Friday, February 23, 2018

Mardi Gras in Mobile!

 (due to the flaky internet, posting will be slow for February)
Forget New Orleans, Mobile is THE place to celebrate Carnival. There are parades everyday, kids get a whole week off from school, and yes, Plantation Rainbow goes all out in celebrating. Well, OK, there is no nudity, but there is a king and queen crowned, a week of skits and dinners, and a parade!
 What exactly is Mardi Gras? Officially, Mardi Gras happens on Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday and Carnival stretches from the feast of Epiphany (Three Kings Day) and to the eve of Ash Wednesday.

 There's a lot of myths and tall tales surrounding Mardi Gras, but here is the history as we understand it. Around 1700, French soldiers who had survived a recent plague of yellow fever spent a week carousing. Mobile began celebrating Mardi Gras around 1703, and the first known parade happened in 1711, when residents carried a paper mache bull down Dauphin Street.
Things really took off in 1830, when Michael Kraft and some of his buddies got drunk one night and decided to raid the display of the local hardware store. Armed with rakes and cowbells, the group of revelers formed an informal parade over to the mayor's house, to serenade the politician with their good cheer.
The story goes the mayor was amused, townspeople were delighted with the nighttime ruckus, and the first masked parading society was formed -  the Cowbellian de Rakin Society. Which also explains why Mardi Gras is big in Alabama and Louisiana, but never became a hit in Texas. Having grown up in a small Texas town, I can confirm that any group trying such a thing in the middle of the night would've been shot, instead of being encouraged!
Back to those crazy Albamaians. For the next thirty years, mystic societies held Mardi Gras parades and balls, and people up and down the Gulf coast partied hard. Which brings me to a problem I have with the Mobile version of things.

According to Mobile lore, yellow fever birthed Mardi Gras. While its true that was the reason for the first celebration, it was the invention of the cotton gin 
in 1794 that really made Mardi Gras what it is today. Thanks to the cotton gin, it was suddenly easy to clean cotton - at a time when spinning was becoming mechanized.

The result was a cotton boom that created one the first mass-market industries, and made cities like New Orleans and Mobile very, very rich. People could afford to spend, and spend lavishly, on parades and balls and festivities. It also meant the slave trade, which had been dying out in the late 1700s, would recover and continue on for another six decades.

Just a couple of blocks from the Mardi Gras Museum is a statue of Raphael Semmes, a Confederate Captain. We have no answer to the current controversy about Confederate memorials, but seeing the memorial certainly reminded us that there is a whole other history behind the money that fueled early Mardi Gras celebrations.

 The Mobile Carnival Musuem costs $5, which includes a very interesting and entertaining tour. Parking is free (lot is across from the Spanish Plaza Park).

Know before you go: The museum is only open during certain hours and closed during holidays, so check the website before you go. The museum is in a historic house. While there is an elevator, some rooms and halls are only accessible by steps.The path from the parking lot to the museum was not as friendly as it should've been.
 This Italianate beauty is the Bernstein-Bush mansion. It was built in 1872 for Henry Bernstein, later owned by Mayor John Bush, and still retains most of its original decorations and plasterwork.
The king elected by the Mobile Carnival Association is called Felix III.

 Mobile has two Carnival associations, the Mobile Carnival Association and the Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association. It also has 70 mystical societies, called krewes, that put on around 30 parades each year. Both associations elect a king and a queen each year, as well as a juvenile king and queen.
 This is James Van Antwerp Junior, the first juvenile king.

In the 30s, the Mobile Carnival Association tried electing 5 year-olds as juvenile king and queen. When it became clear that was a bit too young, they began electing eighth-graders instead. The other association elects high school students as their juvenile king and queen.
Originally, Mobile used mules to pull the parades, but quickly switched to cars as soon as they could. The krewes were struggling to find farms to house all the mules needed for Carnival!
Most of the museum is dedicated to the regalia of the kings and queens, which are rotated out. Each robe, scepter, and crow  has different designs and emblems, chosen by the king or queen who will be wearing it -
although some get more creative than others!
All but two robes in the museum's collection were made in Mobile. The robes are made by hand (the material is too for a sewing machine) and can weigh as much as 35 to 40 pounds.
 Robes used to be edged in fur, but are now edged in fake fur or other trim. Several robes on display had edges that had been recycled from older robes.
To wear the high collars and the trains, the king and queen wear a harness under their clothes.
The museum has several videos on the different queens and kings, and it's clear some royalty are having a bit of difficulty walking while wearing a crown, high heels, and a 35 pound train. The tour guide showed us one train that even had hidden ball bearings, to help reduce the drag of the train!
John Cain, One of his 'Girlfriends' and one of his 'Merry Widows'

