Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Lost highways and found roads

The winding roads in Arkansas.
Time to visit some family down in Louisiana came up, and when I'm not traveling for a show, I get the opportunity to slow down my thought process and take in more things in the moment. Since on the way down there I didn't have to drive, it gave me time to take pictures, enjoy scenery, marvel at how T-Mobile's signal doesn't traverse well into the rural areas of areas with lots of trees,...

You know, the usual.

But it also allowed a lot of time for me to think about that day, and as the drive went on, I started to take notes. The older I get, the more I realize even photos and videos can't give the whole story without some context embroidered into them with wordsmithing.

The drive was long, just over 10 hours to get down south, and my mind moved between the sights on the road and a recent online moment.

The other day, I was participating in a discussion that revolved around problems both great and minute, that fill this world. We all were given a chance to sum up our thoughts in a sentence or two. I typed out:
"A mostly prevailing unencumbered general sense of self importance capped with a life concept of looking elsewhere for anyone else to make the world better without damaging the social norm for the one who's perspective is at stake from the window of a world now viewed through a monitor."
It seems a bit of nihilism and depression can flow into my thoughts, even when I am feeling pretty peaceful. I say that, but I do believe that above statement to be true. A metaphor for life is easily found on any road in any direction. When you look out the windows, you encounter weather, quickly changing views (unless you are in Kansas), small blink and you will drive through them towns, dilapidated barns, herds of cattle. Standard midwest fare.

But along in there, driving down roads, we can speed by the gems hidden just beyond a brake light shine. And I know that because of this, our lives can be all the less richer for missing out on them.

Arkansas is like so much of the rest of the Midwest. Lots of fields, trees, gas stations and small towns that pop up seemingly at random along the long and winding roads.
Someday, I hope to stop at every flea market and second hand store I find along the way.
I couldn’t help but think about who lived there. Old houses, yards filled with odd statues, overgrowth, random cars. Occasional antique stores and locally owned restaurants, some of which have closed down sadly since last I came through. All sorts of questions and imagined stories instantly spring to mind from the visual narratives that pop up. Why did places close? Who lives there? Why? What will be missing when next, if ever I pass through again? What is the history of these small towns? Do they have a museum or niche historical aspect of some kind?

The day was sunny, about 78 degrees, blue skies with thin clouds. It added to the picturesque and time standing still feeling that the Midwest wallows in. I say that lovingly so.

But change does come, more abruptly when the area you seek out has had a years worth of time to evolve. A line of rusting classic era cars that I’d explored last year, is now an open empty field, and the old mechanics shop that was nearby, is gone. Just a flat stretch of cement, slowly yielding to the uprising force of hardy grass and weeds penetrating it.

Down the road, stood the now empty shell of a sandwich and fried foods stop. Where it had once been run by two jovial women, and the exterior outfitted with Christmas lights, chalkboards bearing the menu available, and mismatching enamel coated metal chairs and tables out front, it now stood silent, empty, with dust covered glass windows. The dark red walls now fading. A shiny padlock the newest addition on the door next to the windows.

The presence of rusting serpentine railroad tracks, partially paved over, or blanketed by tendrils of long grass and errant tree roots, pass in and out of sight from passenger window view.

It’s been years I would guess since a train has passed through any of these towns. Which may have led to decline, as slowly and constant as the ever more apparent eroding less driven roads and bridges connecting them.

While change comes in urban areas with the loud immediacy of jackhammers, construction crews, and corporate money, out here it is more of a slow stream carving at the soil of the roots of a tree on the bank. Sooner or later there will be less and less, and when there’s no one to notice, one day it will be gone.

Radio station signals out here ebb in and out amongst the rise and fall of the hills of Texarkana. A static filled station plays “Every rose has its thorn”, adding a slight surreal mental moment to the action of driving through the area. It’s true that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The radio is a dichotomy in being at times frustrating and limited in its programming depending on what you can receive, at the same time, the variable nature of it makes it so that the only option is to turn down the volume and listen to the road.

Turning attention back to the road, refocuses my mind onto the roadside views just in time to see a ten foot stack of semi and car tires, painted white, in the form of snowman, wearing rope and plastic tarp parts in the fashion of a two piece bikini.

Art is all around you. All the time. You just need to look for it.

I had it in my mind once down south, that I wanted to check out as many roadside and local stops as time permitted. For any of you familiar with Louisiana, it can be hot and humid. With the sole exception of one day, all the rest of the days had great weather, with breezes, and lower humidity than I remembered.

Local Flavor

A great local restaurant, Myran's.
Finding new restaurants ranks as one of my favorite things. I used to do reviews for Trip Advisor some time back, but anymore, the search and gamble at play in discovering places like this, seem to be a bit more fun. Granted this one came family recommended, but it as new to me.
Lot of fried stuff. It is the south...
Inside was pretty spacious, clean, and had good air conditioning. Tables and chairs were sturdy, and the overall aesthetic was simple and utilitarian. Service was quick, and the waitress was friendly and prompt.
I didn't get a photo of it, but on the wall opposite to this view, there was an odd little room that had slot machines in it.
I can be pretty mundane in what I order at some restaurants, I know this sounds silly, but there's a part of me that wants to compare similar tastes and items to others I've had. The burger was great, actually very well seasoned. The onions rings, though... the BEST I've had in some time!
My one regret of the meal? I did not ask how the onion ring sauce was made. Sauce is life.

