Sunday, August 26, 2007

(6) Louisiana, Mississippi

Gulf Port Mississippi, Biloxi
Iberia Louisiana

I traveled to Biloxi Miss. a couple years ago before the hurricanes devastated this area. I expected much of what I saw this time around. A couple of blocks from the Gulf inland for many miles was destroyed. From Gulf Port to Biloxi, most of the major damage has been removed, though the closer I got to Biloxi, the larger complexes are just being demolished. Of course the major casino’s are rebuilt and back in operation.

It was eerie to see trees coming back nicely, miles and miles of clean deserted beaches. But no hotels or expensive houses along the coast, no tacky T-shirt shops or fast food restaurants. Although people are rebuilding their lives and homes they don’t have the conveniences unless they drive north to around the I-10 corridor.

I talked to many people about the hurricane and it is a topic that is with them even today as reconstruction continues. The Direct TV owner told me how the Mississippi coast area has recovered so much better than New Orleans because the people in Mississippi, and the Governor ordered the National Guard to begin securing the areas and help with recovery immediately. Calling for evacuation quickly and not waiting to the last minute. He told me how the churches were the main helpers in all of it. Church members from all over the country came to Mississippi to donate their time and labor rebuilding. As an example, a single mother in his church only received about 30% of the damage because the rest was caused by flooding. She was able to purchase most of the materials with the insurance money and all of her savings. The church workers rebuilt her house with free labor and even furnished it for her.

This story was repeated many times over and the thousands of homes left standing but badly damaged were rebuilt with insurance if it covered the repairs or the aid of those church members from across the country. In Louisiana and New Orleans, the guy told me they turned back the offered aid because they expected the Government and FEMA to give them the money to rebuild. Two different states, one in full recovery mode, the other still struggling.

Oh, the campground (Magic River Campground) I’m staying at in Long Beach/ Pass Christian area is the first ever Passport America campground. It was under 10 feet of water two years ago during the hurricane. Hard to imagine. I visited the Passport America office now up the street. It was originally at the campground until flooding almost destroyed their operation. I talked to the receptionist and as we discussed my “doubling” my money at the Boomtown Casio, (I played with $12.00 and got $26.00 back!) she told me that she has seen gambling destroy many lives around this area. She personally knows people who regularly get their weekly paycheck and turn around and gamble it all away in one day. Gambling in many ways has been more devastating than the hurricane. Destroying whole families forever not just houses.
Vermilion Ville and Acadian Cultural Center.

Just a few miles down the road are two cultural centers dedicated to the telling the story of the Cajun/Creole people who make up this Mississippi Delta area. I was immersed in a full day of rides on the back water on a flat boat, made by the captain of the vessel. Touring the historic buildings that make up Vermilion Village and taking in the National parks museum and films telling the story of how the French Canadians from Nova Scotia (originally called Acadia) were forced out by the English.

Our National Park guide on the river is a character who grew up on the Delta and he and his wife raised 6 children of their own and over 40 foster children. He had lots of stories to tell, including the one about the Brazilian land owner who had two daughters getting married at the same time. Being a fan of spiders, he had thousands of “Golden Orb Spiders” brought in before the weddings. On the day before the wedding, he had his staff place them all along the grand entrance to the manor house. At day break, he had his staff dust the huge webs the spiders created with gold and silver dust. As the guests arrived, they saw a brilliant display of gold and silver webs overhead glistening in the sun. It is said that the golden orb spider like the gold dust so much, it continued to create it’s webs in gold from then on.

For a modest fee, $24.00 I was able to do the boat tour, have a yummy Cajun lunch in the Vermilion Ville with the most awesome home made bread pudding I’ve ever had. After the lunch, I wondered the village and talked with the folks providing interpretive history of the life style back in the 1800’s.

I was pleasantly surprised at the friendliness of the other visitors as well as all the staff at both locations. Louisiana is truly a place where no one is a stranger and everyone is a friend within minutes. One 85 year old gentleman, looked not a day over 60, played the fiddle and told stories about he and his 16 year bride. He was 18 when they were married and shortly afterwards had to go into the war. He played the fiddle and flirted with the gals like a young buck.

Creative Job Hint. As I was talking to the lady that does the weaving, I was reminded of a couple of friends from work who got a job on a cruise ship. Seems that the cruise ships are on the constant look out for folks with crafting skills or can teach subjects on just about anything. The gal that does the cotton weaving also creates little kits for the school children to teach them how to make rag dolls etc. I told her how easy it would be for her to translate that talent into a job aboard ship. All she needed to do was come up with a dozen “kits” to teach the passengers how to make various Cajun projects and throw in some history of the Cajun culture and she and a friend/spouse could have a free state room and journey all over the world. I think it expanded her possibilities in life. How cool is that? How about you?

I’m already in Texas and will be in San Antonio in a few days to visit with my dear friends Trine and Linda.

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