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Monday, April 10, 2017

Travelogue: Brownell Memorial Park Carillon and The Mystery of the Morgan City Rambler

A few years ago, I was at Grand Isle, LA, but I was not fishing, crabbing, shrimping, or beaching like the other whales. I was watching cable access television. Some glorious local program, sponsored by a local motorcycle company, featured a hip leather-jacket-clad couple gallivanting around strange locations in South Louisiana. At some point, much like a fever dream in a Stephen King novel, there was a massive tower in the middle of nowhere, full of ringing bells.  I sat up, entranced by its blissful, alien melodies.
"I am going to this place," I sang in whale song.
I began my journey, aka, I did not go to that place and lived my normal life for several years, then thought, oh yeah, that bell thing, and went a couple of weeks ago. Here, translated from my native Whaleanese, which is essentially just yiddish with more bubbles, is the tale of my adventure. Please blame all of the typos and grammatical errors on the translator, a wily moray eel named Frank that I met through Craig's List.  Okay, Frank, put some dots right here, or something.
*     *     *
I set out for Morgan City not so early in the morning because the bell thing, or Carillon, located in Morgan City, LA, did not open until ten that morning. Research, which I don't really like to do for these travelogues, instead just typing whatever stupid garbage first pops into my mind, shows that the 106-feet tall Carillon features 61 bells. varying in size between 18 and 4730 pounds, and was built by someone with entirely too much disposable income back when people could afford such things. Songs of great depth can be played through the Carillon by means of an actual human sitting at a clavier. Clavier sounds like clavicle. It would be cool if the clavier was made out of clavicles.
A clavier is like a piano, and that cable access show I watched featured footage from the top of the tower, where an actual human played songs on the bells through a clavier.  Now you possibly know what a Carillon is, or you just got bored and clicked your bookmarked porn or knitting site of choice, and are still waiting for it to load.
For those still with me, Morgan City is a town in South Louisiana. I'd say it is on the ocean, or more specifically, on the Gulf of Mexico, but in South Louisiana, outside of Grand Isle, no town is actually on the ocean.  It is generally the town, and then 10-20 miles of mud, and then the ocean. Plus, our whole state is slowly sinking into the gulf, thanks to the weight of deposited sediment. Thanks a lot, Father of Waters.
I had never been to Morgan City before, even though it is 90-minutes from my house. I set out on a nearly empty stomach because I heard they feed you real good in Morgan City, and I was tired of eating nothing but krill. Eh, I'm tired of the "I'm a whale" joke already. I'll drop it now, I guess (ED. NOTE: Wait, am I still getting paid? I have a family to support. How will I feed my eel pups? The minnow harvest was low this year. My wife has been giving her portion to the kids every night. Did you know we lay over 10,000 eggs. Do you have any idea how much food it takes to feed 10,000 starving eels? My wife is wasting away! I'm so weak, I can barely type this! Pl). Yes, it is definitely time to drop this dumb whale schtick. Anyway, where was I? Oh, yes.
The day before my trip, I wanted to head to FYE. I have this tradition of purchasing cheap used CD's blind, and then listening to them on road trips. Not only is this fun and surprising, but sometimes you happen upon a real winner. See: this travelogue for reference.
However, this winter, FYE closed. Physical media is dead. I decided to instead do the digital equivalent and purchase three $5 albums blind from Amazon's digital store, because that plucky little company could use a little more capital.
I put on one of these albums, Past Life, by a new band called Unwill. This album is metalcore in the style of Underoath, by which I mean it is by 20-year-old white, middle-class dudes with their whole lives ahead of them, who hate themselves and wish they were dead, which in turn makes me feel really old and out of touch. It was pretty good.
The drive to Morgan City was very swampy, and I got to travel down one of my favorite stretches of Louisiana highway, LA 69 (also, if LA 69 PM's you, IGNORE). LA 69, once you pass the speed trap in White Castle (not the burger place, the impoverished, badly aging town that needs to catch you speeding to make rent), runs along Avoca Island Cutoff Bayou, and there are houses on the other side of the bayou that can only be reached by tiny, hand-pulled, wood-plank ferries. Lest this sound like some made-up thing I saw on a True Detective episode, here is a picture I took for proof. There are five or six houses like this along the bayou, and this is one of the reasons I love Louisiana.

