Saturday, December 5, 2009

ROAD TRIP: Louisiana Vagabond

One reason I knew why Mike and I should get married was our hands. Whenever our hands are in close proximity to each other, they end up holding. We're like magnets. I really love that.

The above photo was snapped in May of 2008 on our trip to Seaside to celebrate our anniversary. See? Proof.

So when he called me at 6 Wednesday night on his way home from work with the words, "Do you want to go to New Orleans tomorrow?" of course I was thrilled. A plant down there was having some trouble and wanted Mike's help.

Never a dull moment.

Do you have any idea how incredibly proud I am of this man? A NUCLEAR POWER PLANT in New Orleans wanted MY HUSBAND'S help! I swear I married James Bond. Wish I could bottle that feeling and show him how absolutely cool I think he is.

So we ran around the house Wednesday night, throwing clothes in bags (had no idea how long we would be down there or where we would be staying) and making arrangements for the animals (thank you Mom and Missy!) and left the house around 5:30 Thursday morning. Dropped Dante off at Mom's house and dropped Mike off at the plant in New Orleans by 9:02.

..... and then I was free!

Wow. What to do, what do to. By myself. In New Orleans. It's a pretty big place with lots of fun to be had there. The French Quarter? St. Charles? The Riverwalk? Maybe I should call Brandi or Matt and see if either is available for lunch. But it was Thursday, so I knew they would be busy with work. I had neither an iphone nor GPS nor any sort of internet access, so I decided to go old school.

Equipped with a 9mm, a credit card, a street map, and my own wits, I set out for an adventure.

I mean really, what else does a Mississippi girl need?

...Ok, I had a lipstick too.

On my way to adventure on Route 3127 (I have a sneaky suspicion LA roads were named under the Creole system, so I never figured them out but somehow managed to never take a wrong turn), I called Mom to let her know we'd arrived safely. She told me I should check out the plantations on the River Road. She told me of gorgeous mansions with names like Oak Alley and Bocage and Nottoway and Houmas House (which I had visited when I was 6 when my parents and I took a cruise on the Mississippi Queen). I said I'd think about it but would probably head toward the FQ: I wanted to check out the new designs at Mignon Faget and the antiques dealers on Royal. As soon as I hung up, I looked up and saw a sign that read, "Plantations Exit 6." So here I went!

The first plantation I came upon was Ormond. It was closed. So I took a photo of the dining room through the window and moved on in my search for more intrigue.

I stopped at the Shell Station on 44 and announced, "Hi, I'm from Mississippi, and I'm lost. Can anyone please point me toward the nearest open plantation?" A nice customer pointed me towards Destrehan, "just a piece down the road on your left," because only a levee and the River were on my right. He told me to ask for his neighbor, Patty.

Have I mentioned how much I love the South?

This is the back of the Destrehan plantation. Built in 1787, it claims to be the oldest plantation on the River Road, so I figured it was a good place to start. The barrel with the red top on the far left is a cistern used for collecting rainwater. The large bowl in the bottom left is a kettle that was used to cook down the sugar cane to molasses.

In many plantation homes, the bricks were made of bousillage. A Creole word meaning "big mess," bousillage is a mixture of moss, horse hair, clay, river water, and mud that is formed into a loaf and stacked or hung between cypress posts that formed the skeleton of the house to create walls and to provide great insulation.

I'd love to have a dog named Bousillage.

Destrehan's "new" kitchen. We've come a long way, Baby.

At Destrehan, Patty set me up with a little map of the best-known Louisiana River Road plantations, so I set off into the wild blue yonder to see what else there was to see.

I felt very much at home on the back highway roads: they have so much more soul than the Interstate. The flat, low land felt like the Delta with one exception: instead of cotton crops, the fields were full of sugar cane. It is so humid down there that cotton will rot in the boll before it can be harvested, but sugar cane thrives here. I passed a cane processing plant and smelled the delicious taste you experience when you have the opportunity to chew a piece of stalk.

