After a pleasurable flight from Nashville on American Airlines, my plane landed just in time to meet up with a group of journalists who, like myself, were there to learn more about the area called “Louisiana’s Other Side”. It’s located in the Northwest corner of the state, and is only a few miles from the Arkansas border to the North and the Texas border to the West.
After a while, my companions got tired of the mess I was making, with morsels of crawfish meat, shells and lots of butter all over myself, and made some excuse to get away from me. Woe is me, I could not quite master the technique.
Enter a tall, lanky Cajun man, an ironworker who had the day off from his construction job. I had noticed him eyeing me from afar, but was taken aback by his approach. He introduced himself as Anthony, and told me I was opening the mudbugs all wrong. My friends had led me astray, he said. He showed me his technique quite proudly, and then, totally unprovoked, he launched into a detailed history of the area, beginning with the arrival of the Cajuns from Canada, accompanied by their mudbug friends, and ending with the social interactions of Creoles and Cajuns through the 18th Century. His mission apparently complete, he stood up to leave, but not before his parting question, “Do you know what makes Louisiana so special?” After a moment, he answered his own question, “Spice…….(long pause)……and variety, spice and variety.” On that note, he turned and walked off into the crowd never to be seen by me again. www.mudbugfestival.com
From the sublime to the more sublime, my next stop was the magnificent Gardens of the American Rose Center, the headquarters of the American Rose Society. Nestled within 118 acres of beautiful flowers, including jonquils, dogwoods, magnolias and so many more, in a serene forest setting, more than 20,000 roses are planted there in 60 individual gardens. Although I fancy myself a rosarian, the truth is I’m actually a rosicutioner, a word I made up which means “murderer of roses”. Somehow, between the dogs, the bugs, summer drought and black spot, my poor pitiful roses don’t stand a chance. So I was thrilled to learn that the American Rose Center goes far beyond just displaying magnificent blooms, but is also a research center for not only new hybrids, but disease-resistant ones as well. Some of you may be familiar with the relativelydisease-free Knock Out® Roses, but did you know that now you can purchase Double Knock Outs® with more than twice the petals of the original, and best of all, especially for me, they might live. Lovely! www.ars.org
For a change of pace, I made a quick visit to the fascinating Gators and Friends Alligator Park and Exotic Zoo, which not only houses gigantic hungry (just kidding) alligators and an occasional sleepy (not really) crocodile, as well as many more than the 40 pairs of God’s creatures that Noah put on the ark, including tame miniature horses, kangaroos, ring-tailed lemurs, goats, llamas, a camel and a capybara. As the world’s largest rodent, you definitely would not like to find him hanging out in your basement. www.gatorsandfriends.com
Well, since it was 5 o’clock somewhere, it was time to start drinking. My first stop was a charming winery called On Cloud Wine, aptly named for the delightful vino and charming wine-related gift items offered at its gift shop. Since owner Debbie Keckler was obviously in a jolly mood that day, she invited myself and our group to a wine tasting, where we could sample her offerings. I was completely smitten by Penelope Peach, in which delicious peach and apricot flavors are blended with Chardonnay. Others preferred Southern Hurricane, a pinot that shows off a pleasant floral fragrance, and Black Bayou, in which the aroma and flavors of freshly picked raspberries merge with the flavors of the rich merlot grape. www.oncloudwineonline.com
I should have been tired from the flight but instead I was wired so I decided to head off to a summer concert series called Eldorado Resort Casino & Friends of Barnwell “Hot Jazz on the Red.” The Red herein referred to is a river, a famous river in fact, and the reason that Captain Shreve came to the area in the first place (look him up!) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shreveport, Louisiana). It is also home to 5 casinos that float on the Red since an arcane Louisiana law doesn’t allow gambling on land (This is really true!). On one side of the Red is Shreveport, and on the other sister Bossier City. To get to the point, the Barnwell Center is located on the Red and has a fabulous patio, overlooking the river and providing a fabulous view of the odd Texas Street neon-covered Bridge that attracts tourists like myself, and makes them take lots and lots of photos of it.