I then took a right onto Highway 70 at Pierre Part, and started seeing a ton of "Abortion Is Murder" signs. In the last half decade, I have completely stripped The Nicsperiment of any political identity, but all of these signs reminded me of an ex co-worker who thinks and says in these exact words, "Liberals want to kill all the babies. In fact, they actually probably want to kill everybody." That sounds like a very well-reasoned and well-educated political argument, and a great reason to vote for conservative politicians--actually, this ex co-worker admits this is the only reason he votes for conservative politicians...and he's right. Surely every one of American's 175 million non-conservatives wakes up each day, immediately thinking, "How the hell could I kill a bunch of babies this morning? I hate those damn little things so much. Hmm...what could I eat for breakfast this morning? Man, I wish babies were edible. Two birds with one stone, there. Plus, that would cut down on climate change. We need to get more liberals like me in political office to make this happen. I hope those conservative voters don't foil my liberal plans!" Maybe that old co-worker of mine will one day run for office. He'd probably win. And this is one of the reasons I hate Louisiana.
I crossed a bridge I once saw at a distance at sunset while driving my cousin to his bachelor party at a Pierre Part Bar called Crobar. For some reason, though, I couldn't remember where Crobar was, only that there were a lot of bug and animal noises outside when we were leaving it, and Google maps it in the middle of a swamp. Hmm...

I then drove along Louisiana's most prevalent landmass, a levee, for quite some time, until I saw a sign along the highway, and took a hard left into the woods.

I crossed my fingers and hoped that Brownell Memorial Park was free to enter...and just like your mother, it was!
I drove a short distance and ended up at a classic swamp shack (still waiting to see my first "post-modern" swamp shack).

The shack was manned by a very nice, talkative woman. An elderly Colorado couple happened to pull up at the same time as me, and bore the brunt of her sweet hospitality, but when I saw a poster for Tarzan of the Apes, I had to ask, "Was this movie shot here?"

"Yes," she replied. "We actually showed a screening of it a few years was...interesting."
Well, with a tagline like "TARZAN DID NOT KNOW WHY HE CARESSED HER...HE HAD NEVER SEEN A WHITE WOMAN BEFORE," I don't understand why it could have been anything out of the ordinary, but seeing as my own wife is not white, maybe I am missing something. Do white women have some kind of magical power? Should I try to caress one?
After looking at some photos of the bells' construction, I headed back out to the walking path. Brownell Memorial Park borders Lake Palourde, which is part of the Atchafalaya Basin. Also, a manatee was spotted there last year! but I didn't see it (ED. NOTE: That's because the manatee, washed into the lake by a storm, shortly died in the fresh, cold water). Brownell Memorial Park is like my wife of non-European descent-- and this is no offense to the women whose mere presence causes Tarzan to compulsively caress them-- beautiful, but in an entirely different way, though I guess I could make a bunch of awful double-entendrees about swamp and hanging moss or something. This is a family blog, though, so you perverted, life-hating liberals will get none of that!

Also, there's a sculpture of some dude just chilling with a bunch of raccoons, with absolutely no explanation. And this is one of the reasons I love Louisiana.

Wait, it looks like there's an explanatory plaque right to his left. How could I have missed that? But wait, why is it on his left side? More liberal lies and distortion!
Speaking of lies, you know how I told you that The Carillon has 61 bells that are played by a clavier? Apparently, the one at Brownell Memorial Park is only played on special occasions.  The rest of the time, every fifteen minutes, speakers, controlled by a computer, play pre-recorded bell music. I realized this after seeing the mysterious tower rise up out of the woods, then produce beautiful music without a single bell ringing...wait a minute...oh, no. I just realized something. The bells are hammered. Not rung. So actually, the computer program might still be ringing the bells. I just wouldn't be able to see them ringing, because they wouldn't be moving. Oh crap, I need to make a phone call real's a picture I took of the tower to keep you occupied--

--okay, I just had the most charming conversation with the lovely older woman in the visitor's center, as well as a woman in the Morgan City tourism department. It turns out that neither of them actually know if the computer program is playing the bells, or just playing pre-recorded music...but I don't recall seeing any kind of speaker up there. Maybe the bells were really ringing. Maybe, instead of just having knee jerk reactions, I should make sure my opinions are informed by thoughtful dialogue and the accrual of facts. Nah, that just sounds like some kind of snowflake jibber-jabber! This is a free country, and I can think what I want!
Anyway, as a cool peaceful breeze blew off the lake, I sat in peace and filmed the tower chiming 11, and playing a couple of songs.

