Ten Cool Things About Baton Rouge

Here’s the backstory of the list: The idea came from a good friend, professor, and former colleague at the Women’s Studies Department at the University of South Florida. To make life in Tampa bearable, she worked on a collection of cool things about the city. Please understand, she had lived all over the world. So, of course, back then Tampa would be boring to her.

Baton Rouge in the late 90s was uninviting. I borrowed the idea of making this list, and it has become an ongoing conversation with several of friends who share a similar frustration with this “booming metropolis.”

As a college student, I lived in two wonderful college towns: Austin, TX, and Madison, WI. These towns are meccas to young people. They are both state capitals and also home to major universities. They both offer food, cultural events, live music, politics, used book stores, alternative communities, and so on. Baton Rouge is also a flagship college town and state capital, but doesn’t have the same offerings.

More recently, the city has grown enormously, with many major restaurants and big box chains setting up shop. There’s even a Whole Foods here now. Still (as of 2012), there is no art house movie theater, or used book store, and very little in the way of alternative lifestyles. Most of the “activism” in the community takes the form of “social service” or “community service” noblesse oblige.  To be fair, many people think Baton Rouge is a great town because it’s definitely the place for partying, football, and church. Some people even party at the church of football.

The Rules:

* The list cannot include restaurants, because otherwise it would be page after page of eateries.  The list does include two exceptions, with explanations under each entry.

* The list cannot include people. There are too many good people here to include. The list does offer two “service providers” as professionals, not acquaintances/colleagues/friends.The town is filled with wonderful folk, though.

It has taken me many years to compile this list.

June 7, 2009

10. The Red Shoes

The Red Shoes is a women’s center for personal and spiritual growth. The name comes from Clarissa Pinkola Estes’s interpretation of Hans Christian Andersen‘s tale in her book, Women Who Run with the Wolves. The center offers many programs that focus on spiritual, issues, Jungian-slanted seminars, birthing circles, breathing programs, film or book discussions, art classes, and the like. One of the Dialogues on Race was hosted there. They are involved in One Baton Rouge, a community group focusing on diversity (including sexual orientation). A former student of mine was a staffer there for some time.

June 7, 2009

9. Dr. Roslyn Tabor, MD

I have been seeing Dr. Tabor since I moved here in 1999. She is an excellent doctor. She was one of the few women on my insurance provider list. She’s the only doctor I’ve had a long-term relationship with, doctors make me uncomfortable, but she makes me feel very comfortable. She was especially helpful when we were trying to get the kid into school without a record of immunizations.

June 7, 2009

8. Blon Salon

Blon Salon is owned by Beverly Thornton. She’s an excellent hair stylist, and I’ve been seeing her for several years now. She’s the best stylist because she listens. With Bev, I can just go in and say “do what you want,” and she does. Her philosophy is to work with the hair instead of against it, so most of my haircuts require nothing but product and finger combing. She’s artsy, intelligent, and cosmopolitan, so we have great conversations while she’s styling my hair.

June 7, 2009

7. KLSU Radio

They play very cool music. Good alternative music. Lots of chicks who aren’t Britney Spears or Avril Lavigne, which is a major plus.

January 30, 2003

6. The HopKins Black Box at LSU

The performance space is cool, the performance faculty and students are very cool, and the shows are cool. Here is what the Black Box website says:

The HopKins Black Box opened in 1992 and is the nerve center and heartbeat of Performance Studies at LSU. The events held within this dynamic space range from informal, workshop-style presentations and performance experiments, to performance hours that feature solo and group performances, to fully staged scripts that, in most cases, the director has adapted for the stage from written, oral, and/or other cultural texts. On the average, 40-50 students appear in public performances on our stage each semester. Additionally, because most of the Performance Studies classes involve a performance component, the space is both our theatre and our classroom laboratory.

The most exciting thing I experienced in the Black Box was Ruth Bowman’s Moby Dick show. My memory of it is visceral and indescribable. There is no vocabulary to explain it. I mean, I could wax deconstructive about it fairly easily, but it would be an academic exercise in the truest sense, and it wouldn’t come near to capturing how that performance made me feel, So it’s probably better just to move on to the next thing on the list.

January 30, 2003

5. The YWCA

Robbie Madden, my idol here, got me involved in the YWCA and the Church. She reminds me of my grandmother. As a grassroots activist and community leader, she gets so much accomplished, and she really knows how to “work” things. She’s good at cultivating networks of folk who will help her when she needs it. She works for the YWCA, which is a surprisingly radical organization for the local culture. Their approach to women’s issues is broad and includes eradicating racism. They view women’s issues as entangled with poverty and race. The YWCA has hosted anti-racism programs for years now. Sara Evans’ book Born for Liberty briefly explains the background of the YWCA as part of the women’s reform movements. Very interesting history.

