Wednesday, March 31, 2010


This was the scene at the edge of town when I drove into Murphys. Its spring, the daffodils have come and gone? The fruit trees are blooming? What's even worse,  my partner is sitting in Louisiana in 73 degree weather. He isn't called the weather wimp for nothing.
I'm only pretending to complain about the snow. Its pretty stuff and it melted in about two hours. The very best kind of snow in my opinion.

The inside of the house was frigid, as you might imagine when you see my living room ceiling with sheet rock missing. Pounding rains, while I was on the road,  leaked through a faulty flashing and soaked the ceiling until it turned to mush and gave way. My neighbor came in with the mail and luckily discovered it before the damaged ceiling hurt my furniture and flooring. Now, any attempt at heating the house sends heat up through the attic vents. 

 To deaden the shock, my neighbor brought me a bouquet of roses.

An old friend of mine used to say "I can fix anything but the break of day or a broken heart." I have a sweet neighbor and a  pretty smart friend.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


When you know you have to go, when you know you must face life's little realities like taxes and a leak in the roof...the vacation is over.  Home for five weeks and then back to the motor home in a whole new state I've only whisked through before, North Carolina.
Yesterday was the last hurrah, a pass through N'awlins, some  good food and beer; a last little gander at the balconies, the beautiful iron work,  the signs...oh nostalgia.
The oyster shuckers, Ebony and Ivory, their nicknames, neither were working. No oysters until late in the day.
Instead we had a great beer at Crescent City on the balcony and enjoyed the view,  moved on to the Masparro Cafe. A salad so loaded with fresh grated cheese, I thought it was pizza. A jambalaya so loaded with shrimp, I couldn't take a mouthful without a shrimp in every bite. Washed down with a turbo dog. Ahhh! N'awlins  is a great city. ( (I learned the correct pronunciation at the Jean LaFitte National Historic Museum.)

Getting into town was a difficult; several closed streets and parking taken up by Hollywood Trucks. We ran into a movie set. We didn't want to watch and moved on. And, they wouldn't let us park on the sidewalk, can you imagine?

But on our return walk to the parking meter, the Hollywood Trucks were everywhere with snacks for the workers, a honey-wagon, light boxes and equipment literally by the ton. Big picture show stufff.

We asked, what movie and who? Reds the name, with Morgan Freeman and Bruce Willis. Didn't figure we'd see them anyway, but now we can look for the scene in the movie when it comes out. The camera crews were still doing side shots and the gawkers were fun to watch.

This Jean LaFitte National Park was the smallest of the six cultural centers they have in Louisiana. With this one, we've seen them all. I wasn't in  museum mood.  The day was sunny and  beautiful; the streets normal instead of a mob, except, for the crowds around the movie set. Peeked into the souvenir shops, and art galleries, enjoyed the ironwork.

The last thing I heard as we were climbing back into the Bronco was the clip-clop of horses hooves and the driver of the carriage admonishing his horse gently, "Now, you know you can't beat that car," as he reined him in before crossing the street. Such good memories.
I hope all of you have enjoyed this trek with me. I expect I'll be absent from these pages for a bit as I get back into the home groove, but not for long.

Monday, March 29, 2010


I've always enjoyed watching the political conventions when the speaker would introduce the state representative, and he would identify himself as being from "...the Great State of Louisiana." Or the great state of Iowa, with that fun bit of fanfare and pride.
As I get ready to leave for home tomorrow to take care of business, that voice is speaking in my head and reminding me of what I now know from "...the Great State of Louisiana."
Folks along the way have asked me, what was your favorite place? What did you like most? Some places we visited are more or less interesting than others, but it is the whole experience, of slipping through small towns that seem to move you back in time about 40 years, or dallying along the many River Roads lined with bowers of giant oaks and stately mansions, or quaint subsistence shacks and  rusty swamp water. The hundreds of bridges and canals and waterways and  boats you can't get away from if you wanted to. Watching the season change in the swamps from no leaves, to feathery greens. Pulling into town and seeing another Washington St., another Main St., another Iberia St. Enjoying the background sounds of Cajun music from a nearby campsite as people play with their kids and roast marshmallows. The many unbelievably beautiful sunsets that traveling in a motor home allows you. From parish to parish, the difference in how they care for their roads, whether they keep things neat an clean, the signage, do they recycle.  The cities all offer something different, all tout their special appeal, their food, and attractions. Each unique.

Then I thought to find a picture from each town we went through. Too difficult, too many to choose from.  Suffice it to say I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to spend almost 8 weeks in one state and do and see whatever popped into view and I feel I know why each speaker says with such pride, its real, "...from the Great State of Louisiana!"

