Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Dining Beneath Mammy's Skirts (a field-trip to Natchez, MS)

The day looked bleak for a road-trip. It was pouring rain (and on my way back inside this morning to change into more appropriate clothing I slipped and fell and cut my knee open. I'll spare you a picture). The driving was handled professionally, and it started to let up to a light misting by the time we were approaching our first destination: Port Gibson, MS. The main attraction--indeed, the intention--of the road-trip was to see Temple B'Nai Israel, the oldest congregation in Mississippi,  in Natchez (southwest). But, as with any road-trip, there were a number of stops along the way, both before and after the main attraction. Below are a selection of some of the things we saw today.
If I remember correctly, this is a First Presbyterian Church. But it doesn't really matter. All that matters is that, instead of a cross on its steeple, it has an enormous, way-larger-than-life gold-plated hand with its index finger pointing up toward You Know Who. What made this scene even better, of course, is that it was perfectly lined up with the sun, which was trying very very hard to shine through the clouds.

Next to the church was this ruin of a house--it must have been burnt down recently, since the two ISJL staff who were with us didn't remember seeing it during their last visit to Port Gibson. We were promised that this was nothing compared to the ruins we'd see later in the day at Windsor. (Scroll down for a picture).

This is Gemiluth Chessed in Port Gibson. The congregation was founded in the 1840s by German immigrants, though the building was only constructed in 1892--it's the oldest standing synagogue in Mississippi (Temple B'nai Israel was rebuilt after a fire destroyed its original building). The synagogue closed in 1986 because its membership was too small to support it, and it was locked when we arrived. A small crack in the door showed us a beautiful and ornate chandelier hanging from the ceiling. 

Like many Jewish communities, the first Jewish establishment in Port Gibson was a cemetery. The synagogue came after. There was a grave here for a man named Lazer Woolf (close enough, right?)

As promised, the even more impressive ruins, at Windsor. Thee Windsor Ruins are from the mansion of a Mr. Smith Coffee Daniell II (yes, that was his name), who started building it in 1859, if I remember correctly. Unfortunately, it was burnt down (accidentally) just 30 years later. Really magnificent ruins--most of the columns are still standing. Apparently, the ruins have been used in many movies, though none that I've seen.

Well, here she is. The white(ish)-face Mammy under whose skirts I dined today at the lunch hour. In the 1970s, they  painted her brown-person face white-person color. Because that's somehow more okay? Anyway, the food was delicious--since everything on the menu had meat in it, I did a combination--left the turkey off the roast turkey sandwhich (which also had avocado, tomato, lettuce, mayonnaise, and blueberry chutney(!)) and added the mozzarella from the roast beef sandwich. If you happen to be stopping through, Mammy's Cupboard is in Natchez, on Hwy 61 S.

The stained glass from Temple B'nai Israel in Natchez. There was also a beautiful organ (which they still use!) and a fantastic archives collection in the basement, including congregational minutes from the 1800s. And, of course, numerous copies of Hillel's Happy Holidays by Mamie Gamoran. A wonderful couple who recently moved from New Orleans to Natchez showed us around and explained a bit of the history to us. They're largely responsible for the continued existence of the synagogue, we were later told, and have put a lot of work into soliciting donations from the larger Natchez community (which had never been done before). This temple is one of the many throughout the south that benefits from the services of the ISJL's "wandering Rabbi," Rabbi Marshal Klaven.

Just a house we passed by.

The gate to the old Jewish section of the Natchez cemetery.  Relatives of the late wife of the man where I'm boarding for the summer are buried here. 

This trip was the first time I'd seen the plant kudzu, the namesake for the cat we had when I was a child! It really is impressive. We saw entire forests smothered in it, and the whole drive felt like we were in a rainforest. 

The drive back led us through Crystal Springs, MS, which is not too far outside of Jackson. This, apparently, is the best meat market around--they'll even make cuts from the meat you've hunted yourself!--but I'm ordering my kosher chicken from a store in New Orleans tomorrow, where an ISJL colleague is visiting this weekend. Ah, but Crystal Springs also held a Dairy Freeze, located in a tiny shack off the highway, which had "ice milk." I'm not really sure what that means; it was pretty good, though a little too sweet for me.

Well, wouldn't you know. Now the deer are off to butcher themselves.
Upon arriving home, Diana and I continued our adventure attempting to make grapefruit granita (for a birthday party) out of 12 fresh grapefruits (as opposed to grapefruit juice). If you want to know how many different tools/appliances we used, or the number of mishaps we got ourselves into, send me an email and I'd love to fill you in.

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