Sunday, 20 October 2013

Public History Galore and More!

On Saturday morning, I met my Dad for breakfast at the cute French bistro in our hotel.  I bet you can guess what I had for breakfast: a heaping bowl of oatmeal with fresh fruit!  My new version of "the breakfast of champions."

Then, my parents and I decided to go on an impromptu walk toward the Capitol Building.  While out front, we decided to take a tour (a great decision).  The Capitol Building recently opened a newly designed exhibition, including an underground entrance way and lobby that is reminiscent of the one in the Louvre.

After watching this incredibly inspiring film about the birth of our nation and the legacy of Congress, we joined in on a guided tour of the building itself including the national crypt, the famous dome, and the National Statuary Hall (which was the original home to the House of Representatives).  In the National Statuary Hall, they have a plaque that shows you where John Quincy Adams' desk was located.  The tour guide demonstrated the acoustic qualities of the room by walked 100 feet away from us, whispering to us as we gathered around Adams' plaque, and chuckling as our expressions reflected our wonder at being able to hear her perfectly across the room!  She also said that after the House moved to its current location, the old location was turned into a farmers' market-type space with live chickens and food vendors etc.  I did not know this and am now jonesing to do a mini-research project on the topic!

After the Capitol Building, we headed to the Library of Congress so I could show my Dad what I discovered yesterday!  We took a few photos in the library with my award etc.  But, my favorite part was exploring Thomas Jefferson's library.  They have actually put together his personal collection and have it organized in the same way that TJ himself organized it.  So neat - lots of books in French and Latin (quelle surprise).

Later that day, we met up with my fellow Morsel and Yalie friend, Chris!  We headed to Bullfeathers - Teddy Roosevelt themed restaurant near the Library of Congress.  They are famous for their Buffalo mac & cheese - decadent!

We then headed to Ford's theater - where John Wilkes Booth assassinated Abraham Lincoln.  Chris, who works in public history as an artifacts acquisition specialist, gave us a behind-the-scenes tour of a new exhibit he work on in the home where Lincoln died (located just across the street from Ford's).  Chris knows how important place is in defining our understanding of history.  He took us on the very same streets that Booth absconded along after murdering Lincoln - a very powerful moment!  We also enjoyed hearing Chris' insights into the construction of exhibits and how public historians try to connected with broader American audiences.  One of my favorite moments was when Chris was talking about the assembly of the exhibit and how his mentor placed John Wilkes Booth's keys right into Chris' hand and only later told him what they were.  They are now displayed in the exhibit. Another really cool part of this exhibit was the 37 ft tall stack of books comprised of the works written about Lincoln.  These ones are facsimiles of the real books, constructed out of light weight aluminum to make the installation stable.

We had too much fun sharing our passion for history and reminiscing about our years a Yale.  Also, I think my Dad found his new best friend.

Eventually, I said goodbye to Chris and my parents and met up with my good friend, Gussie, who was in Whim 'n Rhythm with me.  We spent the evening catching up on each other's lives, retelling stories from World Tour, and just enjoying each other's company.  We headed to one of my favorite places, DC 9, for dinner.  They seriously have some of the best veggie burgers out there!

The next morning, Gussie and I headed to Blind Dog Cafe to have a work session.  Gussie is in her first year at the prestigious Johns Hopkins' School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).  I'm so proud of her and loved hearing about her recent trip to Gettysburg to study the military strategy deployed at this historic location during the Civil War.

Eventually, I made my way back to sunny New Orleans where there was a block party in full swing on my street.  I really enjoyed coming home to live music.  It is also much cooler in New Orleans today.  I even have my windows open to let the breeze in!

ABAA Award Ceremony

I ventured to Washington D.C. this past weekend to receive an award from the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA) in partnership with the Library of Congress.  This award was given to me for my collection of historic Southern and Creole cookbooks, which I use as sources in my dissertation research on Southern food cultures in the 19th century.  The ABAA was kind enough to cover the travel and lodging expenses for the trip, setting me up in the George Hotel (just a short walk away from the the Capitol Building and the Library of Congress).  I felt completely spoiled the entire weekend!

