Louisiana. When we were planning this trip we knew we wanted to include Louisiana. We love New Orleans and wanted to go back and see even more of the state. At some point we realized that given the time we were allowing for travel there was no way we could visit every place on our list, so we started eliminating places we had already seen and New Orleans was cut. But not that lesser known area called "the River Road" where the banks of the Mississippi were once lined with beautiful plantations, built on the backs of slaves. Many of the houses and buildings, and even the fields of sugar cane remain and can be visited. We chose several near the towns of Donaldsonville and Vachery to see and two to tour. It is hard to wrap your mind around so much beauty and such misery coexisting.
The first one we toured was Laura Plantation, a Creole Plantation.
The Creole culture operated a bit differently from the English/American culture, in that women were accorded recognition in the family hierarchies, and in this family four generations of women actually ran the business of the plantation. If you think that might have made for a kinder and gentler approach you would be wrong. Our tour guide did not hesitate to inform us that this was a brutal family of murderous and cruel people and that the life of a slave on this plantation was one of hard labor and harsh punishment. Hard images to hold in my head as I walked through and around this beautiful place.
These are the kitchens—separate from the main house. It was a law in Louisiana at one time because of the danger of fires.
The last woman in the family designated to run the family business left the plantation and never returned. That was Laura and the place now carries her name.
Down the road we visited one of the most intact plantations in the area—Evergreen Plantation. It was also a Creole Plantation, but later in its history classical features were added to the facade and it was painted white to conform more closely to the style of the "American" plantations.
Here's something very interesting. Look at the size of the house, without all that roof and porch and stairways. The house is very small. Furthermore, it is only one room deep! Three very small rooms on each floor. Another interesting feature was a very grand entry gate at the road that the guide said was part of a movie set and we were not allowed to photograph it. This plantation has been used in several movies, including Django Unchained. Here is Evergreen's detached kitchen:
And here's the outhouse, keeping up a grand appearance!
A lot of time was spent on this porch, where cool breezes from the river offered some relief from the heat.
Then we walked out a long pathway under the live oaks, beyond the formal gardens into the slave quarters, where all was quiet.
It could have been a movie set itself and the thought crossed my mind that in the movie we'd be seeing Old Black Joe playing his banjo on the porch with his family gathered around tapping their feet and clapping in time to the happy little tune, as the sun set over the fields of cane. But here there was no echo of banjo music, only silence and a heavy sadness in the knowledge of human slaves living out their lives housed like animals, two families to a cabin. So many. Over so many years.
At Laura Plantation the guide quoted Laura, from a memoir she wrote about living on the plantation, that said something about slavery being not only an unthinkable crime against thousands of humans who were enslaved and viewed as property but that it turned the holders of these slaves into something less than human themselves.
Many of the descendants of the River Road slaves still live in the surrounding area, and it seems a desperately poor and harsh community. Slavery ended a long time ago, but its shadow remains.
A side note: we did a lot of walking on these tours and I noticed these very colorful grasshoppers all over the lawns at Evergreen Plantation. I've never seen grasshoppers like this before. This guy was about the size of my thumb.
Tonight we are in Galveston, Texas, the southernmost point we will visit. It felt wonderful to wade in the warm water of the Gulf this evening. Texas stretches out ahead of us. It seems endless. Ray compared Texas to the Hotel California. You can check in, but you can never leave...