Monthly Archives: April 2011

More days in Louisiana

From Tulsa I passed on to Shreveport in Louisiana, where I was the guest of Delton Harrrison, with a fine house built in the 1930s designed in an antebellum classical style by Howard F.Staub – one of the leading country house architects of those years based in Houston. The house is surrounded by trees and I noticed the sound of rusty swing but later was told this was probably the sound of a mocking bird, imitating a swing – a curious sensation. Mr Harrison is a wonderful host and the ESU lecture was given at the Shreveport Club and there were a hundred and twenty guests and cocktails before and a fine sit-down supper afterwards – of gumbo and red snapper. From Shreveport to Monroe, after giving my talk at their country club, to a friendly and enthusiastic audience, I was given another very good supper in an converted old warehouse overlooking the Ouichita River, just as the sun was going down.
From then on to New Orleans where I stayed with Dr Peeper, an Oxford-educated gynaecologist and his partner Michael who works for a law firm; they live in a very handsome house in the Garden Quarter. This is the year of the centenary of Tenessee Williams’s birth, so Dr Peeper has arranged for me to join a walking tour of all the streets on which Williams’ lived, which is fascinating and gives you a good feeling for the context of his writing – brought up in the genteel surroundings of his grandfather’s rectory he lived in poverty as a young writer, often barely able to pay his rent. Like a good southern gent, Dr Peeper insists we have lunch at Antoine’s a fine, old world French restaurant with waiters in black tie, where we eat gumbo (spicy soup) and local shrimp, and we drink a toast to Tennessee Williams in 25 cent martinis – and then admire photographs of the annual Mardi Gras parades. Couldn’t be better. We also do a tour of the main districts other than the French quarter, and I am interested to try and understand the impact of the hurricane and flood that followed, five years on – overall I am really quite beguiled by New Orleans and the constant flavour of a good party going on. Next stop Texas.

A lecture tour in the American South, part one

Just returned from a hugely enjoyable lecture tour for the English Speaking Union, having been asked to be the Sir Evelyn Wrench lecturer for 2011. I toured several cities in the American South, starting at Tulsa in Oklahoma, and moving on to Louisiana: Shreveport, Monroe, and then down to New Orleans, all very different places, and finishing with a tour of Houston, Austin, Fort Worth and Dallas. I was so very well looked after at each place I stayed and really touched by American directness, enthusiasm and politeness. In Tulsa my kind hosts the Vaughns took me on a tour of the Philbrook Villa, a delightful Italianate house built for an oil millionaire, Waite Phillips, in the 1920s, and designed by a Kansas City architect, called Edward Beuhler Delk. Now preserved as an art museum, we enjoyed a delicious brunch here and admired paintings and gardens (a must for any visitor to Tulsa), and then they dropped me off with John Walton Brooks, architect and lifelong preservationist and anglophile (who deeply admires Lutyens in particular), who took me on another tour of Tulsa’s highlights, downtown and in the elegant suburbs too. He pushed me into the art-deco Boston Avenue Methodist church – a really fine spectacle inside and out, and said – “go and explore, if challenged start singing: ‘onward Christian soldiers!’” I am happy to say that I explored without the need to sing. The lecture was over a fine afternoon tea and it seemed very appropriate for an ESU gathering. More to follow soon . . . .