I did a bit of sightseeing before the award ceremony on Friday evening.  My morning started out at le Pain Quotidien, where I ordered a hearty bowl of oatmeal and a turmeric spiced chai latte.  With pep in my step from that amazing latte, I headed over to the National Archives (e.g. where Ben Gates and Riley pool successfully steal the Declaration of Independence in National Treasure.  I may or may not have tried to channel the enthusiasm and appreciation of the fictional Mr. Gates while fogging up the bullet proof glass just above our nation's founding documents...yes, my face was that close to the glass).  I emailed my adviser that day admitting to how I was totally "geeking out" at the National Archives.  She responded that she too still gets chills when she walks up the National Mall. #historynerds

Then, I hurried on over to the Library of Congress to take a quick peak inside.  I've never been, and I couldn't pass up the opportunity to poke around for a bit.  One word: stunning!!!  I loved the brightly painted ceilings - they remind me of the library in the Duomo in Sienna, Italy (which totally took my breath away during Whim 'n Rhythm World Tour in 2010)

After racing through the Library of Congress, I headed back to the George to meet up with my wonderful parents who came all the way down from Pittsburgh to attend the award ceremony.  We headed to lunch at this great Southern-inspired restaurant called Art and Soul, which is apparently run by one of Oprah's chefs.  I had these delicious pumpkin and goat cheese empanadas served with a watercress salad.  It was like I was biting into little pillowfulls of fall essence. Yum.

After lunch, we powdered our noses and then headed over to the Folger Shakespeare Library on Capitol Hill for a special collections tour.  This was the first ABAA-sponsored event associated with the larger ceremony proceedings.  I was able to chat with the presidents of the ABAA, John Thompson about my research as well as his interests in book collecting.  Anyway, an extremely knowledgeable archivist at the Folger gave us a guided history tour about the Folger family, their mission in establishing this library on Early Modern works in the 1930s, and their academic legacy.  We toured through the main reading room (modelled after an Elizabethan great hall) and the vault where they keep their rare books.  Then, we headed into one of the conference rooms to actually look at some of the highlights of their collection.

The rare books were a real treat, ranging from hand written cooking manuscripts to laws signed by Queen Elizabeth I.  My parents and I were completely blown away by these early modern documents!  We also touched an original printing of The First Folio of Shakespeare's works (c. 1623)!  Other treasures included chain binding volumes that looked like they were straight out of Hogwart's library or the Sanderson Sisters cottage in Hocus Pocus and a baptism memory book printed in Stuttgart, Germany c. 1628.  Last but not least, there was a cool bit of material culture represented.  We looked at an encyclopedia of herbs that was opened to a page of a large tree.  The Folger archive had the original wood block that was used to print the image on that page!  Wow!

After the tour of those precious books, we headed to Chris Palmer Steak restaurant for the awards ceremony.  The event was originally scheduled at the Library of Congress, but the government shutdown necessitated a shift in venue.  There was a guest lecturer, an infamous rare book collector, who spoke about his passion for collecting and the special connection one has with a book that was at one time owned by the original author of that book (e.g. "association books").

Then, John Cole, the director of the Library of Congress introduced each of the student award winners.  When we were called up to receive our award and check, Mark Dimunation, the chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division at the Library of Congress, introduced our collections and reflected upon the selection committee's first impressions of our applications.  Mr. Dimunation reflected on my opening paragraph that is laden with sensory experiences in the market and the dynamism of that social space.  He said that halfway through that paragraph, his mouth was watering, and he knew he had a winner!  He was very kind to recognize that my collection is not merely a cookbook collection, but one that treats these books as significant resources in our historical record- ones that speak to themes of race, ethnicity, and Americanization in the 19th century.  Mr. Dimunation then interviewed us, asking us to speak about our collection and how they tie into our larger dissertation projects.  It was fantastic to hear about my fellow award winners' collections (and I was more than happy to share my passion for Creole culture!)

Afterwards, there was a 2-hour cocktail reception where we were able to mingle with the passionate book collectors, prominent librarians, and fellow award winners.  It was great to build relationships with the professionals who are at the top of their fields in library sciences.  In addition, I met book collectors who has the most interesting collections such as one dedicated entirely to Alice in Wonderland!  This man also wrote a cookbook based on the tale, and is going to send me a copy!

Later that night, we returned to the George and just tried to soak everything say the least, we were all pretty overwhelmed, but also filled with a strong sense of pride in each other (after all, my success is a family affair!)

