Sue and I ventured on a trip to New Orleans in October last year (2017.) We actually just happened upon it rather than planning an actual trip to this city. You see, we wanted to use Aeroplan points and it was a last minute decision. We couldn’t get a seat on a flight with Aeroplan points to any of the other cities I had typed in. New York, nope. Chicago, nope. San Fransisco, nope. San Antonio, nope. New Orleans, yep. And yes, it was as simple as that! The decision was made. It did offer some things that I had always wanted to see, a kind of bucket list item for both Sue and I, to see the bayou up close and personal. As I researched, I realized how much of a gem I had actually chosen. We were going there the week before Halloween, their Day of the Dead celebration, which is second in attendance only to Mardi Gras. I became just as excited about this as I was about seeing and exploring the bayou. But it didn’t end there. It is a city richly steeped in architecture, voodoo, ghost stories and artists and all types of creatives. And we must not forget the plantations and their history of slavery, so different than in Canada, that gives rise to so many race tensions in their country. But I had grown up with images of Tara from Gone with the Wind and I wanted to see it. By the time our trip came, I was very excited.
We arrived on Tuesday evening around 11:00 PM to our hotel. What I didn’t know, was that I had booked us into a hotel, that would be akin to staying right at the corner of Church and Wellesley Streets during the week of Pride. At 11:00 PM, the roads were closed to vehicular traffic and there was music blasting on the streets and performers leaping forward and backwards in the air. The area was just packed with people. Well, at least it was not that initial hotel I had booked us into. I read online that it was THE most haunted place in all New Orleans. Hence, I had quickly booked this one as an alternative without a lot of forethought. I wanted to be ‘in the middle of it’ and this seemed to offer that, in a bigger way than I would know! As we booked in, we asked what the celebration was and were told, “Oh, that’s just normal for a Tuesday night,” to which Sue and I both wondered what it would be like on a weekend! As we entered our room, we noticed packages of ear plugs on the night stand. Sue said. ‘Oh look, how nice. Something different here for their visitors.” Silly us. It wasn’t till about 2:00 in the morning that we realized they weren’t being as nice, as they were practical, as the energy ramped up out in the streets. I was beginning to wonder if we had just landed in hell as I finally put the ear plugs in and fell asleep exhausted.
The morning brought quiet and silence in the awakening city as we wandered around looking for a place for breakfast. I like spicy food and Sue had spent three years in Texas so we both had an appreciation for the deep south spices, fish and deep fried everything. The one place we diverged was over grits. I loved them. Whether done with eggs, smothered in cheese or just a dash of apple sauce added, I had them for my traditional southern breakfast every day. Sue, however, hates them.
We were in NOLA during the beginning of their winter so the days and nights were in the 80’s and 70’s. Apparently a little cold for all the inhabitants in the bayou, so we were told we might not see them so plentiful. Wanting an up close and personal experience, we rented a small five person outboard motor tour. It proved to have been the best of decisions as the driver, looking much like one of those swamp people from the show of the same name, navigated towards the deeper parts of the bayou where bigger boats can’t go. “Do you want to go deeper, but with some bumps along the way?” he asked. Are you kidding I thought? Of course! And so we went, up and over this log and that, hanging onto the sides as the boat tilted at precarious angles as we traveled deeper and deeper. The trees were just laden with Spanish and Resurrection moss, dried up mostly for this time of year and lack of rain for a few days, giving it a more shriveled and brown colour. There were crocodiles, and lots of them. Some swam towards us and others away. But as we traversed this area, most of us silent, just taking it all in, I was hit with the sheer terror of it. I can’t imagine, being a slave in this area back in the days and being so desperate as to trying to escape the only way they could, through these swamps in the middle of the night. Horrifying, was all I could think! However, this excursion was one of the many highlights of our trip and it met and exceeded both our expectations. Check one off that bucket list!
Then it was on to Tara, or what looks exactly like Tara from Gone with the Wind, although they tell everyone it is not Tara. But I don’t care what they say, I can almost see Vivien Leigh, standing under one of these old oak trees with Tara in the background, as she declares “After all, tomorrow is a another day” as the credits roll across the screen.
But alas, this is Oak Alley plantation, built in 1839. It has been named this for the twenty-eight oak trees that line the quarter mile driveway. They say the trees, covered in hanging green moss, are 300 years old. As we walked around the grounds and into the house, I was taken back into the film of Gone with the Wind. That romanticism was broken with the harsh reality of the slaves quarters further onto the property, where there were lists of the slaves that were ’owned’ and those that were up for purchase and their ‘price ‘ listed. But I was to further find out that there were such things as ‘free slaves,’ those whom freedom had been given, bought or traded. We visited one such plantation, Laura which was a Creole owned Plantation. Creole is a name for the native born in Louisiana. This plantation, started in the late 1700’s, thrived as a sugar plantation through the 1800’s until 1977. It was worked by both slaves and freemen. It was the birth of the stories of Br’er Rabbit and Br’er Fox. Through these tours, I became enchanted by the romanticism, shocked by the reality, and ever cognizant of the bayou that lay beyond those lands that the desperate would need to navigate to escape the hell of being owned by another human being. What a very sobering history lesson this trip was. And check one more off that bucket list!
And we still had eight days left to explore this wonderful city and it’s treasures …..