We spent spring break in Louisiana. My brother got married to a woman who was born and raised near Shreveport (Northern LA), so that’s where the wedding was this past weekend. First, we flew in to Southern LA to see New Orleans and the farming culture nearby. Tom and I (and the kids, of course) had never been there; my parents, who had, not only came with us but treated us to the entire trip. We had a fabulous time.
My favorite thing about New Orleans might have been the architecture. Such beautiful buildings with delicate iron work and lots of greenery. We also really appreciated the music culture. It’s hard to find all-ages shows, even on Frenchmen’s Street, but we were able to go to Preservation Hall and see the All-Stars which was really something. We ate some good food in New Orleans as well - fish, and shrimp, and crawfish, and oysters the size of my palm, sweet as butter. Grits, rice, sausage, beans, gumbo, and even some things like alligator, smoked rabbit, and goats-head cheese were also enjoyed. The kids tried beignets and liked them. Bread pudding also seemed to be a highlight.
We also really enjoyed the Presbytere, a museum attached to St. Louis Cathedral in the French Quarter. They had a floor devoted to Katrina, and I think we all learned a lot. We spent a dollar to ride the ferry across the river to Algiers and get a beer. We spent $2 to ride the trolley to the Garden District and walk around Lafayette Cemetery as well as peer at the big houses. We spent our nights in an airbnb on the edge of the Garden District, and enjoyed French Truck Coffee every morning.
We didn’t much like all the people drinking, and all the tourists (which, of course, we were too), or the hucksters near the river, or the smell of urine and other unknown things, so I can’t say we were 100% charmed. It’s a lot like San Francisco in that way - there are parts that are so wonderful, and parts that are so seedy. I guess it might be like that in all big cities.
We left New Orleans and traveled west to the Whitney Plantation. Whitney is the only plantation dedicated to the slave experience. The ‘big house’ is original, as are the slave quarters and the outdoor kitchen. There are three specific memorial areas on the grounds with the names of slaves and some of their quotes. There are art installations all over the property; the one I found most affective was the statues of slave children dotting the plantation - sitting on the porch of a slave cabin, standing by the water, or a whole host of them inside the chapel.
The live oak trees that dotted the walks of the plantations were just extraordinary. You can image how cool it would be under this canopy on a hot summer day. Speaking of, we had cool temperatures, but a lot of humidity - more about that later.
We left the Whitney and traveled to the Nottoway Plantation, which celebrated the other side of plantation life - that of the owners of these grand old houses and the land that surrounds them. Nottoway was a sugar cane plantation, as were most of these extremely southern farms (though originally indigo; they switched to sugar cane in the mid-1700’s). It was sobering to remember that everything this family had and owned was because of slave labor. None of it would have been possible without that. And so it is a strange experience staying there and enjoying the beauty.
But - it was interesting to stay in such a historical place. Mom and Dad stayed in the mansion proper, in one of the daughter’s rooms; Tom and I stayed in the ‘Boys Wing’ which is where visiting young men would sleep; and Kate and Adam were in the Overseer’s cottage, which isn’t called that at all anymore, thank heavens. The plantation’s front door is maybe a football field away from the levee that holds the Mississippi. It wasn’t originally that close, but the Mississippi is what is called a ‘meander’ river, and has changed course many times. Everywhere we went we saw these levees. It is unnerving, to say the least. Also the river is quite full right now, dealing with the remains of what is happening upstream in the center of the plains.
While at Nottoway, we experienced our first extreme thunderstorm. Well, to us it was extreme, I don’t know if it was to the people who live here. We don’t get thunderstorms in the Bay Area, so it was delightful to sit out on the front porch (in rocking chairs, natch) and watch the show. However, this same storm changed our plans the following morning. We were to have a boat tour with a naturalist through the nearby swamp, Atchafalaya. He waited until the last possible moment to cancel. He said he could take us in rain, but not in lightening. This was a hard blow for me, because I really wanted to see the Bald Cypress trees (now protected) and all the swamp biology. But, of course, better safe than sorry. Instead of touring in a boat, we got back in our car and headed north for Shreveport.
Niki (my brother’s wife) grew up in a small town on the northern border called Springhill. We spent three days there, visiting with both our own extended family and Niki’s. We had some great meals, including a surprise 10-course dinner at a local place. We watched Stewart and Niki get married in a tiny church, the same one Niki grew up attending. And we had gumbo and rice and fried catfish at the reception, which was held in a tent in Niki’s folks’ back yard. It stormed the entire time, and despite everyone’s wet shoes, we had a glorious time. I am not going to share pictures of the occasion here because they are not mine to share!
On the way home, we were delayed in Shreveport because of storms, and again in Houston for a series of thunderstorms which were quite dramatic. All told, we were delayed about 7 hours, but we arrived home to the Bay Area late last night. As we flew over the Sierra Nevada, Adam took this picture:
No drought for us this year.
Louisiana is an interesting place. The people are super friendly and I, with my voice-over background, wanted to just sit and listen to all of them talk - they have such a lovely way of speaking. We were underdressed in nearly every restaurant we went in. Casual California does not fly in the south. We were astounded by the amount of water in the state, and by the water table that is nearly level with the top of the soil. Water was everywhere, either in swamps, or lakes, or rivers. Often the land was covered by mist - 100% humidity all the way through the air. The woods were delightful to look at, all along the roads, filled with flowering dogwood. Picturesque farms with horses dotting the unbelievably enormous lawns. Wildflowers blooming everywhere on the sides of the roads. Really lovely countryside. But also poverty - lots of economically depressed areas. Churches on every corner. Lots of fast food (and the portions everywhere we went, gargantuan). Burn piles in yards. Rust and decay. Closed businesses. It’s good to get out of our little ‘tech bubble’ and see the truth of a lot of people’s lives.
I arrived home to true spring.
I vowed not to do a lick of homework. Instead I rushed through cleaning and laundry and trips to the store so that I could wander around in the garden and check out the changes.
My new asparagus crowns arrived while we were away, so before going to bed last night, I took them out of their box and soaked them in water. Today I planted them in the bed we had prepared for them. Luckily a neighbor had some extra soil leftover from a project, and I collected two wheelbarrows full to cover them. In three years, we’ll eat well.
Oh, I forgot to mention that our bees swarmed the first day we were gone. Another neighbor was nice enough to call us and let us know. Apparently they ended up super high in our pepper tree, so nobody could have reached them anyway.
It’s still not over 50 at night consistently, so I won’t be planting the tomatoes or peppers anytime soon. But there’s plenty of work to do in the meantime, getting ready for them. The great spring workload is just beginning.