Did you see me last week at the Gretna BMX track? Granted, I was disguised, although not deliberately, behind the darkest sunglasses in the drawer, along with a well thought-out ensemble, a t-shirt and ripped jeans, far from my usual society-page attire.
I could get used to this, I thought briefly to myself, as I sang along to “Rock the Casbah,” thanks to the woofer not eight feet from my face, all fine until the guy next to me sprayed my sandaled feet with his discarded chewing tobacco.
“We can’t move,” mumbled my sister Heather, speaking low and directly into my ear. “We’ll offend him.”
Distraction seemed best, so I leaned forward and shouted towards his wife, complimenting her two-inch acrylic nails, while shuffling my feet closer to Heather, the BMX Mom, who worked fast with a napkin.
It’s been years since I spent a summer in Louisiana, spoiled instead by the Monterey Peninsula, where my husband prefers to paint. In addition to Carmel Valley's cool weather, we enjoy the quiet, the escape from social obligations and a daily agenda, packed more than ever this summer as we juggle commitments for a statewide touring Rodrigue museum exhibition.
Summer fun in New Orleans differs greatly from the rest of the year. Residents accept that the word ‘tourist’ applies to locals as well as visitors, because we do it all. We walk in the French Quarter, attend Mardi Gras and Jazz Fest, and second-line on a whim. During the summer we eat boiled seafood and watermelon in the backyard, drive twenty miles for the best sno-ball or po-boy (related post: “Breakfast at Lea’s Pies”), and, if at all possible, nap during afternoon thunderstorms.
Recently I spent ten days as a tourist in my hometown with my sister and nephews, visiting from Tallahassee. In the mornings, the kids attended art camp, hosted by the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, where they created folk art from vent covers and fan blades, built an entire city out of cardboard boxes and papier mache, and took art lessons from their uncle.
In the afternoons we enjoyed old-time sodas and malts-to-go from the American Sector at the World War II Museum, visited the Besthoff Sculpture Garden at City Park, and debated art criticism in the swimming pool.
“It’s pretty stupid,” said Wyatt, about Oldenburg’s giant Safety Pin. “But really cool!”
Wyatt points out his Oldenburg-inspired work, Pizza (unfinished), below-
The highlight of our vacation-at-home was a swamp tour in Lafitte, which I nearly skipped. If you read last week’s post, you understand my hesitation. But I’m tougher since the BMX track and, besides, I hate to miss a good story.
(note: Unable to top last week’s swamp pictures, I include only a few here).
Once again we opted for an airboat, donning headphones and speeding through the swamp in silence. My last tour, in the Atchafalaya Basin, was in October. The swamp seemed different this time, most notably the kids flying through the alligator and snake-infested waters on inner tubes, along with the plethora of cattails and a familiar, wonderful smell (seriously), all reminding me of childhood summers on the Tchoutacabouffa River in Biloxi.
“Can you imagine comin’ out here and gettin' away from the wife and kids with five or six cases of beer?” mused Captain Monkey. “So peaceful.”
Full of adventure, but fortunately without incident, we spent the afternoon falling in love with Louisiana all over again. We studied the white alligators at Airboat Adventures. Captain Monkey explained that one in every 500,000 is an albino, but that usually they die, eaten or blistered, within days of their birth.
“Alligators live 80 to 100 years,” continued Captain Monkey, “growing a foot a year up to the first six years, and after that an inch a year, and then a half inch, and so forth.”
The kids left a week ago, and summer, although barely begun, feels like it’s winding down. Our vacation’s over, and all that’s left is a few swamp tour and BMX memories, and a living room full of art projects.
I realize now that escaping the heat comes with a price. Despite the tobacco incident, it was the BMX track, ironically, that provided the week’s most touching moments, as I watched six-year old Jordan Washington of Harvey, who abandoned his training wheels just a week earlier, struggle over the jumps. Again and again he failed to reach the top, sliding to the bottom, backing up, and then pedaling his heart out up the dirt hill while the older kids raced past.
Three hours later, on his last round of the track, Jordan made every jump. Heather and I stood and cheered with his mom, all of us choked up.
We introduced ourselves to Mrs. Washington, as we high-fived.
“I’m so happy for my boy!” she exclaimed. “My name’s Precious.”
Heather and I, caught up in the moment, sighed together...
“But of course it is!”
Wendy Rodrigue (a.k.a. Dolores Pepper)
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