January 5, 2012

Country Roads, Take Me Home

One never really appreciates their own culture until they spend some time away from it. Well, that's the case for me, at least. As sad as I was to leave Korea, it had been 18 months since I had been home and I was eager to be with my family and friends. I was even missing The South.

The South-particularly The "Deep" South- is a very unique region of the United States. Our culture consists of a slow-paced, laid back lifestyle in which inhabitants generally possess warm and hospitable characteristics. Good manners, "Yes ma'ams", and smiles upon eye contact are considered the norm, mandatory even. We're often teased about the way we talk, our words being slow and drawn out. Yet, I've never meet a single person who dislikes our accent. Oh, and the food. I've traveled extensively and I can vouch that Southern cuisine is among the best in the world. Simply put, it's a great place,.

I'm from a small town. Bay St. Louis sits on the Mississippi Gulf Coast and it used to be dotted with colorful art galleries, restaurants, book shops, and beach bars but was demolished by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. I was happy to see during my trip home that it is coming back. It's still eerily quiet at times but people are trying to bring back the great little town that it used to be. I went to Second Saturday, an event held downtown in which shops have open houses and bands play and venues stay open later than usual. I was impressed with the turn out. It was also assuring to hear about the plans of an upcoming marina and beach reconstruction, as the view of the Bay can be breathtaking. Mom and I woke up early the morning before I left to watch the sunrise. I kinda forget what it was like to be in the presence of something so majestic.

The sun rises over the Bay on a January morning.

Another thing about the South is that we have a deep history. Though not always pretty, much of our history can be romantic and mysterious. Growing up, I took an interest in the culture of distant, exotic places. It took me moving to one of those faraway lands to make me curious about my own home. So, when I returned in December, I made sure to visit places where I could get an in-depth look into my own roots.

Soon after my arrival, my parents and I took a day trip to St. Francisville, Louisiana while visiting my sister in Baton Rouge. We were going to visit the Myrtles Plantation, a place I've always been interested in seeing, as it has been featured multiple times on those cheesy ghost shows on TV and has been proclaimed one of the most haunted homes in America. The story is that Chole, a slave of the family of the plantation, was caught eavesdropping on family business; as a punishment, her ear was cut off. She then poisoned the master's children's birthday cake. They died and she was soon thereafter hung. It's said that the ghosts of the children and Chole haunt the premises and have even been photographed by visitors.

Ghostbuster energy drinks are sold at the Myrtle's gift shop... for obvious reasons.

Although I wasn't able to spot any wandering spirits, I did enjoy the tour. The grounds were quite pretty, canopied by oaks draped in Spanish moss and the guide was quite informative. The house itself could use some remodeling but the furniture was exquisite. Maybe next time I go back, I'll stay the night and keep an ear out for Chole. It's said she can be heard going up the stairs in the late hours of the evening.

The courtyard at the Myrtles.

Another place we checked out was in Biloxi, Mississippi, just a half hour's drive from our house. Beauvior is known as being the last home of Jefferson Davis, the former president of the Confederacy. I had been there before on a field trip in elementary school but didn't remember much about the house. The house itself was hit hard by Katrina but has since been remodeled beautifully.

Our guide here was also great and knew the history of the place like the back of his hand. He pointed out all the details of each room, like the petticoat mirrors placed on the lower parts of furniture, used by the women to check and ensure that their ankles were not showing- a very promiscuous thing at the time. Another feature I thought interesting was the separation of the dining rooms between children and adults. I always thought the saying was that "children should be seen and not heard" rather than not seen AND not heard. The house was well prepared for Christmas, complete with a tree decorated by the Daughters of the Confederacy. The whole "confederate pride" stand the organization takes is a bit controversial, but the house is a piece of history that's worth exploring.

The parlor room at Beauvoir.

Beauvoir's dining room features a special domed mirror in which the host could see all of his or her guests at the table. The Christmas decorations were a nice touch, too.

No trip home would be complete without a stop in New Orleans. We made a few of them. I always enjoy wandering the French Quarter, admiring the old buildings, listening to the taps of the street performers, and sipping on a bloody mary at the Chartres House Cafe. Of course, we made sure to get oysters at Felix's and beignets at Cafe du Monde. New Orleans is such a cool place that it's hard to find the words to describe it properly. From the culture, to the music, to the people, it's one of those unforgettable cities. I'm just sad I'll be missing out on Mardi Gras.

A street performer plays "When the Saints go Marching In" in Jackson Square. Unfortunately, it wasn't enough to bring them to the Superbowl this year.

A horse drawn carriage trots through the streets of the French Quarter.

Great musicians of New Orleans.

Traveling is no doubt a great way to open one's mind and broaden one's horizons. Yet, at the same time, it's important to remember where one came from. My trip back home was definitely a time to reflect on who I am and appreciate my own culture. I don't know when I'll be back, but I'll always be keeping a little bit of the South in my heart wherever I go.

Bay St. Louis, my humble but beautiful home.


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