America, Unexpected

Oftentimes I wince at the question, Where are you from?.  Unless the person asking lives somewhere between Houston and Atlanta, they probably associate Florida with Disney World and Miami Beach— nice places, but not the Emerald Coast of my childhood.

I mumble to anyone who’ll listen outside of the Gulf South that I’m sort of from southern Alabama, and occasionally I claim my parents’ hometown, New Orleans, always a risky fib, because any New Orleans local within earshot follows immediately with Where’d you go to school?

(pictured, one of several working-designs for Hollywood Stars by George Rodrigue; click photo to enlarge-)
I thought of these American stereotypes this week as George Rodrigue and I continued our annual cross-country drive.  To many, for example, Nevada is Las Vegas; yet to our amusement, a kind reader on facebook invited us to her hometown of Eureka, a rare slice of undoubtedly beloved civilization (est. 1864; current pop. 610) on the 400 miles of U.S. Route 50, also called, seriously, “The Loneliest Road in America.”

This long stretch is a straight shot into Reno, a city of bright lights and modern hotels that we reached one year, overjoyed, despite our love of the wide-open West, around 2:00 a.m., following eight hours with scarcely a pit stop.

(pictured, crossing from Nevada into California; click photo to enlarge-)
Although not part of this year’s plans, George and I drove The Loneliest Road several years ago, caravanning with our sons and their friends.  After more than an hour of long dips and ascents, passing neither car nor building, we encountered a dreadlock and tie-dye adorned man on a unicycle, a group mirage we confirmed immediately with phone calls between the trucks, and the source of endless entertainment still today as we discuss the why’s and how’s of such an undertaking.
California’s generalizations include Hollywood, surfers, garlic fields, fog and vineyards.  Yet for miles as we crossed the Mojave Desert, we studied the barren land of rocket landings, air bases, and test sites.
(pictured, thousands of mirrors catch the sun’s rays, sending energy towards a single tower in the desert, generating electricity; more info here; click photo to enlarge)

“There’s a lot of oddball stuff about California,” noted George.

As opposed to Louisiana?  I asked.
We’re drawn to these infinitely wondrous states, home to wood rats and alligators, to Hollywood and Reality TV.  We also thought about Texas, comparing two of our favorite American roadways:  Route CA-46 between Bakersfield and Paso Robles, with its oil wells and orange trees, to U.S. 287 between Wichita Falls and Amarillo, with its grain silos and cotton fields.
But we’re in politically correct California! we exclaim from our 15-miles-to-the-gallon Louisiana truck, as we travel from the hometown of country music legends Buck Owens and Merle Haggard, passing hundreds of oil well pumping units wedged between rose bushes and sheep.

-click photos above and below to enlarge-

(pictured, Actor James Dean (1931-1955) died en route from Bakersfield to Paso Robles when his silver Porsche 550 Spyder collided with a truck; George Rodrigue photographed the memorial from our truck’s window as we passed the crash site at the same time of day, 5:59 p.m.)
During the past two weeks, George Rodrigue and I experienced “The Road” and “The Silent West.”  We revisited San Antonio and the Alamo, drank a German beer in Fredericksburg, enjoyed Native American dances and Todos Santos chocolates in Santa Fe, studied the stars in southern Utah, indulged and splurged in Las Vegas, explored the south central California desert and arrived late last night in Carmel-by-the-Sea.

-click photo to enlarge-

We’re here for a year, maybe two, as George commits to his studio without distractions.  Last night, happy in his second-favorite state, yet restless from the road, he sketched at his easel, pictured above.  When I asked him this morning about his thoughts, however, he spoke only of family, of his pride in his sons, and of his gratitude towards our gallery and foundation staff.

“It’s great spending time on the road knowing that we have a staff who carries on what we believe, even when we’re not there.”

He also spoke of his relief over his unexpected return to health, found just in time as his son Jacques, Director of the George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, announces his engagement to New Orleans artist Mallory Page Chastant, a match we should have expected years ago, because it was ordained, as the great-grandfathers of each raise a toast within George’s most famous Cajun painting, Aioli Dinner, painted in 1971, long before bride or groom were born.
Cheers to the unexpected!  Cheers to the American road!  And Cheers to the happy couple!
-pictured above, Jacques, Mallory, Wendy and George; House of Blues, Las Vegas, Nevada, April 2013-

-see George Rodrigue’s Aioli Dinner and read its history here; see the painting in person anytime at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, or join “Art of the Family Table,” a Summer Camp, detailed here

-all photographs by George Rodrigue, April 2013

-for more art and discussion, please join me on facebook

9 thoughts on “America, Unexpected

  1. Wendy, I loved reading this and knowing what is going on in your lives. You are so good at doing this – what an art form in itself! We have a place in Eureka, Nevada – for years, we took every back road across America that we could and through a few circumstances – ended up buying a place in Eureka – but we also have a house in Santa Barbara and I spend 4 months a year down in Franklin, La. where I grew up!!! I am always so inspired reading about George's early life and am so happy to run across your exciting musings! Keep up the good work and all the best in your relaxing stay in Carmel! Salud

  2. Thank you, Mariana! From Santa Barbara to Franklin to Eureka— now that's a classic American life-on-the-road! I so appreciate your comments. Perhaps we'll see you in the West….or the South! Happy Trails-

  3. Enjoyed reading your blog. Still hoping that George will donate some small thing to the art sale benefit for the Daughters of Divine Providence, Yucatan Mexico mission. You have been there and know how poor the people in some sections of the Yucatan are.

  4. What a great trip with a wonderful ending, as all trips should end, in the studio! I hope you find peace and contentment on the Left Coast and enjoy your time together. Congratulations on adding another artist to your family!

  5. Hi Terry- Thank you for your comments. Our foundation's Print Donation Program helps raise funds for lots of non-profits — more than a million dollars for other organizations since we started it a few years ago. With this program, we never turn anyone away, and the prints raise far more money for these good causes than if we simply gave them outright (a lesson we learned from experience), while at the same time funding much-needed arts education programs in Louisiana. The George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts folks would be happy to help you do this for the Daughters of Divine Providence. Here are the details (you may have to copy and paste in your browser)-

  6. Thank you, Nancy! George and I are nothing short of jubilant over bringing Mallory into our family. We shipped one of her large paintings to Carmel just ahead of our drive, so that her work joins our collection here. She paints with emotion and insight. I like to practice yoga in front of her painting and lose myself in the color!

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