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Published: April 5th 2008
Posted by Onaxthiel: Lafayette isn't the most interesting city in Louisiana. I'm sure it would be on a weekend, or anytime we wanted to go out and party, but on a Tuesday night it's just not a hopping town. That's alright with us. All we really wanted to see in town was an old Catholic cathedral by the name of St. John the Evangelist. Luckily, that was easily found and we had the the unexpected opportunity to view the church's necropolis. As in much of the rest of the state, Lafayette keeps most of its dead in family crypts. This is due to the very high water table/very low elevation of the towns. If Louisianans just buried their dead like everyone else, every spring would bring slightly more decayed friends and family back for unexpected and traumatic visits. Since this is an unattractive prospect, the Cajuns developed elaborate little buildings to help their inanimate relations complete their interments. The other unexpected site at the cathedral is a 500 year old tree. It's pretty impressive, particularly its trunk and the surrounding flowers and plants.
With Lafayette's most interesting stop done, we drove east towards the state capitol in Baton Rouge. The
first thing we stopped at was the Old Governor's Mansion. The term “old” in this case is a highly relative term. The previous Governor's Mansion was a destroyed by Huey Long in one of his fits of self-centeredness, and he built a faux marble neo-classical building to replace it. Within thirty years, the creation of air conditioning necessitated a new mansion, as refitting the old one was prohibitively expensive. These days the mansion is a museum to the different governors who inhabited it over the course of its thirty years. The mansion is a lesson on how odd the governorship of Louisiana is. Besides Huey Long, there was his brother, Earl Long, who was a four time governor, and successfully ran for the US House of Representatives while confined to an insane asylum. There was Jim Davis, the writer of the song You Are My Sunshine, who took his horse (named Sunshine) into his office to show him where he worked. There were two one term governors who were reformers, and therefore too normal to be re-elected by the people of LA. Lastly, there was Governor Leche, the first sitting state governor to be convicted of fraud and corruption. Apparently,
he still enjoys high approval ratings.
After the Old Mansion, we moved to another now unused governmental structure, the Old State House. If it was still in use, I would say it was the most beautiful state capital that we have seen. Unlike most state houses, it is built in the style of a French Gothic castle. The day we were visiting, the Campfire organization was hosting a mock legislature in the old senate area, so the halls were awash with screeching children. In spite of this, the structure was still gorgeous. The central staircase is a spiral of different colors from a huge prism of stained glass that covers the roof. The rooms on the first floor have all been turned into specialized exhibits on state history, from the Long assassination (ironic, since he wanted to tear the building down in favor of the new art deco statehouse,) to the LSU Basketball Coaches hall of fame and the story of the building itself. If the place has one disadvantage to visiting, it's that the third and fourth floors are closed off from visitors. Even with this slight disability, the Old Statehouse is well worth a stop.
8 blocks up the road from the old is the new. Now I wouldn't say that the new statehouse is ugly. It's really quite lovely, in its own way. It just looks like a more ornate version of the Empire State Building. Think of that famous tower, and then add guardian angels and statues of explorers and other embellishments to make the tower look like a piece of the Gotham city skyline abducted and set down in Louisiana. It is an awesome building, even if not as beautiful as the old statehouse. Unfortunately, we were unable to enter due to the strictest security we have seen at any capitol. Not only do they not allow blades in the building, they will not hold them until your return. All in all, the walk was a bit of a bust, and we went back down the stairway Huey Long was killed on with anger and disappointment.
Ours was not the greatest anger or disappointment, though. The homeless guy we encountered as we went to visit some of the city's churches held that distinction. He was standing outside the Catholic cathedral of Saint Joseph and telling the whole world about the woman
who had taken his billions of dollars and how he was going to kill her for it. I suppose if someone had taken my billions, I would be that angry, too. St. Joseph's is alright, if nothing too spectacular.
The more ornate church in the downtown belongs to the Episcopalians. The church of St. James is a congregation founded in 1844, though they were organized for some decades prior to that. When Obfuscator and I arrived, the attached school had recently let out and the assorted school teachers and pupils were still around the grounds. The teachers were willing to ask the priests about letting us in, and one of the Fathers helpfully showed us around his church. Intricate hand carvings adorn the walls behind the sanctuary where a lovely altar sits. Possibly the most outstanding part of the whole church are the Tiffany stained glass windows that are displayed above all the carving and the altar. Two of the three were lit quite nicely by the afternoon sky during our visit, and the third would have been if not for the recent construction of a parking garage across the street, stealing the church's light. Such is the price
of urban renewal. The Father that was showing us around was quite interested in ecumenism, and as such we had a discussion of the Episcopal church and its recent adaptations, as compared to those of the ELCA. All in all a pretty good discussion, though God must not be ecumenical, as it began raining just as we left the church.
Due to the conclusion of our look at Baton Rouge being about the time that rush hour began, we opted for an alternative route to New Orleans for the night. Instead of the normal I-10, we took a route to the south that bent along the levees of the river. I have no idea if it saved us any time in the end, but it was an enjoyable little tour of the smaller towns between the two largest cities in the state. We called ahead and booked a room with one of the motels that we had a coupon for, one called the New Orleans Guest House. I think it was perhaps the nicest (Wow, I am using lots of superlative in today's entry. I do mean them, though,) lodging we have stayed in on the drive so far.
Unlike all the cheap motels we usually specialize in, the Guest House is more of a bed and breakfast. The owner lives on site, and only rents out about 10 rooms, and he keeps the whole place like somewhere you would want to live. For Obfuscator and my needs, he is also conveniently placed about two and a half blocks from Bourbon street and quite helpful in telling you which streets are patrolled, which restaurants are good, and which streets are safe to park on. I would definitely recommend this place to anyone interested in staying near the French Quarter for a night or three.
Bourbon street is a hard partying area. We were there on a Wednesday night, with the bars and streets already filled. Since it's not Mardi Gras or a weekend, none of the bars have covers, but most of them feature a live band. We went from bar to bar listening to covers of hits from much of the local talent, but after about the third one, we realized the secret. While there is no cover, and you aren't REQUIRED to pick up a drink, if you do, it will cost you an obscene amount
of money. I think I spent more on just Obfuscator and I in three hours than I have since I was buying rounds for the entire squad on my last day in the army. Ah well, how many times will you find yourself in a huge party district anyway, eh? Once we were ready to leave, it was nice to head back to our room, and away from the intense commotion that makes up the most (in?)famous part of the French Quarter.
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