- story by Nan Parati, photos by Ellis Anderson
Well see, what happened was that Katrina slid 8 feet of water up under the door of my New Orleans house and, through a series of Baby-Jesus-inspired events I ended up living in Yankee-land, Massachusetts after 48 years of roaming the southern earth, and then, opening a restaurant after a similar 48 years of never even considering owning a restaurant. Major events sometimes bring shocking results.
So, 11 years later, through a series of aging-parents-related events, I’m still living in Yankee-land with a two-month annual reprieve in New Orleans to work on the Jazz Fest. And when the sun FINALLY returns to squint at New England about March first of every year, my thoughts turn southerly, and sitting high on the ladder of places I feel calling my soul is Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi.
Then you’ve got your restaurants on the beach. My particular favorite is any one of them where you can sit outside and feel the Gulf while you eat. We have oceans in Massachusetts, but they come with ice at the Jazz Fest time of year and it’s a whole different experience.
Once at the Buttercup (not on the beach but a great place to eat nonetheless) the waitress asked me if I needed any civilware. I love that and have since trained the waitresses at my restaurant to use the same word when passing out utensils. You can’t call customers “baby” up North, but you can use the word “civilware.” It’s my own quiet toast to colorful Southern speech.
Then there are the big-ass trees out in front of the church on Main Street. I just like those trees. I even liked them before Katrina. They have a lot of character and Spanish moss.
Then you’ve got your trains in Bay St. Louis and how they blow their horns in the wee hours and make you feel like you need to get up and go someplace far away into the night and meet some kind-hearted strangers somewhere. You’ll stay with them for awhile and then you know you’ll have to be off again. All of that in a train horn, heading across the bay.
Then there’s all the people you meet when you go out on Second Saturdays. Good-hearted, well-intentioned people dressed in festive colors. The men are all quiet and the women talk like they belong in a Minrose Gwin novel read aloud on Ellis and Larry's porch. The Bay St. Louis accent is different from the New Orleans accent and it’s charming in its own very Southern happy way.
Then get yourself some bread from the Serious Bakery place. Get the one with all the seeds. It’ll keep you regular.
Oh! While you’re at Ellis’s house, go with her on a dog walk. She’s got one or two or 12 dogs hanging around her house now and always has. While you’re on the walk, amble on over to the beach and see what washed up. Once I found a nutria skull that I took back to Massachusetts and gave to the local trapper-guy who holds animal-skull-identifying contests at the county fairs every year. Nobody ever guesses the nutria skull. He likes me for that.
And then after you’ve done all of that, you go back to New Orleans and get back to work, but with your soul soothed and all your fears carried out to sea at sunset. If you can, get two or three trips like that in a year, but even if you only get one, it’ll do you right.