Up until the Civil War, Mobile celebrated Mardi Gras to ring in New Year. After the Civil War, the festivities were banned. In 1866, John Cain, a cotton broker, paraded through Mobile in an effort to bring back Mardi Gras - but chose to do so during Lent (as observed in New Orleans). Cain was successful, and celebrated Mardi Gras for several years in Mobile, before moving back to his home town, where he died in 1904.

He was re interred later in Church Street Graveyard in downtown Mobile, creating a new tradition. Every year, 'girlfriends' and 'merry widows' of John Cain put on their veils, dresses, and high heels, and parade in his memory. And if you're wondering, no, not all of them are of the female persuasion.

Across from the parking lot is the Spanish Plaza Park.
The park, filled with art and sculptures, is dedicated to Malaga, Mobile's sister city in Spain. We couldn't find any information on this fountain, but something tells us it was probably erected in the 60s or early 70s. The random and creative use of concrete arches, perhaps?
Of course, you can't mention Carnival in Mobile without mentioning Toomey's. Toomey's is the main purveyor of 'throws' - the swag and beads tossed to the crowds during parades.
Toomey's was established in 1978, and is now run by one of the sons. The current building is 70,000 square feet and full of anything and everything one needs for Mardi Gras.
It also has quite a few float artwork um, floating around.
We're especially partial to this dog's hat. He is rocking that yellow flower.
Of course, we can't talk about Mardi Gras in Mobile without mentioning Moon Pies. (Which are crazy, crazy cheap. A dozen pies for $2? What??)

 So, what is a Moon Pie? Moon Pies supposedly originated in 1917, and were first sold to miners. Originally just two cookies with a marshmallow center, the Moon Pie company now makes moon pies in several flavors. This year's flavor was coconut. Apparently, coconut moon pies were dropped from the company's flavors in the 70s, but the current owner of Toomey's asked for it to be brought back. Miss Boo made sure to sample both coconut and caramel, and agrees the coconut really needs to be regular flavor - and as we all know, cats are never wrong!

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

RV Lifestyle - Maintenance

After a half year on the road, it's time for some maintenance! Our motorcycle, an 1100 Shadow Spirit, needed an oil change.
We also needed to look into the RV brakes. One of the things that came up on the initial inspection of our Sundancer was we would need to replace the brake pads at some time - we had some usable pads left, but not much. Well, on the way down to Summerdale, the idiot light came on for the brakes. 
We checked the manual, which told us it was the ABS system and just 'needed to be checked'. Since it was driving fine, we waited until February to take it in. Residents suggested we use Countryman's. We took it in, expecting a brake job and maybe an ABS sensor or two. It turns out we had a locked up caliper - and the back brake pads were the original pads!
We opted to go for the expensive fix, which meant new lines, new calipers, new pads, and new rotors for the back brakes. It may be overkill to zero out all the brake maintenance and start over, but since we are 8 tons with trailer and bike...
Countryman's did an excellent job and even managed to get all the work done in  4 hours. Just as importantly, they took the time to take us back into the bay, show us the brakes and the rotors, and discuss options. We appreciate it when a repair shop takes the extra time to make sure we make an informed decision.

Fortunately, the oil change was not as big of a deal (or bill!)  Motor Sports Freaks, in fact, wins for the quickest oil change. The price was reasonable, and their mechanic not only has three decades of working on bikes, but still rides the dirt trails  - in his 60s!

Thank you, Countryman and Motor Sports Freaks!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Pensacola National Naval Museum - Free!

