The car hiccup in Austin meant I was on the road a day later into New Orleans, but I was on the road once more. The nine hour drive was broken up with a stop at the Longfellow-Evangeline State Historic Site in Martinville, Louisiana.
I met some great new trees here that I would see throughout my drive in the South. They had graceful, white Crape Myrtle trees at the entry to the park. I didn’t realize Crape Myrtles could have such a perfect form, since many I had seen were more rangy. I also met Southern Live Oaks (Quercus virginiana), some of which were probably over 300 years old on this site. Tall Cypress trees grow well in the wet bayou as well and were used often for building construction.
This historical site included some buildings from the Acadian people who were moved from the Canadian areas around Nova Scotia down into Louisiana in the mid-1700s. Among other hardships, the climate is so different that they had to rediscover how to survive.
This particular site became a sugar cane plantation and I had a chance to tour the main house and some outbuildings. The outbuildings had been reconstructed, but gave a good sense of what tools people had to work with. I found it interesting that they used squash for pot scrubbers and hollowed out others for bowls or ladles. They took old corn cobs and wove them together to make brooms.
Back on the road, the landscape really began to change. The freeway became a long expanse of bridges after awhile that were taking us above the bayous below. Tall cypress trees shot out of the swampy waters. It was really gorgeous.
I got into New Orleans that night starving and worn down from the long drive. With a little help from Yelp!, I found a great restaurant in the French Quarter called Acme. I enjoyed a lovely, dark local beer with half a dozen oysters on the half shell. Oh momma… so good. I followed it up with étouffée, a Cajun dish that starts with rue, adds in fresh seafood (in this case crawdads) and gets poured over rice. Amazing.
I have to admit that I was not impressed with the French Quarter. It was a Friday night, drunk people were out en masse, tourists packed the streets, souvenir shops had horrible wares to promote, street performers of the usual sort were at every corner, and I could just sense that this was prime pick-pocket grounds. It reminded me of the Red Light District in Amsterdam. I love Amsterdam though because the Red Light District is one small part of a really beautiful city.
The next day I explored the Garden District a bit and was entertained, but not blown away. The photo above shows the former home of writer Ann Rice. The architecture here is interesting, but having been to France to see it in its original form, I didn’t feel like I was seeing anything new necessarily.
I also found the residential landscapes pretty bland. Historically it is interesting because there are a lot of non-native, tropical plants that were brought in from the Carribean. One house after another had the same palms and lines of boxwood hedges, so I got a bit bored.
This Southern Live Oak does show something special about the neighborhood: it’s age. This old gnarly tree has eaten away at the curd and into the sidewalk. In such a young country, it is interesting to see signs of age. Overall I was impressed with Louisiana for their food, history and landscape, but I doubt I’ll be making a trip back to New Orleans.