It was amazing to be back in Louisiana for Mardi Gras this year. I got to catch parades in Lafayette, Baton Rouge, Slidell and New Orleans, and spent Fat Tuesday in the Big Easy with friends. One of the best parts of Mardi Gras are the wonderful costumes people wear. Much like Halloween, you can go as absolutely anything for Mardi Gras, and people do. My favorites are always the really colorful and intricate costumes, especially those that are handmade and obviously took a long time to create. I spent much of the day wandering around the French Quarter, Marigny and Bywater neighborhoods trying to catch the spirit of the day through people’s costumes. I hope you enjoy these photos of my favorite Mardi Gras costumes from 2019 in Louisiana.
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The history of the Mardi Gras Indians is shrouded in mystery. They have been parading through the streets of New Orleans for well over a hundred years in elaborate, hand-made costumes which take the entire year to create. It’s believed that the Mardi Gras Indian Tribes came to be because most African American New Oreanians didn’t feel they had a place in traditional New Orleans’ Mardi Gras parades. Each Tribe represents a specific neighborhood, and spends thousands of hours creating their costumes which will generally only be worn on Mardi Gras Day and St. Joseph’s Day. The Tribe will emerge early on Mardi Gras morning and take to the streets, marching to meet other Tribes and engage in ritualistic battles and compare costumes. Since the Big Chief of the Tribe determines the route their march will take, they aren’t known or advertised so you have to be lucky to come across them. I felt very lucky to see this Tribe, representing the 9th Ward, on Mardi Gras Day and follow them up St. Bernard St. for a ways. Their costumes put all other Mardi Gras costumes to shame, and their history and tradition is some of the most mysterious and fascinating in all of New Orleans’ folklore. The best time to see the Mardi Gras Indians, though, is during their St. Joseph’s Day Parade. On that day, many of the Tribes descend on A.L. Davis Park to march through the streets one last time in their regalia before they start designing next year’s costumes. I hope you enjoy these photos of the Mardi Gras Indians.
If you've been following my travels, you know how much respect I have for traditional arts and crafts. In an era of mass-produced crafts imported from China and sold at every Pier One and Crate & Barrel, I consider myself very fortunate to stumble across someone using traditional methods to produce hand-crafted items. When I was introduced to Sarah Brown this past weekend as someone doing traditional letterpress printing, I knew I had to find out more. Sarah and I sat down to discuss her craft and some of the projects she's been working on. The more I learned, the more fascinated I became with the process and the more respect I had for the patience required to create these products.
I learned to really appreciate whiskey about ten years ago when I did my first tour of the Jack Daniel's Distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee. Before then, I could drink whiskey as a shot or in a mixed drink, but didn’t really appreciate it as a sipping drink. After that tour, though, once I saw how it was made and what went into it, I could pick up a glass of Jack and smell the wood burning in the charcoal production area and the clean, new barrels. It would transport me back to that chilly fall day, just before Thanksgiving, and then I could sip on it all day with a smile on my face.
While my tastes have grown and changed and evolved over the last ten years, there is just something about the smell of Jack Daniel's which has cast its spell over me. Like a first love or a first car I guess, just something that is (hopefully) always remembered with fondness. I’ve been back to the Jack Daniel's distillery half a dozen times or more since then and I've always enjoyed the tour. Because most of these more recent visits have been while I was guiding, and on tours where the visit was included, I have usually just breezed through Tullahoma on the way to or from Lynchburg. I always knew that the George Dickel Distillery was in Tullahoma, but never had the chance to stop and see it. I finally got there this week, and really enjoyed my tour there as well. I figured I would write this post comparing and contrasting the two tours for you. If you have the time to do both, they are both well worth the effort, but if you had to choose just one, here are a few factors to consider.
Hello my friends! It has been a great first week in Tennessee out here on the road. When I wrote last week, I was on my way out to the Deep Creek area of Great Smoky Mountain National Park in far western North Carolina. Today, I'm writing from Knoxville in north eastern Tennessee. It's been an exciting week of festivals and hiking in the park, and the weather has been just beautiful. Strawberries are coming into season and I love good, local strawberries which I'm thankful I've been able to find. I've also been trying to wrap up a few things from South Carolina and begin writing my next podcast. Thankfully the days are getting long down south and it seems like long ago and a million miles away that I was sitting in sub-freezing temperatures in the dark at 4:30 p.m. in West Virginia. Daylight and sunshine really do make a difference - I hope you are all getting outside and enjoying both. Anyways, this is what I've been up to this past week. I didn't quite get it done in time for my Thursday newsletter, but it has been busy out here…
I had so much fun doing my story on the breweries in Asheville, NC (The Best Beers in Beer City - read it HERE), that I decided to follow it up with a brewery tour down the road and across the state line here in Greenville. I have taken quite a shine to this town, and have really enjoyed my stay here. It feels like such an up-and-coming kind of place, like Asheville before it was Asheville. Prices are still reasonable, and there's a lot of opportunity here. One of the businesses which has been on the rise here in Greenville is the brewery business. There are about 8 breweries in the area and more on the way. I figured I'd take a little tour around and check them out. My rule for this crawl was the same as it was in Asheville, I would ask for the bartender's favorite beer - not their best seller or newest or freshest, but the one they would drink if they could only have one. Some of the beers I had were pretty awesome...
I am always in awe of true craftspeople. In an era of mass production, anyone who has continued to work with their hands to create something both useful and beautiful is pretty awesome in my book. When I can visit somewhere where each piece was produced with love and attention to detail, I can get lost just looking around. And when you add in an historic angle to it, I'm sold. That's why I was so thrilled to visit Westmoore Pottery in Seagrove, North Carolina, a truly special place.
Although the North Carolina beer scene has really taken off in the last decade, Asheville has definitely risen to the top of the heap. Take one of the highest number of breweries per capita in the United States and add a craft-beer loving population and you have a recipe for some pretty amazing brews. This combination has even led to the opening of east coast operations for New Belgium and Sierra Nevada in the Asheville area in recent years. As a beer lover, I set out to find the best beers in "Beer City". I started by asking some friends for recommendations, did a little research on my own, and then set out to explore the beer scene. As I was only there for a few days, my method was to ask the bartender for their favorite beer. Not their best-seller or newest beer, but the one they themselves would drink if they could only drink one. I went to almost a dozen breweries, but have narrowed this list down to my favorite six.
Finding a true multi-generation craft shop these days is getting harder and harder. Finding one where you can actually see the products being made is even harder still. I treasure these finds because they are so rare. Having been to factories which churn out thousands of pieces an hour, all exactly the same, it is nice when you can find somewhere where things are made one at a time and each piece is unique and distinct. Wandering into Appalachian Glass in Weston, West Virginia I knew I was somewhere special. In the hour or so I was there, I saw really beautiful glass ornaments being blown by hand, learned some history about the area and the industry, had a cup of coffee and walked out with some beautiful hand-made glass pieces in my hand and a smile on my face...