I have a good sense of direction, but I confirmed it with Hurricane Evacuation Route signs: if I could see the front of them, then I was heading North. The river was my guide.

Presently the cane fields opened up, and I first passed St. Joseph on the left. Poor St. Joseph. It is rather newly opened to the public, but just after passing it, you are confronted with the majesty of Oak Alley, and all thoughts of St. Joesph are kind of swept away. Maybe I'll go back and visit St. J. next time Mike has to fix the plant.

Oak Alley's grounds are lovely. When Mike saw it on Friday, he even said, "Well that's impressive," the same phrase he used for St. Vitus' cathedral in Prague. The two rows of 28 oaks on the front of the house are 300 years old, while the ones at the back of the house, the "baby oaks," are about 150, I believe. A quick lunch at the deli was perfect. Next I took the historical tour through the house and enjoyed seeing family life from 200 years ago.

I was on the house tour on the second-story porch on the left side of the above photo, the East side of the house. The guide was telling us about how the bricks inside the columns are pie-shaped (something I knew from doing tours at Rosalie), and somebody below rang the original plantation bell, signifying the beginning of another tour. When that bell rang, somebody pulled my hair. So much so that the ponytail holder moved a couple of inches, and I knew I would have to re-do it. I turned rather angrily to confront the damn Yankee who would do such a thing.

And there was nobody there.

Um. .... .... OK... Huh.

Toward the end of the tour, the guide told us to pick up a pamphlet that listed the different movies and TV shows that had been filmed at Oak Alley. I wasn't surprised at Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte or Interview With the Vampire, but my jaw dropped to the floor when, toward the bottom of the list (denoting the most recently filmed) was one of my favorite shows, GHOST HUNTERS from the Sci Fi channel!


I'm not even going to tell you how I felt a warm touch on the back of my left hand on a 49-degree day when walking through the live oaks. Check out the other ghost stories.

I considered reporting my pulled hair, but I figured I would just be another crazy in the long list of people having been molested by ghosts, so in an uncharacteristic move, I decided to keep my big fat mouth shut.

But when I picked Mike up from the plant 6 hours later and he asked me what I did today, I responded with, "I had my hair pulled by a ghost. How about you?"

My final stop before heading back to pick Mike up was the farthest out but the most worth it. She is the biggest belle of the ball, Nottoway.


Wow what a house. The little domed indentation at the front center is where Thomas the footman would stand when company from the river was expected. He would guide ladies up the left staircase and gentlemen up the right side so there was no risk of something so gauche as the ladies' ankles being exposed to the gentlemen. So glad I don't live in that time.

This photo was taken from the second story of Nottoway. Can you see the strip of the Mississippi River? The land on the opposite side looks like the opposing bank, but it is not. It is actually an island that was formed by the levee first created by slaves more than 200 years ago when the house was constructed. The river changed its course and with it took more than 6.5 acres of Nottoway's front lawn.
But the rest of Nottoway's grounds are still truly beautiful. It is a bed & breakfast, restaurant, and popular wedding venue, and I can see why. The iris pond with the family cemetery in the distance, the formal gardens, and of course the ancient live oaks provide a gorgeous backdrop.

As Nottoway is a winding-more-than-an-hour's-drive north of Mike's location (it's actually closer to Baton Rouge than NOLA), I headed back to the plant to pick up Mike and receive the news that work was putting us up for the night.

This post is too long already, so I'll publish and start another one with Friday's adventures.

Stay tuned for Part 2.


L said...

Loved your report of the Plantation homes. Sounds like you had a great time solo. I went on a tour once that explained the dual staircase with the part about how the gentlemen wouldn't see a lady's ankle, but they added that a nice gentleman would slowly walk up his side of the steps. A different kind would rush up the steps to greet his lady friend...just think of the wonders a corset can do for certain endowments & what an eye full a guy could get from a high perch. Scandalous! ;-)

Crazy about the ghost pulling your hair. :-)


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