Rip Van Winkle Gardens

The house built by Joseph Jefferson, the actor that portrayed the role of Rip Van Winkle.
I'd not heard of these gardens, but did know about the actor Joseph Jefferson. The house is extremely beautiful on the inside, but not unlike a lot of tourist attractions that are historical, there was no opportunity to take any photos on the inside.
Dedication point on the grounds.
The tour group was only about nine people, which was good, as the house was a lot smaller on the inside. It had some things that we would not consider unusual, but were points of interest on the tour. For instance, Jefferson had closets put in the bedrooms. That may not be a bit deal to use, but for taxation purposes, back then, they were considered separate rooms.

These weren't just hum drum in design. They were made of solid cedar, and equal to the size of modern closets.

Another set of architectural odd points in the house were the presence of stove inside the kitchen, as well as a basement. I can't remember the reason that the stove (in this case a reproduction of the original), was inside the house, but it was a very unusual thing to have one inside. Even more so, the basement was only possible because the house had been built on higher ground, above the water table level.

It became apparent that there were other spots of historical significance all throughout the grounds, including a spot where pirate gold had been found, as well as a tree that had been found Grover Cleveland's favor.
This little cat was lounging about the back porch of the house as the tour group exited.
The garden had a five member grounds crew that worked tirelessly to keep the gardens looking amazing.
There were some non native plants mixed in among a lot of old trees.
The gardens also had a small bird sanctuary located within. There were one or two bird coops that had pigeons in them. Wandering around, near some guest rooms that visitors could stay in, you could find some very curious but wary peacocks.
This was about the clearest photo I got of any of them. They were not keen on the sound of the click of the camera shutter.
The original house had been flooded some time back, and just a chimney stood by itself out in the nearby lake.
I believe these were Malaysian inspired sculptures on the lake side of the garden.
There was a charge to take the tour, and I would recommend wearing some very comfortable shoes, and bring water, because it's a lot of walking.

Clearing the mind

Louisiana night sky.
The evenings when traveling, are moments of new unwindings. I flip back through the photos I've taken, watch what video I've gotten, look over what I would like to try to do the next day. To a lesser degree, it's not unlike weekends when at an art show.

I started writing blog drafts on my phone, which helps keep these easier to edit and update later. I try to do that more these days, because even after a recent weekend is over, I tend to forget things, and leave them out of my blog posts.

Other locations

Located near a historical plantation.
So, of course I am interested in history in general, but especially American history centered around the civil war. This probably comes as no surprise to most people, but over the years, I am surprised by the narratives that show up on some of the historical markers. Case in point, it seems that most of the ones located in the northern states, come off a bit more neutral in the stating of facts, while ones I've found down south like this one erected in the memory of two southern soldiers.

It was a terrible conflict, drawing lines between countrymen, brothers, and so many other aspects of American life. But I think, and this is just my opinion, to state that "their devotion to duty and country", might be just a bit misplaced.
A roadside art space.
Finding art galleries can be a mixed bag. This one had a lot of local publications, some paintings, a lot of sculpture, and a bohemian drum class going on. The prices were alright, but nothing really stood out as a must have for me.
Ever since I started trying get a bit more Marie Kondo-esque, I've been trying to get less books...
I had brought a better camera this time, to get hopefully get some new stock photography done. Near one of the Catholic schools, was this old church that had a large graveyard nearby.
It was already after services, so I just got some shots of the exterior.
By Sunday, the cool weather had moved on, but the weather went between sunny and humid, to rainy and humid.
I know it's history, but there's a part of me that feels a bit sad for this young man. I think my imagination gets caught up in what he must have gone through, to have his life end so soon.

Shadows on the Teche

One of the more unusual plantation houses.
Located in New Iberia, this plantation was odd. It's deceptively smaller on the inside, but a lot of that is because of the absence of hallways.

Sounds odd right? But it was designed that way. The concept was that hallways were harder to cool off, so the main rooms were just connected by doorways that led to outdoor walkways.
I tend to think all of the trees this old down here, are just epic. [Right] A couple of things I picked up from the gift shop.
The tour office was interesting in that it had not only a gift shop, where I picked up a locally made hot sauce and an indie publication called "The Story of the Acadians". I haven't gotten to try the hot sauce yet, nor finished reading the book. I might do a mini review of them both at a later date.
A double rainbow, just after the rain. A nice send off to leave on.
It was nice to catch up with family, and the mental recharge for me, helped a lot. As the saying goes, a change of scenery can be everything. Managing to get some new images for stock sales, getting some story ideas worked out late at night, and spending time not focused on work, helped rejuvenate me.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time, support your local artists and businesses. Be kind to your fellow beings and always take the path less traveled. We all may live in times uncertain, but kindness, understanding, and believing in the good that is in most each and every one of us is what can bring about better days!

Mario, the Artisan Rogue
Illustrator, Voice Actor, Writer, Animal Rights Activist

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