We have returned from our trip, a bit road weary, but nonetheless filled with memories of time spent with friends and family.
I was recently thinking about the blessed French and their great tradition of taking a month long holiday in August. Although school will start next Monday here in Phoenix, I thought this blog could serve as a literary traveling holiday for the next few weeks.
We’ll begin with a trip to New Orleans.
Last March my lovely and preciously giving cousin sent me a plane ticket to come visit her and her wonderful family. In making sightseeing plans we studied a map of the Louisiana River Road and decided to visit plantations #14 and #20.
My delightful host was keen to show me the loveliness that abounds in the Pelican state.
I think one can instantly see our familial resemblance as we stand near the front entrance of Oak Alley Plantation. It was inspiring to be surrounded by 300 year old oak trees. Mu cousin, as always, is classy and understated. I, on the other hand, am graphically loud in my giraffe print coat.
Oak Alley Plantation features a home which was built by George Swainey between 1837~ 1839 for Jacques Telesphore Roman. Mr. Roman’s father in law, Joseph Pilie, was an architect and many believe he designed the Greek Revival home which features a symmetrical facade, narrow windows surrounding the front door, a lovely cornice and of course 28 Doric columns.
The interior is even more impressive. The floor plan surrounds a long central hall with the main and back doors situated on each end. (Photography is not permitted and I was informed this after I had already taken a few photos. Oops! At least I knew not to use a flash.)
Mr. Roman achieved his wealth primarily as a sugar planter. His brother, Andre, was the ninth governor of Louisiana. His sister, Josephine, was married to the “Sugar King of Louisiana”, Francois Gabriel "Valcour" Aimewas. It was Aimewas who sold the land, which featured a double row of oak trees planted many years prior, to Roman. Jacques and his wife, Celina delighted in building and furnishing the home to show off their extravagant wealth.
Oak Alley Plantation was originally named Bon Séjour (Good Stay). The most prominent feature of the dining room is the harp shaped fan which was operated by a servant pulling a long tassel. I imagine that any dinner guest would consider their visit a good stay.
The second floor consists mainly of bedrooms and features a balcony from which you can see the Mississippi River. The estate grounds are also quite extensive and lovely. The specialty of the adjoining restaurant is Southern Cuisine washed down with mint juleps.
From there we traveled to the “Laura” plantation. This home was on my “must see” list for obvious reasons.
In 1804 Guillaume Duparc, a French naval veteran of the American Revolution, petitioned Thomas Jefferson for property. Successful in his attempts, he was awarded 12,000 acres upon which construction of the plantation home was completed in 1805.
The plantation was originally named l’habitation Duparc. Duparc’s great granddaughter, Laura Locoul Gore, wrote about life on the Creole sugar plantation and its name was subsequently changed. She is shown here at the age of 25 dressed in Mardi Gras finery.
It is believed that the home was constructed by enslaved artisans of Senegalese descent. The structure was raised high above the ground by an 8 foot brick foundation that housed the basement. The woodworking is a marvel to behold.
The manor house was painted in shades of ochre, red, green and pearl. Many of the decorative elements of the home came in the form of paint treatments such as the detailing on the door below.
In the basement are life sized images of Guillaume Duparc and his wife Nanette Prud’Homme. Nanette, upon her husband’s death in 1808, ran the plantation. It was not unusual for Creole women to hold such positions as the culture was based on class, instead of the more common restrictions of race or sex.
The basement was built using local red brick. It served as their refrigeration and storage system.
The construction of the home was based on pre fabricated methods. The artisan workers, not knowing how to read, created a numbering system to build the home. Their marks are still visible today.
The skill of the craftsmen is quite evident in the interiors as well. Here again you see a simple door elevated through the use of paint.
Clean simple lines, bright colors and well made furniture are the hallmarks of this home.
This blanket chest made me gasp in its simplistic loveliness. Truly it is the color itself that caught my eye and no doubt has spurred countless others to recreate a similar look.
Easy elegance continues on in the dining area.
The nursery contains several wee beds that are a precious delight.
This crib in particular caught my fancy, as did the paint scheme in the room.
In the back of the house are a few additional structures. The surrounding land was at one time dotted with over 100 buildings and homes. Their existence is now only evident by the simple foundations that remain.
In stark contrast to the manor house are the remaining 4, of the once 69, cabins that held enslaved laborers.
Before the civil war these small cabins each housed two families and were surrounded by a vegetable garden and chicken coop or pig pen.
It gave me emotional pause when I noticed that the flower beds were lined with old bottles. Even in the midst of such horrific conditions, the human spirit still searched for beauty.
The cabins contained no electricity or indoor plumbing . I was shocked to learn that sugarcane workers lived in the cabins until 1977.
For those of you familiar with the tales of Br’er Rabbit, the cabins hold great significance. The stories were written down by Alcée Fortier in the 1870’s after hearing the ancient west-African folktales, known as “Compair Lapin” (French for Clever Rabbit) told time and again within the cabins. He later published the tales in 1894. One year later, Fortier’s friend, Joel Chandler Harris, published the stories in English as the "Tales of Uncle Remus” which was well received and eventually led to Disney’s “The Song of the South”.
Again I was overcome with the knowledge that even in the midst of such abominable circumstances, there were parents telling folktales to their children.
“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
~ Martin Luther King Jr.
Seek beauty, search for love,