Mike & Joyces Travel logs

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Places visited: New Orleans, Barataria and Plantations along River Road

Thursday, November 2 2000.
Joyce has us scheduled on a two hour Grey Line bus tour of New Orleans
beginning at 10:00. The tour guide was excellent. He pointed out the
school he had to graduate from in order to be a tour guide in New

One very picturesque yet interestingly strange stop on the tour was
St. Louis Cemetery a typical turn of the century Catholic cemetery, in
southern Louisiana. It is an old cemetery, dating from the mid
1800's, but bodies continued to be added to the vaults, more on this
practice later. Southern Louisiana cemeteries are strikingly
different from the green lawns, trees and the granite and marble
monuments of conventional cemeteries in other parts of the country.
The land is so low, at or just above sea level, the normal burial hole
will fill with water and the casket will float. Even Cement tombs
will float. To obviate this problem the coffin is laid upon the
surface of the ground, and a strong structure of brick built around
it. This is then plastered and whitewashed. These tombs were made of
brick because there is no natural stone near New Orleans and the least
expensive permanent building material at hand was the soft red
brick-burned in local brickyards. To preserve the brickwork it was
necessary to use plaster and whitewash; some marble, imported at
considerable expense, was employed, mainly for nameplates and tablets.
In some vaults there are several bodies, and in others only one.
These above ground tombs resemble little windowless houses, built
close together, row on row, giving the effect of a city of small
dimension. Grass and trees so common in traditional cemeteries is
virtually non-existent here. On one side of the cemetery there is a
wall of catacombs the entire length of the cemetery, like the cells of
a honeycomb, in which the coffin is placed, and the mouth closed with
a stone containing an inscription. These cells were purchased for
various lengths of time varying from 1 to 10 years and some were owned
in perpetuity. If you do not understand how it is possible to
purchase a vault for "less than eternity" read on I will explain.
These wall vaults were less expensive. Many are in a state of
picturesque dilapidation, the lower rows having sunk into the soft
earth to such a degree that it is not possible to open them. That is
not to imply that many of the other tombs are not in disrepair also.

The Creole (a person of mixed French or Spanish and black descent
speaking a dialect of French or Spanish) custom of using a single
vault for a number of entombments is one that really fascinates me.
As the occasion requires, the remains of the last occupant of the
vault are gathered and pushed to the back of the vault, the decayed
casket wood being removed and burned; the vault is then ready to
receive another body. In the private tombs, which generally consist
of two vaults, one above the other, and a pit (caveau) or receptacle
below, bodies are removed from the upper vaults and consigned to the
receptacle to make room for further occupancy on the occasion of
subsequent funerals. Thus a small, two-vault family tomb is used many
times for the interment of several generations of its owners, a very
practical and relatively inexpensive arrangement. The biblical "ashes
to ashes and dust to dust" appears to apply here. They say after a
few years the remains decompose and can be "pushed to the back of the
vault" or the (caveau) thus making room for the next family member.
Tour guides tell their charges that these above ground vaults get very
hot in the summer months reaching temperatures in excess of 300
degrees during the day. They say that when they open the vault after
a year or so that there was less than a soup bowl of remains inside of
the decayed wooden casket. Now you know how the same vault can be
used more than one time. It just takes a few years and the vault is
ready to be used again. If there was a real tragedy and you needed to
inter a body before the current occupant had time to decay the family
had to rent one of the vaults in the wall until such time as your
remains could be interred in the family grave.

We noticed a number of "society" tombs-multiple vaults built by
mutual benefit groups for their members. Some of these are built five
or more tiers high and may occupy several lots. These "society" tombs
inter many, many bodies, especially with the practice of pushing the
decomposed body into the (caveau). Modern day "society" groups might
be the American Legion, Moose and Elks, the ones we saw were Italian
immigrants, Spanish immigrants, firemen, and several we could not make
out because the inscriptions were not clear.

