Tag Archives: Mardi Gras

The Friday Night Feeding of Lions and Tigers – No Bears

The Catty Shack, Jacksonville, Florida

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect of a place named The Catty Shack.  Visions of Bill Murray, moles and golf courses came to mind, but the spelling is ‘catty’ not ‘caddy’ shack. And its not about gossip. The Catty Shack is a rescue center for large cats like lions, tigers, leopards, cougars and panthers.  And it’s right here in my hometown– Jacksonville, Florida.

The newspaper announced a public fundraiser: A chance to watch the felines feast for fifteen dollars. Game on.

I gathered a friend and her daughter and drove over to the north side of town, not far from the airport. Directions said to look for a mailbox with a statue of a lion. We certainly weren’t in Kansas, no wheat fields around, rather a residential neighborhood. Do they really house 40 big cats in a normal suburban setting?  Oh my!

We entered though a security gate, then passed by a 15-foot-high stockade fence.  Ahead, as far as my eyes could see, were enclosures with large animals. First up was a lovely lion whose mane reminded me of the Cowardly beast in the Wizard of Oz.  Next to the lion was a scarecrow. No. A napping white Siberian tiger with the most gorgeous blue eyes and gigantic, supersized paws. His claws bespoke power; they were visceral weapons. Further along, three tigers frolicked  in a swimming pool. Really now, there’s no place like home.

These sleek felines looked professionally groomed; their coats were shiny and their nails clean. I later learned they are given vitamins with each feeding, once daily, of 10 to 25 pounds of beef, chicken, or fish.

Biggest question — How did these magnificent critters end up here?  Turns out a number of people obtain licenses to own large cats, but don’t maintain proper standards.  The state also confiscates for illegal ownership or maltreatment. They are moved to Catty Shack and once a kitty arrives, it stays for the rest of its life.  None are ever sold.

Curt LoGiudice, Executive Director/Curator or as I refer to him– Top Cat, has been running the sanctuary since its inception 25 years ago. He has a personal relationship with each animal, whom he refers to by name. Courageous Curt walks right into the enclosures with the feeding bowls.  And, let me tell you, these carnivores (sometimes weighing 500 pounds) are ominous. When they go after their food, the fur flies. Couldn’t miss the loud, guttural growl of one tiger, as he bared his saber teeth, to another yet-to-be fed, cage mate.

On the night I visited, dinner was a huge bowl of chicken legs and wings. The sound of the cats crunching their food is akin to the noise branches make when a tree falls. Imagine amplifying the Frito Bandito’s bite into a chip by about a thousand. You’ll remember the snap.

I turned to my friend and said, ” Watching and hearing these cats devour their meal is one of the strangest things we’ve done in a long time.”  And to this, my friend who parties at  Mardi Gras, rode donkeys on Santorini, and dogsledded with me- agreed.

If you live in the area, just ‘wiz’ on down the road to The Catty Shack Ranch Wildlife Sanctuary for the up-close adventure of a  Friday night feeding. You’ll support a worthwhile cause and as Tony the Tiger would say, “It’s grrrrrreat.”

Telephone 904 757-3603


I Love Paris…and a room with a view

Debi in Paris, 2009

I love Paris and have the urge to sing that famous song while there. But, truthfully I stifle myself. Anyone who knows me can attest, I have the worse voice in the universe.

So here I was, strolling down the streets of Paris humming until my daughter protested, “Stop, Mom.”

But I continued; I was the child, the one filled with glee. Chock it up to lack of sleep from the flight, my joy of actually being in Europe or simply the magic that is Paris?

Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais
Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais

We arrived via an overnight plane from Boston, connecting to Paris through Heathrow. A taxi took us to our little boutique hotel, Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais, in the afternoon.

We stepped in the hotel’s small lobby dominated by (what I learned later) a rare 1792 piano-forte. Candles and chandeliers created the charm of a private home, circa Mozart. The English speaking staff welcomed and assisted us with luggage. And “yes,” they assured us, the hotel offers free WiFi.

Our hotel room
Our hotel room

We took the elevator up to our room on the third floor- twin beds draped in white spreads, a desk or make-up area and by European standards a large, shiny, modern bathroom with a shower/tub and decorative tile. White hand towels were fresh and emblazed with the hotel logo.

Room with a View
The View from my room in Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais

Best part of our room was the window with a view, which I immediately popped open, stuck my head out and took this snapshot. I saw shops and a multitude of restaurants and cafes, including many ethnic varieties. Mmm. Was that croissants I smelled?

After a short rest and we took off, happy to discover Caron de Beaumarchais was only two blocks from the Seine. The city sizzled, not from the heat but with activity. A Sunday afternoon crowd included couples smooching, tourists checking guide books, booksellers standing by their wares and artists at work. Numerous roller skaters zoomed by, not many joggers; perhaps they are more abundant in the early morning hours. How romantic I thought; even if your spouse or love is missing, this city is enchanting.