"Come Fly With Me"

This past Thursday, I reflected on the title of my blog, "Come Fly With Me."  This title was inspired by a song that my mother and I enjoyed listening to when travelling to golf tournaments.  I love the lyrics - they are so upbeat and whimsical:

Weather-wise it's such a lovely day
Just say the words and we'll beat the birds
Down to Acapulco Bay 

Sometimes, I feel as though I forget how awe-inspiring flying can be.  Like many of my fellow passengers, I typically have my head in a book or I'm working on my laptop for most of the flight.  Perhaps this is a side effect of often choosing the aisle seat and having the privilege of flying regularly.

On Thursday, I wasn't in the aisle, but snuggled up close to the window.  The director of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America booked my flights for the award ceremony in Washington D.C.  I'm grateful that she broke me from my normal routine.  The view from my window was magical...and I truly mean it when I say that it was a once in a lifetime view!

I flew out of New Orleans around 4:30pm, heading north to a sunset that fell around 6:28pm or so (e.g. during prime sunset viewing time).  Our pilot chose a course that had us riding on the crests of clouds for the duration of the flight.  At first, the clouds looked like rainbow sherbert.  They were the colors of blushing Chambersburg peaches and crisp pink lady apples.  These same clouds were also rimmed in bronze and gold as the sun swan dove toward the horizon.  Speaking of, the sky line was a rainbow in and of itself, transitioning from burnt red upwards toward a smokey lavender.  I kept thinking to myself that the Pixar and Disney animators only wished they could capture such natural beauty in films like Hercules and Up!

As the sun fell below the cloud bank, the ethereal dayscape transitioned to an eldritch nightscape.  The skies were as mercurial as the Greek gods who called them home.  As I looked out at the pale grey clouds and the cavernous shadow that were only moments before crucibles of sunshine, I couldn't help but feel like I was Wendy in Peter Pan, soaring "up, up and away!" (I also had these weird flashes of that scene in The Life Aquatic when they're in the netherworld of the deep ocean, happening upon cartoonish sea creatures.  I half expected a leopard shark...or the flying dragon from the Never Ending Story to pop up from the imagination was really active on Thursday...)

The horizon line was a lively periwinkle, working its way up to a deep royal blue.  The full moon hung brightly in the sky, making possible my exploration and appreciation of those of those cumulonimbus crevasses.

As I daydreamed, sighed, and became giddy with the natural beauty and wonder of flying, I felt a slight pressure from the mundane habits of those around me.  I think I may have been one of the only people on the plane looking out the window.  Everyone else was busy answering emails, catching up on the latest New York Times Best Sellers, or just sleeping.  I wish that a few more of them could have been jolted from their in-flight routines, to take a little flight of fancy through their imaginations...

Monday, 14 October 2013

The Spoken Word

Yesterday, I took a short study break to head back to the Louisiana Seafood Festival and try some other fabulous New Orleans dish.  This time, I went for the BBQ fried oyster po'boy sandwich from Red Fish Grill.  Yes, it was smothered in BBQ sauce and blue cheese dressing and it was delicious (remind me to go run a 5k today...)

My afternoon was filled with data analysis, which proved to be very enlightening - I'm learning a lot about the New Orleans City Government's role in policing and profiting from quasi private farmers' markets in the city in the 1920s-40s.

In the evening, I met up with my college friend, Caroline.  We headed to the Shadowbox Theater in a very hip part of town called The Bywater to see their monthly Poetry Slam.  This spoken word competition completely blew me away.  I'm not even sure what I expected of the event, but I did not expect to be moved so deeply and so quickly by the performances of these New Orleans-based artists.  The topics were very heavy.  Some of the artists chose to emphasize the darker sides of their personal experiences, while others tried to make them more accessible through humor.  10 thumbs up for all of the performers!

I did not see this particular performance, but I did see the man in this video perform last night:
Team Slam New Orleans

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Japan Meets Louisiana Seafood Head On

It's another beautiful day in New Orleans - not a cloud in the sky!  When I walked outside to my patio this morning, I smelled the most heavenly floral scent in the air.  There must be some blooming jasmine nearby!

Yesterday afternoon, I took a walk toward City Park which was host to not one, but two different festivals: Japan Fest and The Louisiana Seafood Festival.  I headed straight for Japan Fest because I wanted to hear Kaminari Taiko perform in the New Orleans Museum of Art Sculpture Gardens.

I even took short video of their performance for y'all to check out:

As I hinted at above, Japan Fest was tied to the New Orleans Museum of Art (NOMA).  All day long, they had events in NOMA including Japanese tea ceremonies, guided tours of the Japanese collection on the third floor of the museum, and a small arts fare in the main lobby.