November first was All Saints' Day. Remember that today is November
the second. Each year prior to All Saints' Day the cemeteries hum
with activity, so much activity in fact, that tour groups are
prohibited during the days leading up to All Saints' Day. The grass is
cut; Tombs are patched and freshly whitewashed. Vases of marble, of
glass and even bottles are brought. Thousands and thousands of
chrysanthemums are brought to the cemeteries and reverently placed at
the tombs. From morning to late afternoon the cemeteries are thronged
and by nightfall become huge bowers of flowers. Here we are visiting
St. Louis Cemetery the day after All Saint's Day. I guess you can say
we they prepared the place for our visit.

We had a delectable lunch at Café Maspeiro, 601 rue Decatur, across
the street from Jax Brewery. Everything was good; the $1.00
strawberry daiquiri was great.

We rode the St. Charles street Trolley to the end and returned viewing
the garden district, parks, homes and universities along the route.
This trolley ride is one both of us enjoy when we visit New Orleans.

Joyce booked us on the 7:00 dinner cruise aboard the steam ship
Natchez. This was a fun outing complete with a New Orleans Jazz band.
Mike enjoyed a tour of the engine room where the 100 year-old steam
engine was chugging away. What a magnificent piece of machinery, it
is so intriguing.

Friday, November 3, 2000. We slept late then headed to New Orleans
via the free ferry that transports passengers between Algiers on the
"west bank" and the foot of Canal street in New Orleans.

The day was spent wandering around the French Quarter area viewing St.
Louis Cathedral, Jackson Square, and a myriad of other charming
buildings mostly constructed in the mid 1800's. I took a picture of
Joyce outside of the Court of Two Sisters an upscale restaurant 537
Royal Street. The Court of Two Sisters is significant in that my
parents ate there on their honeymoon 55 years ago. We were trying to
concentrate on the history that has been preserved in the French
Quarter; however, it is hard to overlook the homeless and teens that
have obviously completely dropped out of normal society. I honestly
do not know how people can wear clothes that filthy, how they can not
wash or comb their hair, or how a teen age girl could shave her head
and have a spider and its web tattooed on her skull. A few hours in
the French Quarter and you will witness every variety of degenerate
imaginable. With that said there are thousands of normal tourists
walking around having a good time.

Around 7:00 we head to the ferry for our ride back to the RV Park.
The view of the New Orleans waterfront from the west bank, at night,
is beautiful. We have enjoyed this view every night on our way back
to the RV. We keep asking ourselves, does it get any better than
this? The answer after a smidgen of thought is yes, probably in five
months when I retire. Then we can do this every day.

New Orleans lifeline is the Mississippi River, which in its meandering
way makes a big "crescent" shape thus, the name "Crescent City".
Along the riverfront the river is approximately one half mile across
and is in excess of 200 feet deep at mid-stream and 30 to 60 feet
along the bank. The Port of New Orleans has ranked as high as the
second busiest in the world. Tonnage today is concentrated in crude
oil being transported to refineries along the river and grain being
transported downriver on barges then transferred to freighters for
export over sees. Oddly enough, a tour guide said that a large
quantity of grain export was headed to Russia.

Saturday, November 4, 2000. We get up early and head to the ferry, we
want to eat breakfast at "Mothers" a famous eatery in New Orleans. As
luck would have it we missed the ferry by about 1 minute and had to
wait for 30 minutes for the next one. That was ok since we had
started early and did not have to be the starting point for our Gray
Line walking tour until 10:00. We get off the ferry and head to
Mothers only to find a 30-minute line outside the door. We decide to
do breakfast at Orleans Café on the corner of Decatur and Iberville.
Then it was off to our scheduled walking tour of the Garden District.

As always Gray Line provides a superb tour guide. The Garden District
of New Orleans is located across Canal Street from the French Quarter.
In the 1700's and 1800's the French and Americans were not getting
along well especially those settling along the Mississippi River. To
say the two nationalities eschewed each other would be an
understatement. Canal Street separated them. However, since they had
to do business with each other it was conducted in the neutral zone or
"the median" of Canal Street. New Orleans does not have medians; they
have "neutral zones". These neutral zones throughout the Crescent
City date back to those times.

