Winter is the perfect time to explore the natural stone shelters where native Arkansans once lived
A couple of weekends ago in the River Market, Little Rock's members of the tribe sponsored their annual Jewish Food Festival. This is Southern-style Judaism, where one vendor exhorted the public “wash down that bagel with a kosher hot dog.” His dress said Jew, but his accent said Bubba.
A couple of booths represented the faith's Orthodox branch — one long-bearded, yarmulked practitioner demonstrated how to properly don a phylactery — but the event focused on the stomach more than the spirit. Latkes, kebobs and falafel were the day's draw.
The festival was a real g-dsend. As a conversation with a Boston-born vendor confirmed, this was the only day of the year when you're able get a palatable bagel in Little Rock.
Perhaps it wasn't a surprise that the novelty-clothing table offered the most brazen commercial appeal: What better way to broadcast your Southern Jewish cred than a T-shirt that says “Knish My Grits” or “Shalom, Y'all”?
Idling in traffic the other day, The Observer found himself next to a billboard-sized truck. Painted on the sides was the Farmer Brothers Coffee name, and below that the pronouncement: “Consistently Good.”
As the light turned green and The Mobile Observatory and the delivery truck went our separate ways, The Observer found himself scoffing a bit at the tagline. “Consistently Good?” That's a little milquetoast. How about “Spectacularly Good?” “Astronomically Good?” Even the ol' “Very Good?”
After a little drive-time reflection, however, “Consistently Good” started to sound better and better to us, even something to aspire to. The Observer just finished up watching “The War,” Ken Burns' humongous, heart-rending PBS documentary about World War II and its effects on four American towns. Sitting in traffic, thinking about java and G.I. Joes — in that funny way The Observer's mind can sometimes tinker with two puzzles at once — it occurred to us that the young men who fought that war and the families back home were “consistently good.” They were not necessarily, as Tom Brokaw famously dubbed them, “The Greatest Generation.” But they did what they thought was right, and kept on keeping on — through horror, blood and misery — until it was done.
Sometimes, in coffee and in life, consistent and good is enough.
Now, about that idea to build a staircase up Mound B at Toltec Mounds State Park: Glad you brought it up.
The state parks department apparently thinks this 1,000-year-old archeological site, with its tall mounds and earthen embankment, isn't sexy enough. A plan has emerged to build a staircase up one mound to a viewing platform where one could look over the green expanse, which includes a couple of other visible mounds, an oxbow and Highway 65.
Here's an astonishing artifact of the past, a 38-foot-tall earthen mound many times that dimension in circumference, made layer by layer, basketful by basketful, over time, ritual markings of beginnings and endings. It's planted in grass so its mass and shape can be fully appreciated by visitors, and the archeologists stationed there have worked hard to inform the public of what transpired on this small, but rare in its preservation, plot of land east of the Arkansas River, and the importance of preservation.
Unlike the mounds at Spiro, Okla., Mound B and the taller Mound A and the conical Mound C are real. Looters have dug into them, but they are otherwise pristine. Researchers took advantage of a gouge in the side of Mound B to slice away a stair-stepped chunk for a peek at the mound's later building stages, yes. But they did not sink piers into the past to build a tourist attraction up the side and onto the top of what contemporary Quapaw consider to be a sacred site.
What's next, a midway on the embankment, a merry-go-round on the plaza? It's a ceremonial, not a carnival, site.
Yeah, yeah, there are stairs up the vast Monks Mound at Cahokia. Except they're closed, since foot traffic is wearing away part of the mound and new grass is being planted.