Shreveport, Louisiana: "Loo zi ana – Are kan saw"
October 27, 2008
Here's a short quiz:
What is the correct pronunciation for the following places?
- Bossier City
- Natchitoches, Louisiana
- Nacogdoches, Texas
October 27, 2008
Bon jour mes amis,
"How…do…you…pronounce...the...name...of...your...city?" I asked the Continental Airlines agent on the tarmac of the Shreveport Regional Airport. (I anticipated that I would be obliged to modify my speech as well as adjust my hearing as I made my way into the deep South.)
The agent smiled and said, "Sreveport. Same as srimp." He continued, "Welcome to Looziana. Go Tigers!"
Have you also noticed that folks in the South have two given names? The fictional character Carl Lee or the actor Billy Bob, for instance, or Tammy Faye or Peggy Sue or Jerry Lee. Jerry Lee Lewis hails from Ferriday, Louisiana, the home town of my dear friend, Dorothy Rose Edwards. Dorothy Rose actually refers to her former neighbor as "Jerry Lee."
I prefer the two-name tradition. Isn't it more lilting, more melodic, more graceful than just Jim or Chet or Pete or Meg? Regardless, years ago, Dorothy Rose decided that she didn't want to be called Dorothy Rose anymore. Dorothy Rose changed her name from Dorothy Rose to Dodie. So no more Dorothy Rose, Dorothy Rose. I promise it will always be Dodie.
After years of "I'll try" and "I hope," I finally accepted Dodie's invitation to her home in Bossier City, just across the Red River from Shreveport. Along with Dodie's husband, Gary Lynn Smith, we planned four days to include visits to the local sights and a motor trip north into Arkansas.
If Kansas is "kanzes" why isn't Arkansas "arekanzes?"
In the quiet town of Hope, the boyhood home of Bill Clinton, I was startled and pleased as I recalled a most pleasant and smoky-pine fragrance from my own youth. Bill and I shared a passion for electric trains (his Lionel set is on display at his tiny home) but I had completely forgotten about my Hopalong Cassidy wood burning craft set. He had one too! Did you?
"Building a Bridge to the 21st Century" is the theme of the William J. Clinton Presidential Center. The $160 million glass and metal structure seems determined to thrust itself out across the Arkansas River at Little Rock. (Petite Roche was the original name for this spot…a little rock was used as a navigational marker.)
The grounds and the Library building are indeed impressive. But in my opinion, the exhibits are less inspiring. There are full-size replicas of the Oval Office and the Cabinet Room and they are favorite photo spots for visitors. "Life in the White House" displays gifts and photographs of many state events and celebrations. But many of the captions, if not most of them, are incomplete. It's frustrating to recognize a familiar face or object but not be able to connect it to a name or place. "The Early Years" contains biographical materials and mementos of the 42nd President. Yawn. Do I really need to see little Billy's Cub Scout cap?
"The Clinton Presidential Library houses the nation's largest archival collection of American presidential history, including 80 million pages of documents, 13 thousand videos, two million photographs and 83 million artifacts and personal memorabilia." So I suppose that in time, historians and scholars will make their "Billgrimage" (the brochure word, not mine) to Little Rock.
The restaurant at the Library, Café 42 serves scrumptious salads. I blew my chance to scarf down a double-cheeseburger and fries in Bubba's honor.
Natchitoches. Now that's what I'm talkin' about! What a delightful, colorful enchanting Southern town. Fifty historic homes of brick, clapboard and warm pastels sit along the green, tree-lined banks of the Cane River. Here's a genteel getaway for a lazy weekend of fine dining, shopping and carriage tours. Established by the French in 1714, Natchitoches is the oldest settlement in the former Louisiana Purchase territory. (In case you're wondering, it's nakatush.)
North of Natchitoches, along the Red River, is the serene, undulating J. Bennett Johnson Waterway and the Grand Ecore Visitor Center. The scenic, navigable Waterway extends 236 miles from Shreveport to the Mississippi River. The guide there provided a detailed tour, and bless his heart, he was a classmate of my host. To her dismay, and Gary's amusement, he repeatedly, repeatedly, repeatedly referred to Dodie by that other name!
If music history is your thing, then the Municipal Auditorium in downtown Shreveport should strike a chord. Built as a monument to the veterans of World War I, with a capacity 4000, the auditorium was the home of the popular radio show, "The Louisiana Hayride." All the Southern musical greats performed here. Did you know that "The King" made his first public appearance at this very spot? In front of the building, a tall bronze, lifelike Elvis swivels and twirls, and a tall bronze "Play it James" James Burton, why he's a just playin' away.
Up the street, The Old B'nai Zion Temple sits diagonally across from the Scottish Rite Cathedral. Both were designed by the same architect in an early Twentieth Century muscular neoclassical form. B'nai Zion, a Jewish Reform congregation, moved to a modern building in 1956 and joined a Conservative congregation, Agudath Achim Synagogue outside town.
Since Jewish-American history is my thing, I found my way to the Oakland Cemetery, where a quarter acre contains the first of four Jewish burial grounds in Shreveport. Dating back to 1859, the headstones and monuments reveal some fascinating data: folks back then just didn't live so long - one quarter of the population of Shreveport died in the yellow fever epidemic of 1873. Most of the early Shreveport Jewish citizens were immigrants from Germany and Austria. Along with familiar names, and sentiments in English and Hebrew, the overseas home towns of the deceased are engraved on the headstones.
The lovely brick-red and white Romanesque Revival Holy Trinity Church reminds us that the State of Louisiana is divided into parishes. Roman Catholicism is a major cultural force in this community. The altar of the church is made of white marble and the tall stained windows are mostly deep blue and burgundy, with detailed scenes of the Eight Beatitudes. Five windows memorialize the Catholic priests who died ministering to the population during the yellow fever epidemic.
The Confederate Monument was erected by the Daughters of the Confederacy as a monument to the Civil War veterans and the war dead of Cato Parish. A young soldier tops the monument, and below are busts of Generals Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, P.G.T. Beauregard and Gov. Henry W. Allen.
A large flag catches the breeze at the very front of the monument. The "fly" or outer vertical band is red. The much wider "hoist" and inner vertical band is white. The "canton" or the upper corner nearest the staff is the diagonal Stars and Bars - the flag of The Confederate States of America.
I am in the American South; not counting the British Isles, it's an area about the size of Western Europe. I have seen parts of Arkansas and Louisiana, two states that together are larger in size than all of New York, New Jersey and New England. Two states with equally proud histories, culture and traditions.
Finally I am in Bossier City - named in honor of Pierre Evariste John Baptiste Bossier, a former Creole general, who became a cotton farmer in Bossier Parish. He is considered one of the first settlers in the area. (BTW it's Bōz-zher.)
Bossier City has the one tradition that, for me, is most important – hospitality. Had I been their kinfolk, Dodie and Gary could not have been more generous and considerate of their Yankee guest. "Merci, Dodie." "Merci, Gary." "Merci bien." Next time, Mardi Gras?
Que le bon Dieu vous benit.
Au revoir mes amis,
PS The East Texas town of Nacogdochis (pronounced nakadoshis) is the sister city of Natchitoches, LA. Perhaps one day I will pass through Nacogdochis on my way to Albuquerque, (????) New Mexico, one of several cities and states I have not yet visited.