The band that played that night was a local sensation named Jazziana, and a sunset dinner (and drinks of course) was offered by the handsome Jimmy Russo, who owns Monjunis Italian Café & Grocery, the area’s original Italian restaurant. Now a hungry group, we chowed down on delicious Spaghetti with Tomato Sauce, Homemade Lasagna, and Chopped Salad made from delicious old family recipes. www.monjunis.com
Time flies in Shreveport let me tell you, and lo-and-behold it was lunchtime again. Still waddling from my amazing breakfast at Strawn’s, the thought of my empty fridge back home made me determined to eat while I could. But eat, as it turned out, was the wrong word for the incredible lunch that Chef Jim Ragon spoiled us with at Abby Singer’s Bistro at the brand new, hi-tech Robinson Film Center. Feast would be a much better word to describe the delicate soups, crepes and other delicacies he prepared for us.
Having a world-class film center is a coup for any city, and Shreveport is appropriately proud of the facility, which offers independent, international and classic cinema of the highest caliber. In addition, it offers educational and technical services to the film community, and the Hollywood types shooting there. And Val Kilmer, Oliver Stone, Margaret Avery and other stars have all attended special screenings at the Robinson! “Dinner and a Movie” is definitely an experience not to be missed! www.robinsonfilmcenter.org
By the way, do you know that the Shreveport area is a major film production center? It all started in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina displaced a number of films in South Louisiana. The Shreveport- Bossier Film Office has a reputation for making production easy, with full city government support and streamlined paperwork and permit processing, In addition, the cities’ increased expenditure on infrastructure development is a lasting investment. Also, The Louisiana Wave Studio made for the film “The Guardian” is the 2nd largest wave tank facility in the world! Follow the fascinating self-guided Film Trail Tour to see how Louisiana can transform itself into locations as diverse as Kodiak, Alaska and New York City. Films as diverse as “The Mist”, “Mr. Brooks”, “Soul Men”, “W.”, “Factory Girl” and even the hit HBO TV series “True Blood” have all been shot in the area. www.shreveport-bossierfilm.com
After all this activity, some folks might want to spend the evening sleeping off the sights and sounds they had experienced that day, and some might want to revisit the Mudbug Festival, but in an act of rebellion against food and culture, I decided to hit the casinos.
named Sharon McCullar. Experience old world surroundings as in Centuries past in the old-fashioned Victoria and Albert styled rooms. Though open for breakfast and lunch, I loved the Canadian Bacon and Gouda Quiche ($6.75), which I actually ate with Fresh Fruit and Honeyed Yogurt Dressing ($6.50) and of course drank with the most delicious Angel’s Dream Black Tea, which can be ordered online. www.glenwoodvillagetearoom.com
Alas and alack, only one more experience lay ahead, a visit to the, as it turns out, awesome R.W. Norton Art Gallery, originally established with donations from the private art collection of oil baron Richrd W. Norton, Sr. It contains the family’s collection of rare books, 300 Wedgewood pieces, royal tapestries, fine European Masters paintings by artists such as Camille Corot, Jacob van Ruisdael and Sir Joshua Reynolds. There are also the (Frederic) Remington Galleries, the American Art History Galleries including works by Winslow Homer, Mary Cassatt and Childe Hassam, and so much more. The Norton is set in the midst of 43 beautifully landscaped acres, including azalea gardens, more than 10,000 plants and rare outdoor sculptures, of course. Best of all, there is no charge for admission! www.rwnaf.org
After all these great experiences, I look back fondly at all the great meals, fun places and fond memories, plus new friends I made in Shreveport- Bossier. I’m definitely not looking forward to that old empty refrigerator waiting for me at home.
The solution? Come back to the “The Other Side” as soon as possible! For more on this great travel destination,