August 29, 2001

4. The Unitarian Church of Baton Rouge

Although I no longer attend the UU Church,  I like knowing it’s there. They do good work for social justice in the community. This particular church has a huge round window at the front of the sanctuary. The window was inspired by a poem by Edwin Markham:

They drew a circle and shut me out,
A heretic, a rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win,
We drew a circle and took them in.

Church in general is extremely central to the culture of Baton Rouge, so non-church-goers have a difficult time finding community here. The Unitarian Church is a loving and welcoming place, and they always have something going on — far much more than any one person can actually partake in. For a while, they hosted a “mother/daughter book group” for middle school girls and their mothers (or guardians!!). The kid and I attended some of those meetings. Interestingly, the books were all about strong girls, often magical, witchy, goddess-worshipping types. It must be a tween thing. This is the origin of the Books for Tween Grrls list.

August 29, 2001

3. Kaleidoscope Children’s Art Gallery

This place is creative idea. My niece, the kid, went to a children’s art camp during the summer at the Kaleidoscope studio. The instructors taught about famous artists like Van Gogh and Pollock and then the kids would make their own version, copying the style of the artist they learned about. They used all sorts of creative techniques and produced artwork that looks much better than anything I could ever do myself. The Gallery had an art exhibit featuring a piece of art by every camper. The owner is so talented and creative! She has painted picture frames in bright colors and designs right onto the walls of the entire studio. Then she just tapes up the various pieces of artwork into frames to display them. She also made note cards out of miniature copies of each kid’s art. Once a month they have “Ladies’ Night,” which is an art class for adults (women, presumably). Sometimes they have mother-daughter nights too.  This place definitely makes Baton Rouge bearable.

This place has closed down, but it’s staying on the list, damnit.

March 27, 2002

2. Flowers and February (and March, too)

My friend says that flowers and the flower season of February to March should count as TWO separate cool things about Baton Rouge. That is cheating. I used to live in the Garden District, built circa 1920s and filled with beautiful bungalow style houses. The streets are lined with oaks and azaleas and crepe myrtle, and when the flowers bloom and the weather is bearable, well, Baton Rouge is a downright beautiful place.

Still trying to turn this delightful aspect of life in Baton Rouge into two entries instead of one is cheating. And, yes, that means you have to work harder to make your list.

So, the picture of pink flowers posted above are Azaleas and the tree thing is a crepe myrtle. These pictures, incidentally, were stolen from the LSU AgCenter‘s website.

August 29, 2001

 

1. La Madelaine

This is a delightful “French” restaurant on the corner of Jefferson and Corporate–“French” in the postmodern, hyperreal sense, meaning there’s nothing really authentically French about it. It has that old-time artificially provincial feeling to it, and mighty good bread and coffee. Even though it’s a chain out of Dallas, it’s considered to be a “Best Bet” by New Orleans restaurant guides, particularly for breakfast, and the Baton Rouge version is a favorite. There are three special things about La Mad’s.

First, they have a beautiful little garden in front that changes often. So, if you squint your eyes and cover your ears, and focus your gaze on the flowers while blocking out the strip-mall parking lot sounds, fumes, and images, you might actually feel like you’re in France. Or New Orleans. Apparently the people who live in Atlanta, GA agree because they voted La Mad’s as the best bakery in Atlanta for their Creative Loafing. See? It is a chain.

Second, many people dine at La Mad’s who look like my kinda people. In other words, women with short hair, very cool earrings, who look like they might be Democrats in a red state, or *gasp* they might even be pro-choice. A Marxist in the house? Dare I hope?

Third, every time I have dined alone at La Mad’s, I end up in the most curious conversations with single, elderly women, who all want to know what I’m eating, how it tastes, and how it compares to what they are eating. Not to mention they want to know whether or not I’m enjoying the pleasant weather and the Azaleas. It never fails. It is the most charming thing. Especially since these women probably eat here every day and probably know how good the food is, which makes their questions about more than food. It’s very Southern and one of the delightful things about the South. Now, imagine if one of them would only ask about the latest issue of Ms. Magazine.

So, La Mad’s is on the list not so much because it’s a restaurant but because of the curious and surreal experiences.

Comments are closed.