I then got up to take a walk around Brownell Park's lovely, but incredibly short walking paths.
This is when I felt the pain on my butt.
Something was biting me and it wasn't existential dread, or the encroachment of time; this wasn't metaphysical, but an actual creature with teeth, sinking those teeth into the left cheek of my buttocks.
I immediately spanked myself, unfortunately in front of that couple from Colorado, and then fled to a private place in the woods where I could stick my hand down my pants, which is something I'm thinking about putting on my Linked In account. After fishing around, fearing a large black widow and leg meat-liquidification, I discovered, removed, and promptly crushed the culprit: a large fire ant. I hate those guys. By this point, the Colorado couple had fled, and I had the Park all to myself, including this lovely vista.

I then did what every sane person would do in that instance: I sat on a bench and played Chrono Trigger on my DS for an hour.

After a lovely gameplay session, I looked up to see a little friend from the game had come to life, and was sitting on a broken bench on the edge of the lake.

Most people would take this frog as a sign that God or the universe loves them, or would simply think, "What a lovely frog!" or (if you're a hypocritical, offspring-hating liberal) "What a horrid frog, let me squash it with my shoe so it doesn't spawn!" but I instead thought this:
Wait a minute, did Chris from work give me this copy of Chrono Trigger, or did he just loan it to me? Will I have to give it back some day? Should I ask him if he gave it to me, or if he wants money for it, or if he wants it back some day? What if he did give it to me, but he forgot that he gave it to me, and will then want something for it if I mention it to him? But aren't material goods impermanent? Chrono Trigger is your favorite video game of all time, and has been for 20 years. You still have your original Super Nintendo copy, which still works and holds your original save file. This portable version, which you received for free, is only a convenience, and you can't take either version with you when you die! But what if they don't even make it that long? Video game systems weren't meant to last for decades upon decades. Eventually, all of the video games and systems you've collected will not only become obsolete, but non-functional. But then, won't physical media go the way of the dodo, anyway? Look at what just happened to FYE. Won't everything be easily available digitally? Even if isn't, and the physical copies of your video games still somehow miraculously work, are you going to be playing Chrono Trigger on your DS in bed in 50 years when you are in your mid-80's? No, probably not. It's not material goods that matter. It's people. It's human relationships. Wait a minute, how did I get to this section of woods? I haven't even been paying attention to my physical surroundings, I have been lost so deeply in this metaphysical, existential mental quandary. Look what's staring at me? A huge owl! My, how we can miss the beauty of creation by worrying about possessions and property. Who owns this beautiful owl? Who can know if it has a soul? But seriously, though, did Chris say I could have this, or did he just loan it to me?

After all this foolishness, I realized I was hungry and left.
I took Highway 70 into Morgan City, and searched for the near legendary Morgan's Restaurant. This restaurant, like Dolly Parton, is famous for two things (in her case, her wit and humor):
1. Its near perfect rating and status as top-ranked Morgan City restaurant on Trip Adviser. For some perspective, when people talk about Louisiana food being the best in the world, they're talking about the food in a town like Morgan City.
2. It is located in a hotel lobby.
That's right, the highest-rated restaurant in a town more full of good food than Uncle Scrooge's Money Bin is full of doubloons' best restaurant shares a space with the Clarion Inn Hotel.

Let me tell you something else ("Please" let me tell you something else?): Morgan's is a buffet--it has a full menu, but the buffet is its claim to fame. In the early 2000's, after the Beau Rivage casino in Biloxi was constructed, many people, myself included, were excited about its buffet--I don't gamble, but I do eat. Unfortunately, I have never found the Beau Rivage buffet very satisfying. Morgan's kills it. It is everything I wanted Beau Rivage to be. The food at Morgan's skews more typically "Southern" than "Cajun"---think smothered fried chicken over jambalaya--but good gravy, and I ate a whole lot of gravy that day, it was delicious. I didn't take any pictures of my food because that would have just been obscene, considering the amount of plates I put away, and the three tall glasses of Dr. Pepper and Sweet Tea (always capitalized) I dumped down my gullet. At some point, my wife called me, and her sweet voice lifted me out of my eating-induced stupor. Full of good food and my wife's optimism, I drove around Morgan City aimlessly.
Morgan City, like most towns in South Louisiana, has three markers.
Giant Catholic Church around which the entire town is based:

Cemetary that holds a sum of bodies greater than the entire current population of the town.

