I’m just back from my second ever visit to Andy Shaw’s fabulous Museum of American Fencing in Shreveport, Louisiana.
What’s that? Never been to Shreveport? Well, it IS out of the way for most folks. It’s not a big town, but there are still some sights to see. And for fencers interested in things historical? Well, you should plan a visit. Andy has amassed a rather astounding collection of material.
I was able to combine my visit to Andy with a trip to New Orleans for the 2016 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, an event that I’ve attended off and on for almost 20 years. The collection of friends that annually (usually) gather in the Crescent City and stumble around the French Quarter are people I absolutely treasure. I was even able to spend some time catching up with my former boss from my years at Disney, and Mary is one of my favorite people ever. Also, funny story, my delayed arrival due to weather in between destinations put me on the ground at 3:30am Friday morning. When I got out of the airport to the taxi stand, there was an argument going on with one taxi and the other already had a big group and I assumed it was full. The driver of the second cab came around and said he could take one more downtown and I jumped forward. Putting my bags in the back, I opened up the side door. Sitting in the passenger seat right before me was a woman I’d worked with on Finding Nemo at Pixar. I said, “Pam?” and she responded with, “Doug?” and we got a chance to catch up on the ten intervening years during the ride down to the French Quarter. All in, I had a very fun excursion during my shortened visit to Jazz Fest. Two exceptional dinners surrounded by wonderful people certainly didn’t do me any harm.
However, this year I needed to visit with Andy for a couple of hot button topics, so Jazz Fest had to be left behind and Shreveport lay ahead.
Since I am in some measure a travel-on-the-cheap excursionist, I wasn’t willing to pay for a flight from New Orleans to Shreveport – partly due to cost and partly due to the travel times being about the same (on paper), as all flights to Shreveport seem to route through Houston. Four hours of flight time + airport time = I’m renting a car and driving the 4.5-ish hours.
Two flash floods near Baton Rouge, a drive through a foot of water in the flooded town of Atchafalaya to get a terrible cup of McDonald’s coffee (I was desperate), closed freeways, passing by cars floating in fields, and 6 hours later, I finally made it to Shreveport. The only thing missing were alligators confusing the freeway for their home swamp. Fortunately, I was able to end the day sitting on the upstairs balcony of a lovely b&b not 5 minutes from Andy’s museum. A glass of red wine and a view of the lights in the magnolia tree out front. Not bad.
This was all on Sunday just passed. Apparently it rained all day at Jazz Fest too, but the musicians kept playing and the crowd kept dancing – and eating, which is the other main attraction of Jazz Fest. That made Sunday a better Jazz Fest day than Saturday, when they had to shut down at around 4pm due to rain and a lighting storm that passed right over the festival grounds and threatened to turn some soggy revelers into electrical conduits. So, no Stevie Wonder for Jazz Festers. He was scheduled to wrap up the event on Saturday.
Andy has made some changes to his museum displays since my last visit. One of his fencers has done some museum work and advised Andy on some new ways to think about how to group and show off pieces, while providing information pamphlets next to collections. Andy has all the information in his head – you can ask him about anything and he’ll tell you the story. It’s good to start getting some of that information out of his head and into a form for anyone to consume when he’s not handy. It’s looking great and he has, of course, added to the collection since I was last there.
With the help of the parent of a student/fencer, Andy was able to have the big stand-up display board made that is seen above and in the first photo – the selfie. He first had it on display earlier this year when he attended the Junior Olympics, and he will have it at Summer Nationals in Houston. When you’re there, it will be an easy-to-spot landmark for where Andy will be with all the museum material he’ll have to show. He may not have as much as usual, unfortunately. He’s driving down, so it may just be what he can fit in a van.
He has more than a van’s worth of material. No question about that.
My trip back to New Orleans was looking like it would be a repeat of my Sunday trip, which I was not thrilled about repeating. I even looked into flying to Houston, where I could have picked up the second leg of my originally booked flight back to Oakland. (See above regarding how much of a cheapskate I can be.) In the end, after much time spent looking at animated radar maps, I decided I’d just make the drive back.
The morning started out before breakfast with an unleashing of the storm hounds over Shreveport. Lightning, thunder and the kind of rain you never really see in ‘sunny’ California. However, by the time I’d finished my very tasty grits, local sausages and other breakfast delights, the b&b where I was staying had the lights back on and the rain had tapered off. I spent a little more time with Andy and then hit the road.
I had some rain for the early part of the trip and a few later sprinkles but the worst had passed on, making the drive back to New Orleans a much more pleasant excursion. Got to take a couple of back roads, too. That gave me a chance to see some Louisiana sights I’d never seen before. Lots of small side-of-the-road restaurants and ‘fresh crawfish’ signs, none of which I was able to take advantage of, dang it all. But a view into a world I’d seen only in documentary films. Some of it might seem cliché or a put-on, but the very obvious reality of these people making a living on the edge of a swamp with just a small boat and outboard motor was right there on display. I saw crawfish pots, crab pots, old tires and single-wides and you could make your guess as to the quality of the people inside by the care they took of the outside. Whether the guess would be accurate or not? You’d have to live it to learn it. It’s all there for the world to see and make presumptions about, but it’s an unknown world and way of living for the vast majority of us outsiders. The outside world doesn’t much come knocking on these doors. I reckon ‘stranger’ can have a real different meaning in such a place. I’ve got backwoods relations in Tennessee, so I know that unstinting hospitality can be just a handshake away. But it’d be best to knock at the right house.
A lot to see and a lot to think about. But, sadly, no alligators.