Week 20-  January 23-29 Week: Slowing Down in the Deep South

Our weekly worship experience started early this week as we decided to go to a Saturday night Mass while we were still in New Orleans.  We worshiped at the St. Louis cathedral, the oldest operating cathedral in the U.S. which is right by the French Quarter. 

What a study in contrasts.  We left the din of the street crowd and stepped into the quiet sanctuary.  What a difference between the jazz at the visitor center and the Bach fugue prelude (a favorite of mine) on the massive pipe organ.  It all underscored the odd concept of Mardi Gras.  With the wildness and excesses of the Carnival and Mardi Gras it seems an almost hypocritical lead up to the Lenten season of self-denial…  While we enjoyed the excitement of New Orleans, the mix of traditions even with occult practices like palm reading and voodoo, made us glad to leave the city later that night. 

We enjoyed the service, and as usual when I visit a Catholic church, I am impressed that so much of the liturgy is scripture.  During the service, I asked Jenna if she thought the priest would preach and dance around like the pastor from our worship in Port Arthur Texas the week before.  She responded, “How could he with the dress (robe) that he is wearing?” 

We left our over-priced KOA on Sunday to head to Destin Florida.  We have learned to avoid KOA campgrounds as they pack in the campsites, are over-priced, and are usually by a busy road.  The west New Orleans KOA was the final blow as they misrepresented their price when we were making reservations and didn’t make any effort to address our complaint.  Just say no to KOA! 

The kids love travel days as it is so comfortable to make tracks in the RV.  Make tracks we did, as we were in four states in a matter of a few hours.  We needed to make it to the Pensacola area so I could catch a Monday flight up to Minneapolis for a couple of days.  I promised my coworkers at General Mills that I would teach an annual cereal technology class during my leave of absence (certainly the least I could do in light of their support of us in this adventure). 

We left Louisiana with great memories of a fascinating area, to drive the coastal interstate through Mississippi, Alabama, and into western Florida.  The kids dutifully jumped in and out of the RV for all of our new stateline photos…  We were impressed by the visitor centers along I-10 as we entered each state.  Mississippi took us completely by surprise.  The visitor center had rooms like an old plantation home with formal furniture, fireplaces, and spiral staircase.  They also were displaying fancy Mardi Gras dresses and hats in each room.  The kids especially liked the free pop they gave out.  Florida gave out free orange and grapefruit juice. 

As we got into the Pensacola area, the Ivan news stories of last fall came to life.  A startling percentage of the homes had blue tarps nailed over damaged roofs.  There were still several centralized areas where mountains of debris were waiting to be hauled away.   

Our arrival at our campsite in Destin was hardly what you would expect going to Florida.  The night was crisp cold (though we weren’t complaining as record setting snowstorms were trashing the Northeast States).  As Nate and I checked out the sugar white sands of the beach in the moonlit night, it felt like we were in Minnesota walking through snow! 

My traveling was a good opportunity for the rest of the family to plant for a couple of days of schooling and domestic catch-up.  By the time I returned from my teaching trip, the daytime highs had gotten back to the 70’s from the cool 50’s we had experienced before I left. 

On Thursday, we back-tracked from Pensacola area to end up in the Mobile, Alabama area after a final beach walk taking advantage of the beautiful sunny day.  We arrived early enough to get set up in our new camp and drive into Mobile city center to catch a parade.  Mobile has celebrated Mardi Gras longer than any other US city, even New Orleans.   

Mobile has daily, family-friendly parades for the Carnival, a couple of weeks leading up to Mardi Gras itself.  We have learned a lot about this tradition in the past week because the celebration is at least as big here as Halloween or Valentines Day is in the rest of the U.S.  Apparently, different social clubs called Krewes fund each parade.  There is a hefty Krewe membership fee, plus members each donate the money for the treats and beads that are thrown to parade-goers.  No doubt, the kids were very willing “donees”, catching beads, moon pies, stuffed animals, and other treats. 

Enjoying the stepped down pace of the week, we stuck around the RV park all day Friday on one of the rare days this trip when it has rained.  The park is north of Mobile on the edge of the Mobile River delta area, a huge area of swamp and river tributaries that is a sportsman’s paradise.  We had a great chat with the rangers as we looked at photos of the fish and gators found in the area and explored the adjoining marina.  This part of Alabama has a great, laid-back atmosphere. 

We decided to make a day trip back to Biloxi, Mississippi, about an hour’s drive.  Like this whole adventure so far, God has blessed us with good weather.  We left Mobile in misty gray clouds.  As we headed south, whole convoys of electrical service trucks were heading a few hours north to help out in the ice storm that was hitting northeast Alabama and Georgia.  As we arrived in Biloxi, the skies were clear there and later in the day we walked along the beach in almost 70 degree sun! 

We wanted to catch this part of Southern Mississippi because it has always had an important fishing and shipping industry.  On the way, we drove up to the Grumman Ship Systems yards where naval ships are built, though there are no tours especially after 9/11.  We made it to Biloxi for an afternoon visit of the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum.  The shrimpers and oyster fisherman sure have a tough job making a living!  The museum also had a special exhibit on the 1969 hurricane, Camille that almost wiped Biloxi off of the map.  Then as now, there were folks who didn’t head warnings to evacuate and lost their lives because of it. 

We enjoyed slowing down a bit this week.  And there is no better place to do it than in the South.