The sidewalks along the river felt comfortable because they looked familiar; I’ve experienced Paris so often through movies, TV shows and books. I pinched myself; the sights, sounds and smells were everything I wanted them to be.

Laura and I crossed a bridge heading for Notre Dame. We entered through the arched doorway framed by statuesque columns of saints and found the unexpected—a prayer service in progress. To think a historic cathedral over 850 years old was still in use. I liked that.

Mass Celebration in Notre Dame
Mass Celebration in Notre Dame
Notre Dame Saints
Notre Dame Saints

We spied a little diorama showing the medieval construction methods used to build the church. The exhibit of tiny workers, oxen, ropes and pulleys should not be missed if you’re traveling with children.

Sunlight poked through the famous Rose window (stained glass) and outside,the gargoyles kept watch as they have for centuries. We didn’t have time to wait in the queue of tourists snaking round the corner. They were ready to climb to the top of belltower, however, Laura and I moved along feeling the city under our feet.

Laura loves Paris, 2009

We crossed back over the river on a different bridge and were astounded by the hundreds, and I do mean hundreds, of policemen dressed in SWAT gear. What in the world was happening? A major demonstration planned?

No. Later it was explained that the date, June 21st, is the longest day of the year and is celebrated as a city-wide Music Fete.

Lisa, an American friend who lives in Paris met us at our hotel. She navigated the subway, getting off at the Louvre. We dined with abandon at the fashionable Le Cafe Marley overlooking the Louve’s Pyramid and courtyard. (See my restaurant review at my food blog: www.bylanderseafood.blogspot.com .)

View of the Louvre Pyramid
Glass Pyramid in the Louvre Courtyard--Paris

To start, we tasted a traditional French appertif- Kir Royale (champagne and cream de cassis.) I was so taken with the location I cannot remember what type of fish I ate. However, I can remember dessert. Laura and I indulged in a chocolate lava cake- oozing a molten center and Lisa chose a raspberry macaroon.

Carr0usel Triumphal Arch
Carr0usel Triumphal Arch

We strolled past the Pyramid, through the gardens, an arch and into Place de la Concorde. We continued up the Champs Elysees all the way to the Arch de Triumph to catch a glimpse of the Eiffel Tower. On the stroke of 11:00 PM, it light up like a huge sparkler, a burst of energy in the distance. We oohed and aahed but feeling totally exhausted, caught a cab.

However, the taxi couldn’t get us close to our hotel because of the massive street party. Fortunately, I recognized the shops we passed on our ride from the airport and maneuvered through the fete back to our hotel. We squeezed through crowds like New Orleans during Mardi Gras. I hugged Laura and my camera close, but the Parisians were a happy crowd.

Eiffel Tower at night

Needless to say our little room with a view no longer remained a quiet retreat. All those cafes were now rowdy with revelers. We were so tired we fell asleep despite the boisterous noise out the window. Funny, but when the crowd dispersed around twoin the morning, I woke up to the silence. Oh, how I love Paris.


I chose Hotel Caron de Beaumarchais on the recommendation of The Provence Post (a wonderful blog) and paid for my own room.

The Spirit of Mardis Gras ~ New Orleans 2009

Krewe of Zulu
Krewe of Zulu member displays coconut "throws"

“Throw me some beads, mister,” is the cry heard all along parade routes, except at the Zulu promenade, where tradition calls for coconuts to be given away.

New Orleans embraces joie de vivre at Mardi Gras ; a jolly spirit like the reformed Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning.  Strangers are friendly; they hand out small tokens; passersby smile and speak to one another.

Should that be unusual?  Well no, but sadly, most city streets don’t feel that way.

In New Orleans, folks wear outfits or masks on Fat Tuesday, which helps create a lighthearted mood.  They hang glitzy wreaths of purple, green and gold.  But unlike Christmas, Mardi Gras plays to a soundtrack of rhythm and blues, and is celebrated outdoors. The air smells from the pulse of the crowd, of hot dogs, beer and alcohol.

No one tossed me a coconut at the Zulu parade, but I caught lots of beads and gave most away. I dressed as Cruella DeVil ; my friend as a Dalmatian.  Revelers stopped us to take our picture.

Bourbon Street Awards Contestant
Bourbon Street Awards contestant

We gawked and laughed along with the participants in the obstreperous Bourbon Street Awards : a flamboyant drag-queen contest that, honey, is just something else.

At breakfast, I stuffed myself on waffles; ate a shrimp po’boy (sandwich) for lunch in a hole-in-the-wall cafe. Dog and I drank wine as we threw beads from a balcony over hanging the street.

In Louisiana, Fat Tuesday is a legal holiday, a date celebrated with abandon; one I look forward to annually.  Thankfully, the ghost of Katrina has faded. As Tiny Tim might say, “God bless Mardi Gras, every one.”

Mardi Gras Costumes--Dalmation Puppy and Cruella DeVil
Mardi Gras Costumes--Dalmation Puppy and Cruella DeVil