Sunday, March 28, 2010


The Laura Plantation in Vacherie, Louisiana, is a must see of the many plantation tours for its real tools, furnishings, records and heirlooms of a working Creole Plantation.
Creole is a culture not a race.  Creole people are a mixture of French, West African, Indian, Spanish and German cultures influences. French speaking, they were business like and not interested in showing off their wealth as the new "Americans". And, like the Spanish, women could inherit, own property, and handle business affairs. Thus, Elizabeth Duparc's father chose her over her two brothers to be his successor and run the family enterprise which she did  for 47 years. She chose her  Great Granddaughter, Laura, to be her successor when her own daughter quit the business. The 1/2 mile wide by 7 mile deep sugar plantation was one of the largest and most successful  in Louisiana. Laura now sits on a working farm of 1,200 acres.

 The unique structure, built off the ground on a subsurface pyramid,  was designed to sustain hurricanes and floods. The entrance above has no main door. Six sets of french doors opened to allow breezes into the family quarters/offices. The women did business in their bedrooms as a compliment of trust, and a business man had to learn which door belonged to the President, Elizabeth, who was a ruthless leader. This house was a business establishment, used during harvest. The family repaired to fancier quarters in New Orleans for the "carnival" season. The Creoles were practical and their house was functional.

Here is a life sized effigy of Elizabeth standing in front of precious refrigerator jars. They arrived from Europe filled with olive oil. When empty, they were buried in the soil up to their neck. The cold, damp soil kept cold the butter, milk and other perishables the family used. The slave cooks made 200 breakfasts and lunches each day, thus many of these jars of different sizes were used.  Slaves fixed their own dinners and were allowed their own gardens and livestock.

The men of this family were not chosen leaders for good reason. Besides no business sense, two of them were mean with fiery tempers and committed murder. The sword above belonged to one of Elizabeth's brothers which he used to kill a man. He was sent to France and after five years, the authorities were bought off and he returned. His daughter had acne and was sent to France for a cure, which killed her. He abandoned his wife and she enclosed herself in this room and never left, a self punishment for her daughter's death. She died in this room after 20 years.  Laura, who resisted taking over the family business, but did for ten years, wrote memoirs for her own children because her great grandmother branded a slave with her initials, and she wanted her children to know the truth about life on a Creole Plantation. Her memoirs told a fascinating saga of  their lives.

 Equally fascinating is the slave document above with cryptic comments on the working habits and value of each one listed for sale in current U.S. dollars. Women and skilled men were the most worthy slaves. (To read it, click on it to enlarge it.)

Slave quarter's porch with bench and carved wooden tub, above. By law a slave house had to be 16 X 16 feet. These were built like duplexes. Two 16 foot units with one communal wall saved money. These slave houses were expanded and rented up until 1977 to workers.

Simply built with little furnishings, the slaves spent most of their time out of doors. Descendants of slaves worked the plantation until entrance in the armed services gave many of the men a new trade. Pictures of former workers hang on the wall of this preserved historic building.

This fascinating tour provided a lot of information about the strong structure of the building, its post and beam and brick with plaster inside. Its strength, without nails in great detail. Also, several documents of slave law provided by King Louis for his colonies treatment of slaves of which I took readable photos. All are visible in an album below:

Saturday, March 27, 2010


I was surprised when I learned there are locks on the Mississippi. This particular lock, at Plaquemine (the locals say Plac-a-min) allowed steamships up river to load up all that sugar cane and cotton. We saw a great warehouse at the landing in the small town of Washington, earlier in our trip. There, steamships made a turn around in an inlet carved out for that purpose. The steamships were essential to plantation life and stopped in front of Nottoway and hundreds of other plantations, side by side, all lining the river banks. It must have been some sight to see. Now deepened channels carry flat river barges filled with oil and benzine instead of cotton and sugar.

The lock is blocked from the river now. The Dutch built building above houses the old machinery and pictures of when the lock was built and in service.
This is Iberia Parrish and when we were in Plaquemine Parish, the locals there pronounced it Plac- kwem- men-a. We were told we would find a different accent here than the Cajun country we were leaving and its true.

The town has a small,  local museum. Besides fishing and cane, they once had a spanish moss gin that produced the filling for Henry Ford's automobile seats.

Lying on a table, or shelf below the pictures and newspaper clippings of  old timers, these folks included family stories, genealogy and anecdotes from ancestors- if the information was available. It really makes the pictures come alive instead of just strange faces in a frame. 

We are moving on today after a restful stay in Plaquemine on a 15 acre private park belonging to the American Legion.

Friday, March 26, 2010


Nottoway Plantation, the house, 42 slave houses, barns, storage and equipment buildings, was built between 1855 and 1859. John Randolph was the original owner and builder and named it for his native Nottoway County in Virginia. Its pretty hard to imagine what 53,000 square feet of living space is like, even with eleven children  in an era before electricity and flush toilets.  In a word, opulent. Rich furnishings, priceless woods and craftsmanship, spacious rooms, (64 of them), astonishes, especially when you learn this house was continually occupied since it was built. The loving care shows. The house has had only five owners. 