(due to very flaky internet, blog posts will be sporadic for February)

The weather finally warms up into the 60s - so, of course, rain rolls in. That's OK, though! Freddy & Debbie invite us to tag along with them the National Naval Museum in Pensacola. Freddy was in the Navy for 21 years and was a plane mechanic, so he is also an awesome tour guide. 

Know before you go: The museum is free, but is on a naval base. Museum visitors must have a valid photo ID and can only enter through one gate. We recommend checking the museum's website for any last minute rule changes for entering the base. Also? Wear comfortable shoes and be prepared to walk. This place is huge!

Tours: If you want to take the guided tour, the tours start at 9:30am, 11am, 1pm, 2:30pm, and can take a couple of hours. (We understand the best day to take the tour is Friday at 11am, but its best to come fed and well-rested. Friday's tour guide is well-known for his three hour tour!) There's also a 20 minute Fight Line Bus Tour that explores over 40 aircraft stored outside the museum.

IMAX: The museum has several movies. Click here for price and schedule

You can also plan your visit to see the Blue Angels practice. The schedule is here.

Finally, we strongly suggest downloading the Self Guided Tour before you go!
The museum has 150 restored aircraft, as well as other aircraft on loan from other United States military organizations, such as the Coast Guard.
Many of the sculptures and paintings in the museum were created by the former museum director, Captain Robert L. Rasmussen (who retired in 2014).

The plane above the sculptures is the A-1 Triad, the Navy's first aircraft.
There are also quite a few exhibits. This jeep is part of  the World War I exhibit.
We learned these early planes had no way to recycle the castor oil used to lubricate engine parts. The oil went through the engine, into the air - and onto the pilot. Pilots wore scarves to keep the spray of oil out of their mouths.
The USS Texas is probably the Navy's most interesting ship, and is currently a floating museum in Houston.  It is one of only seven still floating battleships to have served in both WWI and WWII.  It was one of the biggest ships floating when it was launched during WWI. In fact, the Texas was such a juggernaut the Japanese found it impossible to sink her in WWII. 

Many of the Navy's firsts happened aboard this ship, including an analog system which was the forerunner become today's computer guided weapon systems, and the first ship to use the Navy's new radar system. It was also the first ship to launch airplanes off its deck.  One of its guns was refitted to be a hydraulic launcher.
An F6C Hawk, which was made by Curtis Aeroplanes. These were used in the 20s and 30s by the Navy.
This is a very hands on museum, with many displays designed to be touched.
Several planes have clear panels, so the inside structure could be seen.
There is also quite a few planes and helicopters set up so you can climb in - although many of them are a tight squeeze!
According to my notes, this is a F3H Demon.
Another touchable engine. This a Wasp engine, which was used in the 20s.
This is a much more modern plane engine. The orange paint shows where the engine has been cut, to show the interior of the chambers.
The Blue Angels Atrium. These are A-4 Skyhawks, and were used extensively in Vietnam. The first pilot captured was flying a Skyhawk when he was shot down.
A Photo Banshee. This plane was filled with concrete and used in a children's playground for many years. It was eventually rescued and restored.

The museum has been restoring planes for years, especially ones pulled out of Lake Michigan. The Navy used to use Lake Michigan for training, which explains why there are so many planes at the bottom!
The one and only VH-3 Marine One, a modified helicopter that flew Presidents Nixon and Ford.
This is the Coast Guard exhibit in Hanger Bay One.  We were bad bloggers and don't have any notes on either plane. Oops.
A modern plane engine. F explained to us how these engines work: suck, squeeze, bang, and blow. The engine sucks in air as the fan blades spin, squeezes (compresses) it, then bang, the air is mixed with fuel and ignited, an the air blows out the back, which creates thrust.
E-2C Hawkeye. These planes have been used by the Navy for over 50 years.
This is a FG-1D Corsair,best known as being the plane flown by the Misfits of the Black Sheep Squadron.
FJ-2 Fury  Apparently, there were problems launching these from flight decks, so the FJ-2 wound up being used by the Marines instead.
Nope, not an aircraft! This is a fascinating display of how the Navy recovered the Apollo capsules.  Although we spent all morning exploring this museum, we barely scratched the surface. It's a good thing this museum is free, because we need to make another trip to see the rest!