Louisiana is a dichotomy. Let me explain. They have laws prohibiting
gambling, however, "gaming" is ok supposedly by an act of the
legislature. They "game" in Harrah's. Harrah's purportedly has the
largest casino, in the South, at the foot of Canal Street. It is also
against the law to drink and drive but they have businesses called
"daiquiri drive thrus" complete with neon signs and drive up windows
serving margaritas, pina colatas and daiquiris in styrofoam cups. Go
figure! This is Louisiana! Laissez les bon temps rouler! (Let the
good times roll).

Back to the Garden District tour. It is on the English side of Canal
Street so we are in the "American District" that is entirely my term.
There are blocks and blocks of 6000 to 12000 square foot homes many
sporting ceilings as high as 18 feet. Each has it's own unique
architectural design while striving to be more opulent more
ostentatious than the other. Most were true to some form of
architectural design while others were strangely eclectic. I suppose
you could refer to these structures as handsome nineteenth-century
villas, Greek Revival mansions and raised cottages surrounded by
magnolias and ancient live oaks. Some residences in the Garden
District are Antebellum (pre Civil War) others were built after the
War. This is a lovely area, with lush landscaping and extravagant
gardens dotted with statuary and fountains. It makes a perfect place
to stroll around admiring the ornamental iron fences with their
geometric and plant motifs, or you could, like me, just ogle the
ostentatious residences. This area earned the moniker Garden District
because of the flower gardens planted by residents. The Garden
District is directly across the Mississippi river from Gretna. Gretna
was the end of the trail for cattle moved to the River for shipment
from as far away as Texas. We all know what stockyards smell like.
This odor would drift across the river. Thus flower gardens were
planted by the, newly rich, Americans to mask the smell.

I was surprised to find the French Consulates lavish home smack in the
middle of the Garden District. Is this a blatant enigma or what? To
tell the truth I can see why he would not want to live "on the French

The Americans had to do everything that the French did. The English
built a park on their side of Canal Street to rival Jackson Square in
the French Quarter. The English named theirs Lafayette Square after
Lafayette (a Frenchman) while the French named their park Jackson
Square after an Englishman. And these were people that did not like
each other! Go figure! The English constructed St. Patrick's Church
to have an equal to the French St. Louis Cathedral. Both of these
structures are truly magnificent architecturally significant,

I have got to talk a little about GUMBO and OKRA since our docent for
today told us how okra seeds were transported to America from Africa.
First, the term gumbo comes from the African "Gombo" meaning okra.
Gumbo is a soup served either as an appetizer or main course (over
rice). File (fee'-lay'), a powdered sassafras leaf, is often
substituted for okra as a thickening agent. Hence, one has either
okra or file gumbo. Other variations depend on the meat additive:
ham, chicken turkey, duck, sausage, shrimp, oysters, and crabs.
Hundreds of restaurants prepare their own "secret" recipe for this
magical dish. Once gumbo has touched your lips you will be hooked for
life. Back to how the okra seed was brought to America. When the
slave traders were over in Africa rounding up "slaves" to be brought
over here they were not asking them to pack up for a cruise, if you
get my drift. They came with what they had on when they were
abducted. The women that were abducted had pierced ears much like
ladies do today. However, the holes in their ears were a tad bit
larger to accept the larger trinkets they adorned their ears with.
When the "earrings" were not in their ears the women would place okra
seeds into the holes to keep them from closing. Now you know how okra
was transported to America. I for one am deeply grateful for the
women bringing okra to America. I dearly love Joyce's fried okra.
Did I mention that Joyce and I make a simply wonderful chicken &
sausage gumbo? It is a LOT of work, especially making the roux, but oh
so good.

Joyce and I found a sports bar in the River Walk Hilton where we could
watch the FSU vs. Clemson football game. It lasted from 6:30 until
10:00, actually that is how long it was on TV, the game was over much
sooner. I had to say that for the benefit of friends and family that
are big time Clemson fans. They know that FSU has to travel to
Clemson and play them in Death Valley next year. The way Tommy Bowden
is bringing along those "tigers" I will be happy to escape Death
Valley next year. But that is a year away. This year's bragging
rights belong with Pappa 'Bowden and FSU.