Eventually, I made my way over to the Louisiana Seafood Festival because it was lunch time!  I tried three different dishes: an alligator sausage taco from Woody's Fish Tacos, the infamous charbroiled oysters from Drago's, and a slow roasted duck and Asian slaw poboy from Jacques-Imo's.  The oysters were by far my favorite.  They were infused with the most fantastic smokey, char-y flavor that paired beautifully with the tang of lemon juice and the rich creaminess of melted butter. y-u-m.  I got a chance to hear Mia Borders perform while I enjoyed my lunch.

After enjoying those festivals, I stopped by the grocery store to pick up the necessary ingredients to make tea sandwiches for my friend's croquet themed birthday party - baby arugula fig sandwiches with a touch of cream cheese.  And I'm happy to say that I won the croquet match.  Huzzah!  After spending a lazy afternoon sipping on Pimm's cups, I headed to St. Joe's bar on Magazine to meet up with the daughter of one of my professor's at Duke.  We enjoyed the Japanese lantern lit courtyard while indulging in their famous blueberry mojitos.

Saturday, 12 October 2013

My "3-Hour Tour" of Acadiana

After the "Is Food Art" event on Thursday evening, I spoke with Ken Albala about some of the festivals that were going to be happening in and around New Orleans while he was in town.  This weekend alone there are over 8 festivals!  Here are some of them: the Atchafalaya Catfish Festival, the Cattle Festival, Oktoberfest, the Louisiana Seafood Festival, the World Championship Gumbo Cook-Off, the Japan Festival, and the Celebracion Latina...

Ken and I decided that it would be fun to go to the Festivals Acadiens et Creoles in Lafayette, Louisiana (about a 2-hour drive away).  We decided that it would be best to head out to Cajun Country as early as possible, so we left New Orleans at 8:30 am yesterday.  Thanks to our handy-dandy Google Maps application we found Girard Park, home of the festival, without any problems.  To our surprise, there were not many people there when we arrived.  After a quick conversation with a local, we found out that the festival didn't start until 5:00pm that night!  So, with a determination to stay positive about our little scheduling mishap, we took the local's recommendation to head to the sleepy town of Abbeville, LA to kill some time (thus beginning our 14-hour long tour of Acadiana...)

En route to Abbeville, we came across a local meat market that was selling a Cajun specialty, boudin blanc (e.g. white sausage)!  Boudin blanc is a mixture of pork and rice stuffed into pork casings.  It is served piping hot at many roadside meat markets in Acadiana.  Typically, you do not eat the casing, but tear a hole in it and push the delicious filling directly into your mouth.  We enjoyed two links of boudin (over a pound) for $3.28:

Will our bellies full, our fingers slightly scorched, our lips tingling with lingering spices, and our hands sticky with boudin grease, we powered on toward Abbeville...

To be honest, there is not much going on in Abbeville.  The town was bustling, in a sense, because they were hosting the Cattle Festival that evening.  But, most of the shops were closed!  We did stumble upon a few good finds like the historic train depot, the local Catholic cemetery, and the Steen's cane syrup factory:

After our short trip to Abbeville, we headed to Jefferson and Avery Islands (the local cafe owner encouraged us to venture there next).  Jefferson Island is home to Joe Jefferson, a famous actor known for his portrayal of Rip Van Winkle.  He also built a beautiful estate and gardens in New Iberia, LA in the 1870s.  While on Jefferson Island, we took a guided tour of the historic home and property and also meandered through the gardens:

Our next stop was Avery Island, home of the Tobasco plant!  We were able to duck our heads in on a tour of the plant, taste every single variety of Tobasco pepper sauce, and walk the Mcilhenny family Jungle Gardens where we saw live gators!

After touring a good part of Acadiana, we made our way back to Lafayette for the Festivals Acadiens et Creole where we indulged in fried boudin balls, crawfish etouffee, jambalaya, and Abita beer.  After our bout of culinary tourism we headed to the main stage to hear the Jambalaya Cajun Band:

It was such a lively atmosphere.  Half of the festival grounds was taken up by couples waltzing along to the steady exhalation of the accordion and sweet melody of the fiddle -- a beautiful combination.  The band members were great entertainers too.  They told stories, cracked jokes, and kept the crowd energized through the entire set by dancing along to their own music. 

Somehow, after this long and exciting day, we made it back to the Big Easy...