Just in case you were worried about making enough pecan pie for the holiday this year, I think I know where there’s a good supply. To all my readers in the United States, wishing you a happy Thanksgiving! Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a slice of pie with my name on it…
Speaking of Crescent City icons, in my humble opinion there is no finer example of utilitarian design anywhere. It’s been a long time since the era when “municipal” could be synonymous with “beautiful,” but the fact that these little meter box covers are still so famous and beloved today gives me hope. With any luck, other cities might just get on board, and inject a little beauty into even the most minute details.
People like to categorize cities by things like food, or architecture, or climate, or whatever. Me? I like to categorize places by their signature style of lettering. So if I want midcentury neon Googie script, I might look along Route 66. For a good all-purpose wild-west Clarendon, look no further than Wall Drug. But if I want beautiful inlaid tile street signs, I’m heading straight for New Orleans. It’s not just the tile, either—the lettering itself is so unique it’s become an icon of the Crescent City.
Good thing, too—no offense to the designers of Highway Gothic and other wayfinding typefaces, but the French Quarter deserves something a little fancier than your standard green street sign.
When Mary-Alice and I drove across Texas together last year, we knew our stop for this night would be somewhere around Houston. Neither of us fancied slogging through an enormous, unfamiliar city at rush hour, so from the passenger seat I pulled out the map to see if I couldn’t find an alternative. What I found was a lonely road that hugged the Gulf coast, then ended in a ferry to Galveston. Sold. (Also, as it turned out, best idea ever. That road was gorgeous!) Since we made the decision on the fly, I had no idea what we might find en route. So rounding a curve to encouter a 180-foot lighthouse looming suddenly above us in the purple dusk was not just an arresting sight—it was unforgettable.
When Mary-Alice and I hatched our Florida trip earlier this year, I made a point of not planning any destinations ahead of time. I wanted to be surprised by what we found along the road. One of the many surprises that day was crossing the famous “Swanny”.
An even better surprise (for me) was what was waiting for us on the opposite bank.
Mary-Alice and I were only in Baton Rouge long enough to grab a quick lunch and glimpse the city’s (fraternal) twin capitols—but that was long enough for me to add the city to must-return places. The new capitol—while lovely—mostly just reminded me of the Superman Building in Providence. It was the old capitol, however, that really captured my interest. I mean, the U.S. is positively filthy with dome capitols, but how many crenellated ones are there? (Answer: none, now that the one in Baton Rouge is no longer the actual capitol.) But what really got to me was that we didn’t have time to stop and see the inside of the old building. The exterior alone had me Googling away, and once I saw a few photos of the interior, I was practically ready to derail the rest of our trip plans and spend an extra day in there.
Ah, well. You know what they say: a reason to return.
You probably know by now that when I draw in my sketchbook, I’m usually looking to fill a whole page spread with a finished scene. Sometimes, though, that’s just not possible. On the day I made this sketch, I was riding in the back seat of a rideshare van, craning my neck to catch any details I could of the landscape. The other passengers must have thought I was nuts as I jotted down any interesting snippet we passed—but at least I can remember something (if not much) of that afternoon.
Today it seems only fitting to hop from one French city to another. Other than the obvious connotation of the French Quarter, the multi-colored houses also made New Orleans remind me of Montreal. The thing that set NOLA apart, though, was all that stunning wrought iron.
Since they call it the French Quarter, it’s easy to forget that New Orleans is just as influenced by Spain—that Creole culture is just as Spanish as it is French. The city’s wrought-iron balconies brought the lesson home for me. As I rounded every corner, all I could see were houses draped in lacy Spanish mantillas.
A big part of any tourist experience (for me, at least) is catching a glimpse of local wildlife. People go to Yellowstone to see bears and bison. They come to my neck of the woods to spy orcas. When I was in Big Bend, it was all about the javelinas. So you can bet I wasn’t going to take my first trip to Florida without seeing some manatees.
The odd thing is that at this time of year, one of the best places to glimpse a sea cow is not a pristine nature park—but an industrial canal. The Tampa power plant uses the waterway as part of its cooling system, and as a result, cycles heated water back into the canal. The water is up to 20 degrees warmer than the winter temperatures of the adjacent Gulf of Mexico, so it attracts manatees in droves.
The courtesy of a wooden platform perched over the manatee area was lovely—and I was incredibly excited to see so many manatees at once—but I found myself sorely wishing for the kind of underwater windows they have for watching salmon in Seattle. That way, I could see for myself whether sea cows really resemble sea lasses, as the sailors of old thought they did…