Sunday, November 05, 2000. We sleep late since we did not get back to
the motorhome until late last night. Our plans were to do a variety
of things but had so much fun early in the day that we altered our
plans and went with the flow. Our first stop of the day was Barataria
Preserve. Barataria Preserve is one of four units comprising Jean
Lafitte National Historical Park and Preserve. Jean Lafitte is a
unique park within the National Park system. Rather than interpret a
single theme, Jean Lafitte encompasses units which interpret many
diverse but ultimately related themes: the Battle of New Orleans at
Chalmette; (a few miles south of New Orleans) the history and cultural
diversity of Louisiana's Mississippi Delta region and New Orleans in
the French Quarter; and Acadian culture in Lafayette, Thibodaux, and
Eunice. The Barataria Preserve interprets the culture of people, past
and present, which settled the delta and the unique ecosystem, which
sustained them. It preserves a representative example of the delta's
environment, containing natural levee forests, bayous, swamps, and
marshes. Through wild, and teeming with wildlife, this is not a
pristine wilderness. Evidence of prehistoric human settlement,
colonial farming, plantation agriculture, logging, commercial trapping
fishing hunting and oil and gas exploration overlay much of this
former wilderness.

Barataria Preserve has over eight miles of trails; two and one half
are boardwalks over the swamp. This walking tour is better, in my
opinion, than the commercial swamp tours offered at various locations
in the area. One of the boardwalks takes you out into the swamp to a
cypress tree that escaped the logger's saw. It is the oldest and
largest in the area and is possibly over 1000 years old. Much of the
land in this region, west of the Mississippi River, is sinking as a
result of the levee system on the Mississippi. Prior to the
artificial levees the river used to overflow its bank annually and
deposit a new layer of earth. The Mississippi has not been allowed to
overflow its banks in recent memory thus what were once sugar cane
plantations are now large lakes approximately five feet deep. Also,
salt water is encroaching and killing many of the trees and plants
that are not salt tolerant.

As in the other Jean Lafitte parks in the system Barataria housed a
series of exhibits complete with a superb diorama depicting a typical
swamp scene.

Around 2:00 we needed nourishment and started looking for a place to
grab a bite. A mile down the road at the corner of Louisiana 45 and
highway 3134 we found the Bayou Barn, which was advertising a Fais, do
do (having a good time) from 2:00 to 6:00. This piqued our interest.
It seems that they have been having a Fais do do at this location
every Sunday afternoon for years. For $10.00 a head you could eat and
enjoy the band. Of course for a Fais do do there must be a band,
plenty of GOOD food and a dance floor. The Bayou Barn was "the place
to be" on Sunday afternoon. Joyce and I got caught up in the fun and
started dancing. It is so easy to join these fun loving people. I
got to add another Cajun dish to my list of wonderful entrees to try
again. It was alligator sauce "picante". Picante in French means
hot. This was not hot, just delightfully spicy with a slight tomato
base. There are many "sauce piquant" variations such as chicken,
shrimp, sausage, ham, duck the list goes on and on. Anyone visiting
New Orleans on a Sunday afternoon can experience this by taking
highway 90 across the Mississippi to the West Bank then turning south
on LA-45. You will see the Bayou Barn on the corner the second time
LA-45 crosses highway 3134. We hope that you enjoy it as much as we

Did I mention the football game last night? Oh was that fun. It was
almost as much fun as we had today. Tonight we are doing laundry and
writing this travelogue.

Monday, November 6, 2000. We sleep late waiting for the rush hour
traffic, in New Orleans, to subside then head out to tour plantations
on River Road. On the way we ran into heavy rain, so heavy many cars
pulled over to the side of I-10. The rest of us reduced speed to 35
or 40. This heavy rain continued for about half an hour then normal
rain resumed. Upon reaching Vacherie it is 11:30 and the two
Plantations we want to visit both have outdoor attractions we want to
experience. We decide to give the rain time to pass.

