Gayle Harper is presently working on a project about life along the Mississippi Great River Road, the national scenic byway that accompanies the Mississippi River from Minnesota to the Gulf of Mexico.
Ms. Harper's collection of photographs along the Great River Road was nominated for the Santa Fe Prize for Photography in 2009. Upon completion of her trip down the river, Ms. Harper plans to publish a coffee-table book with the images and stories she gathers along the way.
Her decision to make a 90-day trip down the Great River Road is the result of a little factoid put out by the National Park Service that states that it takes a drop of water about 90 days to make its journey from the headwaters of the Mississippi River in Minnesota to its destination at the mouth of the river in the Gulf of Mexico. To read her blog about this trip, called Surrendering to Serendipity, and Ms. Harper, go to http://gayleharper.wordpress.com.
Last week found Ms. Harper at Shantybellum's sister guesthouse -- The Big Pink Guesthouse in Clarksdale, Mississippi. You can read all about Clarksdale, its local color and the characters and sights she discovered there at http://gayleharper.wordpress.com/2010/11/04/in-the-presence-of-greatness/.
We look forward to hosting Gayle at Shantybellum next week, and trust that Natchez will enchant her as much as Clarksdale, albeit in its own unique style.
Photo by Elodie Pritchartt
Saturday, November 6, 2010
Sunday, October 31, 2010
Tommy and I went down to St. Francisville last night for the Faux Blood Music Festival with True Blood soundtrackers Jace Everett, et al, and Chuck Prophet and his band from San Francisco, who played at Magnolia Cafe.
The music was awesome, and I was awestruck at meeting the guy who wrote that song for the opening credits of True Blood. To meet the person and be able to tell him how much you love it is something special.
(Apologies for the image that video shows up with.)
If you're not familiar with it, Magnolia Cafe was the winner of Country Roads Magazine's Favorite Small Town Dining Destination" and Favorite Venue for a Live Performance.
Knowing we'd be having cocktails, Tommy and I did the responsible thang and took a taxi to the restaurant, asking the driver if he'd be so kind as to return and pick us up later that night. The driver's name is Mark Armstrong, a 70-something-year-old man with his own taxi and tour service. He promised he would come back, but said he had to get up this morning to go see his wife, who is in a nursing home with cancer.
After we got out of the cab, I realized I'd left my camera in the back, and called. Told Mark just to hang onto it and bring it when he came back. Alas, we were having such a fine time, I didn't hear my cell phone when he called at 11 p.m. to say he just couldn't stay awake any longer and he'd bring it by the hotel in the morning.
The noise was so loud I couldn't quite make out what he was saying, though, and thought he'd said he would bring it by last night and leave it at the desk. So when we got to the hotel and discovered it wasn't there, and tried to call, I must admit I suspected I'd seen the last of my camera. Now, you can get these cameras for a lot less today than you could ten years ago, but when I bought it, it was a pretty pricey item. And I make my living with my camera and my 'puter, both of which I hope to never lose.
I was having murderous thoughts: "I wanna do bad things to you."
When he showed up at the hotel this morning, he emerged from the taxi with his little dog -- same kind of dog as Toto in The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. The two came up to the room to deliver the camera in person, and I felt downright ashamed. We talked about Muffin, his dog, and he said he was taking her to see his wife, whom he informed me, he still adores 25 years after he married her. Muffin, he said, really cheers her up.
"I hope she gets better," I sympathized.
"Oh, honey, she's not gonna get any better. This is it."
"I'm so sorry," I said, quite honestly.
"We've been together 25 years," he said, and it's been really hard being at the house alone. If it weren't for Muffin here, and my little cat," he continued, "I don't know what I'd do."
He told us about his place in the woods, and the deer he feeds daily -- just like my own father -- corn that he pours out dutifully every evening.
And he started getting choked up. Before you knew it, the three of us were crying, and Mark and I were hugging each other.
"You know," he said later as he was about to leave, "I gave three sisters a drive up to Natchez a few years back. They were taking a cruise. They were staying at the Eola. That's just about the prettiest hotel I've ever seen. And Natchez is pretty, too," he said. "I think of St. Francisville as a little Natchez."
I quickly agreed. St. Francisville is a jewel.
"Well, next time you want a vacation, drive on up. We've got a little B&B you can stay in."
"Why, that sounds just fine," he said, and we parted ways.
We drove through Centreville on our way back to Natchez, and had lunch. On our way out of town, I noticed I had several missed calls on my phone. It was Mark.
"Can I get your names, please?" he asked. "I really enjoyed meeting y'all. You're nice folks."
Guilt about the camera sticking in my craw.
"Next time y'all come down, I want you to call me," he said. "I give tours, and I'd be proud to take you on a tour. I told my wife about you, and it was just real nice talking to someone. I don't have any family. No children. Just my wife and my pets. I haven't talked to anyone like that in a long time."
I felt that old familiar lump in my throat.
Then he told me to Google him.
"I've driven everybody from George Clooney and Bob Hope to The Rolling Stones and AC/DC. Just a whole bunch of people. Look it up. You'll see."
So I did. And you know, he wasn't kidding.
So for all my readers, please call Mark Armstrong at Tiger Taxi and Tours the next time you're in the St. Francisville/Zachary/Baton Rouge area. You'll get a ride with a real character -- one who knows all the haunts and stories and the heart to tell them.
Maybe I should lose my camera more often.
Tiger Taxi and Tours
"Always on the Prowl"
Mark Armstrong, owner
Cell Phone: 225-921-9199 Home Phone: 225-635-4641