The Southern Agenda: Dec 12/Jan 13

Tim Bower
by Steve Russell - December 2012/January 2013

Goings-on in the South and Beyond

Burn on the Bayou
St. James Parish, Louisiana, December 24

Did the centuries-old tradition of torching huge Christmas Eve bonfires along the levee west of New Orleans start as a means of lighting the way for Papa Noel, or for parishioners crossing the river to attend Mass? Or did it evolve out of a celebration of the winter solstice? No one knows for sure—and truth be told, folks in Cajun country don’t really give a damn as long as the ritual continues. To take part, just show up in the heart of the bonfire zone, St. James Parish, before dark on December 24 to marvel at the skill that goes into constructing the miles-long trail of log pyramids up to twenty feet high—plus a few themed structures such as a towering Saints helmet and a Zapp’s chips bag. At 7:00 p.m. sharp, every bonfire will be set ablaze simultaneously, creating a fiery spectacle—and a down-home holiday party—like no other. To paraphrase a familiar Cajun saying: Laissez les bonfires rouler!


A few plot points from Selma native Kathryn Tucker Windham’s life: She started writing movie reviews for the local paper when she was twelve years old and grew up to be a popular columnist, reporter, and storyteller; she authored more than twenty books of Southern folklore, including the beloved 13 Alabama Ghosts and Jeffrey; and when she passed away in June 2011 at age ninety-three, she was buried in a custom pine casket she’d been storing in her backyard shed. Now the Kathryn Tucker Windham Museum honors its namesake’s rich legacy with We Shall Gather at the River: Storytelling, a series of come-all gatherings of tale-tellers and fans held in five Alabama counties. The kickoff event takes place January 26 at Bobby’s Fish Camp in Silas—a spot that has probably sparked a few tall tales in its own right.


Most Arkansans are content to enjoy the beauty of the White River from a top-secret trout fishing spot or a favorite rope swing. But after making his home near the river’s headwaters in the state’s northwest corner a couple of years ago, photographer-author Chris Engholm promptly built a canoe and paddled the waterway’s entire meandering length, from the Ozarks to the Mississippi River Delta. The resulting exhibit, White River Memoirs: 700 Miles of Listening to a Liquid Legend (January 3–25), at the Arts Center of the Ozarks in Springdale, collects photos, paintings, and objects from
 Engholm and other artists that document the river, and the sportsmen, farmers, and wildlife encountered along its banks.


You may want to hold off on that New Year’s diet resolution until January 14. Otherwise, the Annual Food & Wine Weekend (January 11–13) at the Gasparilla Inn & Club in Boca Grande might be a grueling test of willpower. After checking in to the classic oceanfront resort on Friday, guests start with a gastronomic tour led by star chefs, including John Johnstone of Augusta National Golf Club. Saturday brings a cooking demo by powerhouse Cajun chef and restaurateur John Folse, plus a couple of wine-centric gatherings—all before the sumptuous Master Chef’s dinner orchestrated by Inn executive chef Peter Timmins. Don’t be surprised if your second resolution is to do it all over again next year.