Day 11 - New Orleans  
   
    Probably one of the most sublime sights I have ever beheld.    
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 MC VFC Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala
 

Our second day in New Orleans commenced with breakfast at the Cafe du Monde, on Decatur St, famous for its cafe au lait and beignets. Beignets are a type of square doughnut covered with icing sugar, and a traditional breakfast here is orange juice, followed by a serve of three beignets and a cafe au lait. The Cafe du Monde was established in 1862 at the French Markets in New Orleans, and is still operating from the same location over 140 years later.

Interestingly, the Cafe du Monde actually serves a brew of coffee and chicory, rather than straight coffee. Chicory is the root of the endive plant, which is roasted and ground and was used as a coffee substitute during the French revolution, when coffee supplies were limited. The addition of chicory to coffee can act to add body and flavour to the brew, and take the bitter edge off the coffee. Many French immigrants to Louisiana had a taste for chicory with their coffee, and so the Cafe du Monde has always served its coffee this way. It adds a slightly different and almost chocolatey dimension to the coffee, and is a must for visitors to New Orleans to experience.

At the cafe we had arranged to meet some family friends, Hudson and Barba from Texas. Hudson was an old school friend of my wife's father, and when he had toured Australia during 2003 he stayed with me and I had shown him around Melbourne. I had originally planned to visit Texas, but in the end there was no way I could fit it into the timetable, and so rather than miss us, Hudson and Barba drove 350 miles to meet us in New Orleans.

After our greetings we enjoyed a great breakfast, and talked about our plans for the day. Given Hudson and Barba had their car available, we decided that it would be a good idea to go for a drive and visit some of the original plantation homes still standing around New Orleans.

 
 
 
 

Hudson and Barba Geddie - Thanks for the great day guys!

 
 

Minolta X-570 with 50mm f/1.2MD Rokkor-X Film: Fuji Superia Reala

 
 

The history of Louisiana and New Orleans is very interesting, as the city has had influences from many sources. While the area was visited by the Spanish in the 1500's, Robert Cavelier, Sieur de La Salle, explored the Mississippi downstream to its mouth, and he claimed the entire drainage basin for France in 1682. La Salle's efforts at colonization failed, but the French continued in their attempt to establish a permanent settlement.

Louisiana became a French crown colony in 1731, and was producing crops such as tobacco, rice and indigo. While roads ran along the levees, most of the trade was by water. However, in 1762 Louisiana was ceded by France to Spain as a result of the French and Indian War. Spain tried to establish a presence in the state, but at the same time French emigrants from Acadia in Nova Scotia were arriving in New Orleans to escape persecution from the British. By the late 1700's the Spanish had effectively been absorbed into the French population, and in 1800 they returned Louisiana to France by the Treaty of San Ildefonso. Today, when walking around New Orleans you can see the old Spanish street signs, and also the Spanish influence is on much of the architecture of the city.

Finally, in 1803 Louisiana was sold by Napolean to the United States for $15M in what became known as the Louisiana Purchase.

The geography around New Orleans is interesting, because the usable land is restricted to thin strip down each side of the Mississippi river. The rest is predominantly swamp. This occured because over millions of years of floods the Mississippi carted tons of soil down on its journey, and then deposited this soil on the delta, at the sides of the river. Over time, the land at the sides of the river increased in height, and as more floods deposited more and more soil, it eventually became fertile land, not swamp. This area of fertile land was what became the plantations, and it was divided into long narrow strips, with the thin end at the river, and extending inland until the swamp was reached.

Along the side of the river a levee was constructed to retain the river in peak flood time, and then normally the plantation house was erected close to the river so as to capitalise on any cool breeze wafting off the water.

 
 
 
 

The San Francisco plantation house, seen from the rear. The two towers at the sides were the water storage, taking water from the roof and providing it by gravity feed to taps on the ground floor.

 
 

Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 VFC MC Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala

 
 

After a drive of about an hour we arrived at our first plantation house, named the 'San Francisco'. The plantation is believed to have gotten its name from a French slang term sans fruscins, meaning "without a penny in my pocket", presumably a reference to its high cost. Work commenced on the property in 1853 and was completed by 1856. In the early 1860's the property was fully redecorated, and the colours chosen were those that adorn the property today.

Over the years the property has been remodelled and renovated internally, before being restored in the late 1970's to its original condition, and opened to the public. It is an interesting place to visit, and while the grounds are no longer extensive, it does give an understanding of what life on a plantation was like in the mid-1800's. The guides for the property were dressed in period costume, and were very knowledgeable about the property. Additionally the tour group was quite small, and there was plenty of opportunity to ask questions.

Originally the property was established some distance from the river, and it had a large front garden that was decorated with small precisely clipped shrubs in geometric patterns. However, over the last hundred and fifty years the path of the river has moved, and taken with it a large portion of the front grounds of the property. Unfortunately, the front of the property is now directly adjacent to the road running inside the levee, and accordingly the attractive front verandah is now marred by the cyclone fencing along the edge of the grounds. .

 
 
 
 

The front of the San Francisco property. The house now fronts directly onto River Rd.

 
 
Minolta X-570 with 85mm f/2 MD Tele Rokkor Film: Fuji Superia Reala
 
 

The San Francisco Plantation House, while very interesting, was not what I had expected when leaving the city that morning. I had anticipated huge white columns and extensive balconies in perfectly manicured grounds. However, when we arrived at our next stop I was not to be disappointed.

 
 
 
 
The magnificent Oak Alley plantation house.
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 VFC MC Rokkor. Film: Fuji Superia Reala
 
 

Sometime in the early 1700's, a settler built a small house on the site of the present Oak Alley mansion. It was he who planted the two rows of fourteen oak trees each from the house down to the Mississippi River that give Oak Alley its name. In 1839 the original house was demolished and Jaques Telesphore Roman, a wealthy Creole Sugar planter, built the present house for his young wife.

It is thought that Joseph Pilie, an architect and Jaques father in law, provided the design for Oak Alley, with its 28 collossal doric columns surrounding the mansion. The property is now a magnificent example of Greek Revival architecture, and while properties similar to Oak Alley once lined the Mississippi, Oak Alley is now probably the finest remaining.

 
 
 
 
Some of the 28 Oak trees that are each over 250 years old, lining the path from the river to the mansion.
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 VFC MC Rokkor. Film: Fuji Superia Reala
 
 

The 25 acres surrounding the antebellum mansion at Oak Alley Plantation is now a National Historic Landmark, and the property is managed by the non-profit Oak Alley Foundation. The property is extremely popular with tourists, and the proceeds from admission fees have enabled the property to be maintained immaculately. The grounds are truly spectacular, and a photographer's dream.

After a brief walk around we discovered the next house tour was a little time away, so we decided to stop at the restaurant on the grounds for lunch. The restaurant at Oak Alley serves breakfast and lunch, and the food was very good and reasonably priced. We had a great meal and then headed to the mansion for our tour of the premises.

 
 
 
 
The magnificent Oak Alley from the rear.
 
 
Minolta X-570 with 24mm f/2.8 VFC MC Rokkor. Film: Fuji Superia Reala
 
 

The interior of Oak Alley is appointed in a manner befitting its exterior, and while flash photography is not permitted, I handily had a roll of Fuji NPZ (800 ASA) with which I could capture the decor and furniture.

To see the rest of Day 11, please click the link below.

 
 
 
 
Next: Day 11 Continued
 
 
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