From a site of 7,000 acres, fronting the steamboat landing on the Mississippi River, the mansion now is surrounded by 400 acres and serves as a bed and breakfast, restaurant and bar, both of which are open to the public. Above, notice right and left stairs, one side for the men, one side for the women. The women needed a separate stairway so they could lift their skirts slightly while climbing them without showing their ankles to the men. The center niche was a place for the livery slave to stand out of the rain and weather as he waited for approaching guests on horseback.  

This is known as a bustle chair, with low rounded arms to allow the women to sit with their flowing garments draped over the arms. In the foyer stands a wood valet with mirrors at calf level to check skirts and shoes to make sure your petticoat and ankles were not showing.

All the rooms have beautiful wainscoting, and chandeliers similar to this from the all white ballroom. John Randall had no mortgage because his slaves made every brick of the estate. They molded clay and spanish moss into the decorations above and produced gas for the gas lights. His architect was from New Orleans and famous in his day and time. The ballroom is now a popular place for weddings and another building is used for receptions.

The dining room table is set and ready for dinner. The plates are hand painted, each with a different scene. The fireplaces in the house are coal burning and have a chute at the bottom for ashes to be pushed down to a chamber for emptying. A metal plate warmer stands by the fireplace for cold days. People who came to the new world, and made their fortunesl, were proud of their wealth and liked to show it off.

This short mattress and four posters was typical of beds of the time. This bed is still used, but with a modern mattress instead of the lumpy spanish moss of old. It is one of the rooms rented for the bed and breakfast and has a modern toilet and shower built into a former closet.

Above the bed is a huge rolling pin that detaches to help take the lumps out of the mattress.

Below the entrance level of the house, a ten pin alley was constructed for the children. It now contains the bed and breakfast bar and lounge, also open to the public. The tour  includes a film that shows the building of the mansion, many of the slaves that worked here and important documents.

This talented woman was one of the most knowledgeable of tour guides. She has been with Nottoway for a long time, according to management. (She introduced herself and I forgot her name.) Randall managed to keep his house through the Civil War by removing himself and most of his slaves to Texas where he grew a less profitable crop of cotton rather than sugar cane. His wife stayed in Louisiana with a few house servants. Before the end of the war, he was offered to sell his slaves and remove them to Cuba where slavery was still legal. He declined, made a contract to hire his slaves to continue working his plantation in Louisiana. Many of them signed on. Some went elsewhere to seek their new future.

The family cemetery is on the grounds. Nottoway was personal to me because Admiral Walter and Marian Whipple, descendants of the Randolphs, were personal friends of mine, (both deceased). As a former feature writer, I did a story on the family and Nottoway many years ago and was delighted to finally have seen the place for myself. I took many pictures and uploaded them if you'd like to view them:

Thursday, March 25, 2010


Some things are national treasures, and the protected Atchafalaya Basin, a cypress swamp, bayou and part of the Mississippi and Red River water sheds, is one of those treasures. Thankful that the bald and tupelo cypress, (totally cut, not ONE was saved,) will some day rise again as the prehistoric giants of...whoa! Wait a minute. Jim and I took a ride with the only Basinkeeper on the Atchafalaya, Dean Wilson. He used to be a professional crawfisherman and he actually lives there and sees the swamp everyday. Our national treasure is in trouble. The Corp of Engineers has two people watching the area, and the State of Louisiana hired one person to oversee the swamp. "I never see them unless I call and complain about infractions," he told us.

In recent years, logging companies moved in and began cutting young cypress, grinding it up and selling it for mulch to two major chains, WalMart and Home Depot.  They were reported to the state, and issued cease and desist orders, and they would. Temporarily. The laws had no teeth in them. No power to fine them and make non-compliance hurt.
 "Filing suit would net a small "settlement", and they'd start up operations again."
The Basinkeepers Organization attacked WalMart and Home Depot. WalMart took cypress mulch off their shelves locally. Home Depot ignored them. Big Corporations care for profits above National Treasures, so, wherever you shop, don't buy Cypress Mulch. (The companies also clear cut cypress on private lands even though it is a protected species.) 

We asked Dean, "How do you find your way around this swamp without "road" signs?

Big oil and the logging companies left a damaging legacy of "roads" into the swamps. Deep channels that allowed invasive species in,  that drowned native species, affected the nesting and migratory birds feeding grounds. The state subsidized levees giving the companies access which allowed hard woods in that can't withstand hurricanes.  The Corp changed the course of the river and silt-building to provide more dry land for farming and houses. Oil companies were supposed to return the land to the condition in which they found it. The state didn't enforce those contracts and the oil companies simply ignored them.  Yes, but this was all years ago before we were wise to the folly of...Wait! "Dean, why is the alligator grass on this side of the channel big and clumpy and on the other side its dry and barely living?

