We were up bright and early this morning to hop the shuttle to our plantation tour.
Our first stop was a working plantation, named Laura. It has a rich and fascinating history – run by Creole women for generations. In the Creole culture, your family is your business and your business is your family. All who lived on the plantation were expected to work for the family, and there was always a “President” of the business. In most cultures, the responsibility would fall to the eldest son – but not in Creole culture. They believed that the President should be the smartest person in the family – the one best suited to manage the business. It just so happened in this particular family that those individuals were more often than not women!
We learned a lot about the Creole people today. Because Louisiana was a French colony until the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, French was the language of the people. One of the first things the Americans did after purchasing the state was to ban the speaking of French. The Creoles rebelled by speaking French in their homes, and they marked their defiance by painting their homes in a multitude of colours. If a home was multicoloured, you knew that French was the language spoken within its walls.
We learned more about the ownership of slaves, and both agreed that it was a shame that the grandeur of the plantations and the antebellum homes (literally meaning “big house”) came at the expense of human beings. At Laura, the “president” recognized that the expense of purchasing male slaves was far greater than of purchasing females. She therefore purchased 30 females and only 5 males, allowing nature to take its course. Within about 15 years she had a strong “crop” of slaves.
From Laura we moved on to Oak Alley, so named for the alley of 28 oak trees leading up to the “big house”. Interestingly, the alley of trees was in fact planted a full 100 years prior to the construction of the mansion, so that at the time the house was actually built, there was a natural funnel created that directed the breezes straight through the house as an early form of air conditioning. These trees are already 300 years old and have a life expectancy o 600 years!
The gardens surrounding both plantations were amazing – so rich and lush. In particular, Oak Alley had grounds like nothing we’ve seen before and it wasn’t surprising to learn that they do host weddings and other special events on the grounds.
After our plantation tour we hopped the St. Charles streetcar and traveled to the Garden District, where we wandered for about an hour marvelling at the grand homes throughout the neighbourhood. They are truly remarkable with some taking up an entire city block! The distinction between the rich and the poor within the city of New Orleans is significant.
We finished our day with more live music in an outdoor cafe on Bourbon Street before having dinner in the open air courtyard at the Gumbo Shop. While our Creole fixings were great, our vote for best food on our trip goes to Oceana, also in the heart of the French Quarter, where we dined with Mary Kay and Rick Reid last night.