Badly aging, down-on-its-luck downtown area that's seen better days.
Check, and mate.
Actually, I am only saying that about Morgan City's downtown to serve a narrative I already predetermined before even visiting the city, something I learned from those godless liberals I heard about on TV. The downtown is actually composed of several streets, contains a park with a cool fountain, and an awesome-looking blues bar that I will surely visit if I ever find myself in the vicinity of Morgan City after dark.
Another interesting fact: following the will of our fearless leader, who God obviously intends to use in a sort of pussy-grabbing Moses role to lead us to the promised land, you stupid godless liberals, Morgan City is a walled city. In all seriousness, there is a wall protecting the city from the Atchafalaya River, who, much like our President, can get a little too handsy. This makes for quite a strange effect, but rather than some nebulous concept, like a murdering, raping, job-stealing immigrant, it keeps out something that is only fluid on an elemental level.
The truth is, Morgan City has a cool, totally unique vibe and attitude. I mean, you are welcomed into the town by a shrimp boat.

Which is a great insult to any shrimp visiting from out of town, but for everyone else, it is an original, warm welcome.
Bolstered by this knowledge, my wife's encouragement, and the rather alarming quantity of medicinals I procured from the local Walgreen's to counter-effect the feeling of consuming double-digit pounds of food, I decided to re-visit Brownell Memorial Park Carillon on the way out of town.
I leapt out of my car, strode through the woods, past the tower, to the lapping shores of Lake Palourde, where I pissed into the waves as a conqueror.

Suck it, libtards!!!


Anonymous said...

This is so good, Nic.

And yes, it would be very cool if it were a clavicle clavier.


Nicholas said...

Thanks, man! That means a lot!
I am starting to think that these travelogues are the best thing I will ever do. Like if my grandkids--if I have grandkids--ask Fox what I was like, or who I was, he can just tell them to read these.

Neal said...

I've gotta say, I love how I never know where some of your sentences are going to go: they're like a travelogue all on their own.

Random aside about the bell video... I appreciated the birdsong more than the bells, but that might just be a recovering from winter Minnesotan talking.

Not that I hate ringing of the hours... why is that the go-to tone for ringing the hours, anyway (Westminster, I think it is)? In Quincy, which is where Jessica was living when we were dating/engaged, I could hear that tone in her apartment from a local church. I couldn't figure out why I loved it or why it made me feel so nostalgic until I remembered I really had only heard that from church bells in my Dad's hometown, which we visited a couple times a year to visit my grandma. No churches do that in the burbs, at least where I lived.

Nicholas said...

Thanks, Neal! The birds were quite chattery, though I believe our average low this winter was probably 55, so they didn't get much of a break!
Cool story about visiting your grandma! My nostalgic belltower is probably the one at LSU, as I've been hearing that one pretty regularly for most of my life--only heard church bells during the brief stint that I went to church downtown, but I loved it. The Episcopal church I went to did a big ring right at the start of morning Eucharist that I always enjoyed. Also, something about the wine that made the communion feel more serious than the non-denominational grape juice I am more familiar with (and am still experiencing!). Not sure why I went on that tangent...Pavlov response?

Neal GR said...

There are a few bird species that hang on through the cold and you can hear chattering in the morning (when it's warmer) during the winter, but not much. It's enough now to make me glad when the Canadian Geese come back, and they're such pests (they like to roam over grass and eat it, and ummm, leave evidence of their being there)!

UND has a belltower somewhere (it has something of an Ivy League feeling area, with brick buildings around a green with trees, etc.), and that is quite lovely to hear when you walk around during the day. I'd actually say the campus was a big draw for us up here, as it has a lot of trees and just feels quite pleasant.

Ha, I can follow that Pavlovian tangent: that one semester I studied in the UK, I was so shocked by the actual communion wine. Grape juice my whole life: crazy American protestants! :p

Nicholas said...