"The oil pipe lines are located under the dead grass. The oil companies don't want stuff to grow over their lines  and they come though with planes and spray herbicides from above."
We actually didn't go on this boat ride to castigate corporate practices and weak state laws.  We were shocked at what we learned by asking  questions. That current enlightenment is so crassly ignored, and that  such damaging practices are allowed to continue, took us by surprise.

I get on a rant  but I want to say Dean's tour was educational but a lot of fun. His dog, Chucka could smell a nutria, detect a squirrel in a tree, or a bird before Dean could ever spot it. Spring is unseasonably cold and late but the cypress are greening quite heavily now and the smell of flowers was in the air.  The real treat was getting to see how the crawfishermen work their traps.

The traps are tied to a tree, baited with fish or meal, and checked periodically for crawfish. There was little to be had. Above, the bait is alone in the trap. The fishermen nail brightly colored ribbons to the trees with their traps to identify them  from each other.

The boat is flat bottomed. Dean had to push several floaters, like the one above, out of the way. Once the boat got hung up on a floater. Dean joked, "My customers have to paddle.!" The boat can glide over some obstructions, but not all.

This is an old growth cypress, estimated to be 1500 to 2000 years old. They cut them all except hollow cypress that have no wood value, such as this one. This is the only swamp with several of these hollow trees that give some idea of what the swamp looked like at one time. Cypress seeds stay in the mud and wait for a cyclical dry period to take root, grow, and make it to just above the incoming water level to survive. In other words, the condition has to be just right and that is the only reason young trees have reestablished the swamp and are growing. Hopefully, they can be protected forever.

Dean told us new laws on the books this year allow for heavy fines that should discourage illegal logging  in the Atchafalaya.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010


When you take as many pictures as Jim and I do, its easy to forget where you were when. Everything wants to just rumble together. Its nice to take a day and just enjoy  pictures,  review  fun places, and  people we've met.

The pelican is Louisiana's State Bird. We've seen a number of them. Aren't hey magnificent creatures? These were taken at an unforgettable place, too. Venice, our hop off place to Pilot Town, and the coldest boat ride I've ever had. I chuckle every time I think of it.

From childhood, trees have had an affect on me. I enjoyed climbing them, enjoyed the woods and watched my Dad log and cut pulp. Logging was a fascinating and exciting time in the past. Now I'm a tree hugger. Louisianans revere their trees, though lamenting cutting down all the cypress. Here are some beauties.

Judy Tiner was an interesting neighbor in Opelousas. She was the first woman to work and Oil rig. She stayed with it for 25 years. Now she has a broken neck and was forced to retire. A strong woman with great stories to tell. I'm hoping to interview her by phone and share some of them with you.

And Greg Guirard. He had great stories to tell when we met him and after reading two of his books, I want to hear more.
As I cast about through my albums, I realized I don't take enough portraits.  I should have taken better pictures of the people I meet.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010


The Louisiana State Capitol at Baton Rouge is the tallest capitol building in the U.S. When Huey Long was Governor, he pushed to have this new building built during the depression years of 1931, and it is often referred to as The House That Huey Built. Before it was completed, he resigned, ran for the State Senate and never served a day there as governor. In a cruel twist of fate, he was visiting the reining governor in 1935 and was assassinated in the "house" that he built.

Long was buried on the grounds with a memorial statue of himself facing the edifice he cared so much about. Under Huey, Louisianans appreciated the transformation in roads,education and medical care that brought jobs and prosperity unlike anything they'd seen before. With his Share The Wealth programs, he put a huge dent in poverty which was at 60% , lowest in the United States, when he took office. 

The Senate Chambers on left, The House of Representatives on the right.

A depiction of the assassination, where it happened,  in the hallway,  in front of the governors office.

The building has rich  marble, brass, statues, windows, and beautiful pounded brass doors with embossed scenes of Louisiana's history. The house and senate were not in session when we visited, and the tower was closed for repairs.

The Old Capitol building is only blocks away and the nearby area is also home to other city offices and part of the Louisiana State University, notably their art building, museum and gallery.

The old Capitol is a turreted building resembling a castle and is considered a Gothic treasure. Restored in 1990 as a Political History Museum, the exhibits are stellar:

Here you stand on the speakers podium.  All you need do is press a button and the speaker and speech of your choice, thunders out. The screen in front of you shows the particular audience that matches the speech  as you watch the words roll in front of you on the teleprompter our leaders use to mesmerize us.  

Here Huey Long's statue self orates from a platform while behind him his shadow moves and gestures as in real life, making it seem that Huey is right in the room with you.

The building is as beautiful inside as out. The rotunda ceiling is all stained glass. I've visited many Louisiana Museums and I'm continually impressed at how well done they are. A must see when you visit Baton Rouge.