Our homework on the Internet and written publications indicated B & C
Cajun Restaurant and Sea Food Market was a "must stop" in Vacherie.
Joyce and I can now add our "AMEN" to those recommendations. This was
a REAL Cajun place, not just a tourist trap. The restaurant featured
all of the traditional Cajun fare. While we were eating they had a
"home made" video playing on an overhead TV. This video featured some
of the local good old boys capturing alligators and turtles. To
capture alligators they use a BIG fishhook baited with fish weighing
about a pound or so. The hook is secured to a heavy line, or small
rope and dangled from a small tree limb about a foot above the water.
The end of the rope is then secured to the trunk of a tree 15 or 20
feet away on the bank. They leave this hanging from the tree and come
back to check on it hours later possibly the next day. This is when
the fun begins. One of those good old boys gets the end of the rope
and starts pulling on it. You and I both know what is on the other
end of the line. Things get wild about this time. Did I mention that
the alligator is not happy about that hook in his mouth and is not
eager to get in the boat with those two idiots? These boys catch
turtles and crawfish also but that is just interesting not exciting
like putting those alligators in the boat. B & C Sea Food Market
comes complete with alligator and turtle cleaning tables. These boys
are for real and had picture albums full of pictures to prove it. We
had a good time in this place until the rain subsided over an hour
later. Did I mention that the seafood market sold turtle and
alligator meat as well as crawfish tails?

I am not going to waste your time and mine recommending which of their
entrees to sample. However, DO NOT dare miss their bread pudding with
rum sauce. Nuff said. J

Less than a mile up highway 18 we stop at Laura, a Creole
Plantation. We were treated to the fascinating world of the Creoles
who, at this one historic site, lived apart from the American
life-style for 200 years. Creole means someone born here with parents
from France, Spain, Africa, or any of the Caribbean Islands. They
were our native sons and daughters. They were Creoles. Laura was
owned by French Creoles and throughout its history was run by a
succession of women. Ruthless women I might add. The guide gave us
an unvarnished account of plantation life. Unlike other plantation
tours where slaves are referred to euphemistically as "servants" (or
not mentioned at all), our guide related some heart-rending stories
about slave life. One story was about how Laura sold the child of one
of the slaves. Upon witnessing the slave mothers wails of grief, one
of the family members, (Laura's brother I think) became upset and used
his own money to purchase the child back so that the mother and child
would not be separated. Another story was about one of the young girls
seeing one of the field slaves up close and realizing that there was a
bad scar on his forehead. She asked him about it and found that he
had run away but been caught and Laura had him branded like cattle.
Then after the Civil War slaves worked on contract for $12 per year
paid annually in December. When payday came they would be told that
they owed more than the $12 dollars for their housing and such. This
and other practices disgusted some of the family members who left
Laura never to return. We were told that much of what they know about
Laura Plantation was from memoirs written by Laura, a granddaughter of
the Plantations namesake, who left the Plantation, in disgust, and
moved north. It seems that upon seeing Gone With The Wind she decided
to document what Plantation life was really like. It is this written
account that gives Laura's tour guides the interesting stories about
slave life.

Laura has a number of Slave Quarters on display as well.

Laura is where Alcee Fortier recorded the West African folktales later
published as Br'er Rabbit stories. We all remember Br'er rabbit and
the Tar Baby don't we? Now you know where the story came from.

Another interesting bit of information concerned the French and
Americans. Remember they do not like each other and wanted everyone
to know which they were. As riverboats plied the river Plantation
houses were displayed in all their glory. The French painted their
houses in bold colors while the Americans painted theirs white.

Oak Alley Plantation was our next stop. This is another ostentatious
residence of a wealthy Creole sugar plantation owner. What
differentiates this Plantation home from others are the 28 live oak
trees leading from the river to the front door a distance of a quarter
mile. An unknown French settler planted the trees in the early
1700's. They were placed 80 feet apart and have formed a magnificent
covered carriageway. The mansion was not built until 1837 over a
hundred years later.

The most interesting thing I remember about this plantation was the
"shoos fly" above the dinner table. The mahogany dinner table was 16
feet in length to give you an idea of its size. The shoos fly was a
heavy cloth arrangement hung across the table from the ceiling. It
operated much like a steeple bell where a rope was attached to it and
discretely routed to a chair in the corner where a slave would keep
the shoo fly in motion thus creating a breeze that kept the flies at
bay during meal time.




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