventure as bringing home your very own troll. There are trolls everywhere, many displayed in their native habitats, plus artwork created by Ken lining the walls. Out the back are stunning views of the Smokies. And to this day, each troll is lovingly made by hand.
            Want to see what’s new in Trollville? Check out their web site.

Cheré Dastugue Coen is an international travel writer and 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.” She also writes Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire, “A Cajun Dream” and “The Letter.” Write her at

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

A bone to pick with Lizzie

At the Atlanta History Center in Buckhead, just outside the heart of Atlanta, lies a sweetheart pin made from a most unusual item. Abigail Arline of Albany, Georgia, was working in a hospital as a nurse during the Civil War. A wounded Confederate soldier was admitted and had to have his leg amputated. After the surgery, the soldier took a piece of his leg that had been cut from his body and inscribed his name on the bone to give to his sweetheart, a girl named Lizzie. The soldier ended up dying of his wounds so nurse Abigail was not able to pass on the pin because no one knew the name of the soldier or the full name of the recipient. It exists on display at the history center.

Cheré Dastugue Coen is an international travel writer and 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.” She also writes Louisiana romances under the pen name of Cherie Claire, “A Cajun Dream” and “The Letter.” Write her at