Monday, March 26, 2012

New Orleans Trip, part 6

Monday, Feb 13
Monday the weather started warming up again. It was in the 60's which was such a relief. I had made plans to go on a plantation tour at Oak Alley Plantation. There are a handful of plantations near New Orleans that have tours, but I picked Oak Alley because of the landscaping on the grounds.

I walked to the Grey Line Tours building on the riverfront to catch the tour bus.
The red line shows my path for Monday.

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This map shows the location of Oak Alley Plantation upriver from New Orleans
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You have probably seen this plantation in movies, it's been in a lot of movies because of the amazing trees, such as Interview with a Vampire.

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These magnificent live oak trees are almost 300 years old, but the plantation and house are only 173 years old. The trees were actually planted a long time before any house ever stood here! No one knows who planted the trees or why. (they are definitely planted by a person, because they are all lined up in perfect pairs for 1/4 of a mile. ) These trees are mysterious and magical! Walking underneath their arched branches is an amazing experience.
You would imagine that the trees were planted to highlight the house, but it was the other way around. The house was built at the end of the alley of oaks, which were already large and mature in 1839 when the house was built.

The plantation house is beautiful but it's not actually that large. It looks bigger than it really is, because it has 13 foot wide verandas on all 4 sides. The footprint of the house is much bigger than the actual indoor space. The wide verandas are to make sure that direct sun never strikes the walls of the house, and keeps it much cooler inside.

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It's only got 4 bedrooms upstairs, and a parlor, dining room, study and butlers pantry downstairs. (for fire safety, the kitchen was always a separate building in those days, not attached to the house)
There used to be some additional "bachelor houses" for the sons of the original owner, but they are not there anymore. The old kitchen was turned into a garage and has some nice antique cars in it.

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The slave quarters are not there anymore but they are being rebuilt. I think some of the other plantations do have slave cabins, but I doubt if they are original. They are probably reconstructions, because the slave cabins just were not built very sturdy like the big houses. They were shacks so I don't think they could survive for 170 years. The main house has brick walls 16 inches thick, in comparison!
They did have a display that showed a slave "inventory" from 1848, as well as the dollar value of each person.

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The slaves all had French names because the original owner was French.
Oak Alley was a sugarcane plantation and I think sugarcane was one of the most backbreaking crops to grow and harvest before the invention of tractors and whatnot. Cotton was hard too but I think cane was the worst. Seeing the names and ages of these people, and then a dollar value, really reminds you of the ugly side of this history. The house is beautiful but it could only exist through the suffering of so many people. But then the same is true of any historical building, when I visit old churches in Europe, I can't help but think of the Spanish Inquisition! When I visit castles, I think about how the peasants lived.

The tour guide was an older gentleman named Tom (all the guides wear period costumes) who was wonderful to listen to, he had a real French-creole accent. Very different from most Southern accents, it has such a debonair lilt to it. He told a lot of great stories, including about the descendant of the original owner. After the civil war, the family lost their fortune, so by the 1960's, the descendant was just an average working joe. He married into the Fernandez family who owns Cafe du Monde, and then his son helped expand Cafe du Monde into the worldwide business it is today (selling the coffee and beignet mixes all over the country).

The plantation also has a restaurant and gift shop, and a historically accurate working blacksmith shop.

After I got back to the city, I had an early dinner at Ralph & Kacoos and had a sidecar, to make a little change from beer.

After that I went to have a massage at Serenity Spa in the J.W. Marriott hotel. I had the 60 minute swedish massage plus 20 minute foot massage. My feet needed it more than anything! I am a work-from-home couch potato desk jockey, so all the walking this week had really been rough on my feet. This was the first professional massage I've ever had so I don't have much to compare it to, but it was very relaxing and made my sore muscles feel much better. I wish I could have had that foot massage every night on the trip!
In my regular life, I would probably benefit from a neck, shoulder and upper back massage on a regular basis. I sit at the computer all day and have terrible posture at my desk, so I often get soreness in my rhomboids and trapezoids. (especially on the right side because that's my mouse hand)

So after a good dinner, cocktail and massage, I'm sure you can guess I went strait back to the hotel and had a great night's sleep!

Today's musical selection is Muddy Waters - Louisiana Blues

I'm goin down to Louisiana, baby behind the sun
(aw, take me wit you man, when you go!)

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