What follows is Dave Halloran's September 8, 2005 rebuttal to George Neumayr of the American Spectator concerning New Orleans. We post it here in conjunction with the Mississippi Riverboat cruise of November 2004.
The 1953 Mississippi Riverboat Adventure
To garner what really happened on this most unique of Maxi-Minis would require forty responses. The nature of the trip was so varied that it would have to be captured by the eyes, ears, and most importantly, the hearts, of each of the forty of us '53s, wives, friends, and Dartmouth's own Professor Don Pease, professor of American literature extraordinaire. Except for one thing ----- conviviality, and, as you might expect, Don captured that the first night. Said he, "I have never seen a group that is so convivial, that likes one another so much, is so enthusiastic, never in all of my alumni, student, and research associations excursions. Conviviality reigns here," said he. Demurring, we allowed that twenty bottles of wine for thirty people at the kickoff dinner in New Orleans could, perhaps, but not certainly, influence that "conviviality," and then we accepted the compliment.
The venue was straightforward. Spend the weekend in the Big Easy doing all those things that only that great city offers, particularly Jazz, Cajun music and food, and the twenty-four hour party environ. Then, on Sunday, we all convened at Rene's Bistro, which Dave and Michelle Florence, and Joanne and I, had properly researched during the Jazz Festival last April. Superb, beyond superb. Fran and Ellen L'Esperance, and Ellen's mother Shelagh, Bill and Adair Beutel, Bob and Cathy Callender, who organized the whole affair----thanks to you both so much, John and Lore Dodge, Ed and Betty Johnson, Blos and Harriet Blum, Harlan and Anne Fair, Elton and Dona Clark, Ralph and Ann Heins, Tom and DeDe Ritner, Sherman and Judy Horton, Bill and Nancy Johnson, Elsa Luker and Howard Geer, John and Jane Springer, Marty Degennaro, Fred and Mitzi Carleton, Marilyn Paganucci, Phil Beekman and Carol Sue Emmons, Larry and Linda Twill, friends of the L'Esperances, and your humble scribe comprised the roster. Sadly, the hurricane season's consumption of school makeup days prevented your scribe's inspiration, Joanne, from being there, but we are going back after Christmas, and do it all over again.
The foyer to the restaurant was the scene of cocktail and appetizers in the traditional Dartmouth style---standup and loud. Rebecca, la maitre d' superb, led us to our table an hour later, and multiple appetizers of the traditional French New Orleans culinary delight were passed all around the table for thirty, family style. Every conceivable variation of shellfish, and relatives, was included. This was followed by one's choice of four entrees prepared especially for us by Rene. And the wine bottles circulated, and circulated, and circulated. And then, the grand finale of the finest of New Orleans desserts on large trays, again passed around family style, that allowed all of us to taste the incredible delicacies of what is probably the finest culinary art city of the South, and perhaps the entire country. Rene was awarded the highest of culinary honors in recent years, and they just keep coming in.
I believe the tone was set. From that point on, everyone was on a bubble, for the departure to the tune of the Calliope, to the churning of the paddle wheel, to the sounds of great Dixie music on deck as we passed under the bridges heading north on the Mississippi, and the conviviality, there is that word again, of gathering for dinner at the end of the day, and another delight of New Orleans cooking, but this time afloat.
The surroundings of the American Queen are said to be identical to those that sailed the Mississippi all during the nineteenth and early twentieth century. Everything was an authentic antique including, as one quipped, the classes of 1953 from Dartmouth, and 1951 from Princeton, who were doing exactly the same thing as were we. But, then, we sprung our surprise, and on the Tuesday morning, the second day out, 1953 hosted a lecture by the inimitable Don Pease of the Dartmouth English department, probably one of the most popular lecturers and seminarians on the faculty, who spoke on "The Persona of Mark Twain." We learned all over again the background of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, but with a perspective of the genius of Don Pease who has researched every aspect of Clemens, Mark Twain's, profound literary career. To show our collegiality, we invited the class of 1951 from Princeton to attend, and they all came, and after questions and discussions, challenged us to a touch football game. It will be played as the warm-up to the Sugar Bowl. Stay tuned.
To our surprise, and delight, the Cruise Director asked that Don's second lecture on "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" be opened up to the ship at large, about 400 people. This Wednesday morning lecture was held in the Grand Salon, and it was packed, and, again, Don presented the insights into the uniquely American Mark Twain and his literary shadow, Huckleberry Finn. The ovation was thunderous.
There were countless tours originating from Natchez and Baton Rouge, and you can e-mail the participants to gain any particulars on those. All seemed quite pleased, including those of us who chose to stay on the ship, listen to the music which was endless, and prepare for the Festival of Festivals on the final night. You will not be surprised that, on the floating Mardi Gras parade, with a live Cajun band, tapes of the real parade in the background, we all assembled in the Grand Salon singing and cheering, with some of our "plants" in the balconies above throwing down the traditional Mardi Gras beads to the revelers below---and then, it happened. The Cruise Director, to the crescendo of the Cajun band drummer and chording of the the concertina player, announced that the King and Queen of the American Queen Mardi Gras were none other than our esteemed Prexy, Phil Beekman, and his lovely lady, Carol Sue Emmons. What a majestic couple they were as they danced through the throng, but with their crowns on upside down! We too stepped and waltzed, and snaked all around the Grand Salon until the reality of the hour came upon us. It was another victory for 1953's 55 years of being undefeated in party!!!
On Friday, all to soon, it ended, yet another incredible gathering of Dartmouth's finest. Conviviality is what it is all called. May I wax just a bit more romantically, and call it what it really is---we love each other, and we continue to enjoy our company this 55th year into our reign as, undeniably, Dartmouth's Greatest Class, the Class of 1953. As Tiny Tim observed, God bless us, everyone.
Your classmate and dear friend, Dave Halloran