Those Canadian Geese are extremely lucky that they taste so foul. They have begun infiltrating the area here full time. Some moved into the LSU lakes, right behind my office, and I hear them honking all day. Sure enough, they are pooping everywhere. I remember going goose hunting with my father in high school, and seeing an enormous flock of Canadians soaring barely fifty feet overhead. I could have hit ten in one shot. I raised my gun, and my dad said. "Can't shoot those." I would have been doing the world a favor. They are like the fire ants of the bird family. Hate those guys!
That sounds really nice. I wonder if I would get those shire like feelings I got from that park in Minneapolis? Gonna make it up there again one day.
This last part of the discussion has peaked my interest. Why did most Protestant churches start using non-alcoholic replacements for wine? The Lutherans we all spring from generally use wine. When did our communion go dry?

Neal said...

I'd have to ask my Dad if his Lutheran church had grape juice (I think he grew up in one, at least my grandma went to the same Lutheran church in Wisconsin for decades and we had her funeral service there). All I know is that I've had taken the Eucharist in a fair amount of Protestant churches in MN and WI and it's always grape juice. It was wine everywhere in England and Ireland when I was around there. Heh, we spent a week at an ecumenical community in Taize, France, and the brothers there were like "hey, you're going to Normandy next? Get the cider, it's wonderful." And yeah, we were young adults from a college associated with a Protestant group and we had a covenant saying we wouldn't drink at all as students. :/

So yeah, I always figured the grape juice thing was from the Protestant background in the US of being against alcohol and pushing through Prohibition. European Christians were completely different about it. It's the thing that seems to match up most with what I know historically and from current culture, but I don't know if that's a definitive statement.

And yeah... geese. There were many afternoons I came back from school and had to chase them off our backyard (we lived at the end of a pond that snaked by about 30 other houses). There was a big 'ole hillside they could have grazed on that no one lived on, but nope, that was tall grass. They loved the short stuff and leaving stuff behind for me to step in when I mowed the lawn. :(

You might get shire-like feelings at UND. The campus is really long, west to east, because of some rail yards on its southern sides. University (imagine that for a street name a university is built along) is a lovely stretch of green trees that goes on for miles and made me go "I could live here... even if there aren't any dang hills."

It even has an English Coulee, for crying out loud, with green spaces along it and plenty of bridges. It's no New Zealand, of course, but it's shire-like enough. :p

And yeah, we'd be glad to have you up this way again. We'll be doing more exploring in May after we move and finding the good spots to share, whenever you did get back up this way.

Azure Ides-Grey said...

Your tongue-in-cheek use of the term 'libtard' is both hilarious and profound. when did conservatives start being so crass? to use an insult like that, no matter the ideology, is embarrassing, I think. anyway, just seeing that term got me thinking about the interesting shift in political identity. in my own Canadian context, most if not all of the Conservatives I know would use an insult like that. that's not to say some don't or to even defend the ideology, but it's just interesting to me, this aggressive attitude that is hellbent on insulting people with different beliefs.

Azure Ides-Grey said...

woops, conservatives I know WOULD NOT USE, I meant!

Azure Ides-Grey said...

forgive the mistakes, typing on a phone for blogger is tricky

Nicholas said...

Neal: I'd be interested to know. St. James in downtown Baton Rouge is, admittedly, the only American Protestant church where I've experienced wine being used. The Lutheran experience I speak of is European. Maybe it is because of prohibition? That would certainly explain the uniquely American aspect.
I am hoping no Canadian Geese land in my yard. I hear them overhead all the time, but it seems like they have figured out the city (and especially LSU) is where it's at.
Yep, sounds Shire-like enough for me!
Graham: It is a bit confusing that the ideology that claims to be the upholder of "American Morals and Values" can produce such a term, or can make an innocuous descriptor that describes the unique value in each human being ("snowflake") into an insult. Watching the Republican party in America evolve over my lifetime, and seeing many churchgoers get pulled into it in the 80's and 90's because it supposedly fights for Christianity, it is baffling that many of those people just continue to go along with the party line and terminology when it itself has begun to seem so anti-Christ. And despite one's view on the issue, voting Republican "because of abortion" doesn't really make much sense when your Republican candidate is pro-choice (I would also say it doesn't make much sense because something like 80% of the population would vote against repealing Roe v Wade, so no President elected by the majority is going to touch the issue with a ten-foot pole).