Bruce Daniels’ New Orleans Road Trip: 24th International Sculpture Conference

3 Appalachian Trail – Virginia

Over the years I have been to a lot of ISC conferences, nineteen in total I think, starting with Philadelphia in 1992.   A number of these have involved road trips.  Sometimes round trips.  Sometimes one ways (fly and drive).  Sometimes fly and fly, with a road trip only in the vicinity of the conference.  This is the story of a relatively recent round trip:

ISC New Orleans – 2014 (September 27th – October 10th) – Okay, the conference itself wasn’t nearly that long, but the road trip……..From the moment I heard that the conference was going to be back in New Orleans, I started thinking about a road trip.   Planning, guide books, phone calls, emails, and maps.  Some reservation days.  Some free lance days.

Saturday, September 27th  – 10:00 AM – Honda Pilot Odometer 109,355 – sunny & 57 degrees:  Turn left out of my Blawenburg, New Jersey driveway and head west, driving into  the Amish farm country of Pennsylvania and another century – turn down a few side roads – it’s hard not to be affected by the beauty of this place;  Gettysburg – stopped to eat my packed lunch on the battlefield.

1 Amish Farm – Pennsylvania

On to Front Royal, Virginia and the northern entrance to Skyline Drive and Shenandoah National Park.  Luckily I had made an advanced reservation to stay at Skylands (Mile Marker 41.7) because flashing signs warned that everything in the park was booked up for the night.  Dinner, beer, and live music at Skylands – 342 miles covered today.

4 Sculpture Fields – taken from John & Pamela’s deck – Chattanooga, Tennessee

Sunday, September 28th – Breakfast at Skylands and a short jaunt on the Appalachian Trail – 48 degrees & sunny – 10:15 AM departure south on Skyline Drive, then over to I-81 and on to Chattanooga, Tennessee 515 miles later – long drive! – Stayed the night at John Henry’s studio – pretty fantastic set-up, and “Sculpture Fields” a developing sculpture park right next door!  Sushi with John & Pamela – very gracious hosts!

Monday, September 29th – showery & 70’s – Cuban coffee & bagels with Pamela, then downtown to see the Chattanooga Choo Choo and the outdoor sculpture collection at the Hunter Art Museum – some really nice well sited work! – On the road at 11:00 AM to Birmingham, Alabama and Sloss Furnace, a National Historic Landmark where they poured iron for over ninety years.  Two 400 ton blast furnaces as well as a host of other structures and equipment are an amazing place to wander through our industrial past.

On the other side of Birmingham I looked for the 16th Street Baptist Church.  On September 15, 1963, a Sunday morning, fifteen sticks of dynamite were detonated under the steps of this African American church by white supremacist members of the Ku Klux Klan.  Four young girls were killed and 22 others were injured – a brutal act of racist terrorism.

6 16th Street Baptist Church – Birmingham, Alabama

In the park in front of the church is a sculpture of the four girls.  It is a poignant and inspirational depiction of their youthful forms.  Sitting in the sanctuary it is peaceful and the resilience of the congregation is apparent.  This place was a turning point of the Civil Rights Movement.

Back on the road heading southwest toward Mississippi.  I always carry a copy of Jane & Michael Stern’s “ROADFOOD” with me in the car.  Hungry.  Hmmm, Bob Sykes Barbeque in Bessemer since 1957 – barbeque pork, baked beans, coleslaw, lemon meringue pie, and a Doctor Pepper!

Next stop:  Moundville, Alabama.  If you find yourself traveling around the eastern half of the United States you have to seek out and visit some of the myriad constructions of the Native American Mississippian Culture (approximately 800 CE to 1600 CE).  On previous ISC related road trips I have seen the utterly fantastic Great Serpent Mound, a 1,348’ long prehistoric effigy mound, near Peebles, Ohio, and visited Cahokia, the site of the ten story high Monks Mound, on the Mississippi River opposite St. Louis.  Near Tuscaloosa, Alabama lies Moundville, a 185 acre site consisting of 29 platform mounds situated around a large plaza.  It is the second largest Mississippian site in the United States, after Cahokia.  Moundville also has a small, but brilliant, museum.  The “Rattlesnake Disk”, a ceremonial stone palette, is a marvel.

8 Mississippian Mounds at Moundsville, Alabama

Its early evening when I cross into Mississippi and arrive in Meridian.  The last time I was here I was a child, and legal apartheid was the law of the land.  I need a place to stay so I pull into the driveway of the Century House B&B and meet Mamie & Don Nobles who are tending to their Spider Lilies in the front garden.   They have a room available.  I unpack and am pointed in the direction of Weidmann’s Restaurant (since 1870) – Gumbo, Shrimp & Grits, and Chardonay – really good, and I haven’t even reached New Orleans yet.  326 miles today.  Only 215 miles to go!

Tuesday, September 30th –  cloudy and 63, but its gonna hit 90 degrees before the day’s over –

Soufflé & grits with Mamie & Don, then south on I-59 toward NOLA.  I drive straight through and hit town around 3:00 PM – then out Saint Charles toward the Garden District – distinctive street car ozone of the Neutral Ground – I have a reservation for the night at the Hotel Ponchartrain – great old Garden District hotel that I’ve stayed at before.

I hop on a street car to the Vieux Carre, and stop at Napoleon House on Chartres for a Pimm’s Cup.  Now I actually feel like I’ve arrived in New Orleans.  Cab back to the hotel.  Shower and a sports coat – I have a dinner reservation at Commander’s Palace on Washington Avenue.  I walk there from the hotel, and it is definitely hot and humid!  This Creole has been serving pretty spectacular food since 1880.  What’s the best restaurant in New Orleans?  Who can say for sure?  I used to love Uglesich’s.  But tonight’s gumbo and soft shelled crabs with a glass of pinot noir definitely keeps Commander’s in the running as far as I’m concerned.  They make a pretty great martini too.

Wednesday, October 1st –  Partly sunny / 80’s – Breakfast at the Pontchartrain – waffles & the best strawberries I’ve had in years.  I drive over to the Warehouse District and check into the conference hotel, the Renaissance Arts, and put the Pilot away.  I won’t see it again for five days.  The first half of the road trip is officially over.  1,398 miles worth.

By the way, the ISC conference was great fun.  And there’s no place like New Orleans.  I’ll relate more about it later.  Maybe I’ll catch you up on the way home.

By Bruce Daniels

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