retirement trip of a lifetime..............still heading for New Orleans

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October 3rd 2011
Published: October 3rd 2011
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Day 2 of our trip down to Louisiana and no music today - but lots of history.
Driving through more farming country we saw lots of mainly uninhabited sharecroppers’ shacks. Sharecroppers were really only one step up from slavery and life was tough. Mechanisation eventually took the place of manual labour and I guess people migrated to the cities to find work.
We also saw some places where original sharecropper shacks have been updated slightly (air-conditioning installed etc) and people are flocking to rent them for a holiday. One place near Clarksdale called the Shackup Inn holds regular Blues festivals there so it’s very lively but others are in the middle of nowhere and have nothing to do but relax or fish.
First stop today, Vicksburg which has lots of Civil War history. The old court house is now a museum of the best kind....dusty and lots of clutter in glass cases with hand written labels. It was really interesting....obviously lots of civil war history but also displays of ladies clothes, calling cards, smelling salts and so on. Very Gone with the Wind!
Must admit my knowledge of the Civil War is based on films like GWTW so it was good for me to learn a bit more at the museum, especially details about the Confederate President Jefferson Davis, who seems to be generally loved and admired even a couple of hundred years later.
Must retell the most bizarre thing I read about in the museum, taken from a doctor’s report at the time. A young girl was standing on her veranda when a Confederate bullet hit her and lodged in her uterus where it grew into a baby which when born quickly grew into a fine soldier who married the girl and they had several other children. Never heard that explanation for getting pregnant before!!
A couple of things that surprised me in the gift shop....firstly they sold Golliwogs and copies of the children’s book ‘Little Black Sambo’, both of which are now banned in the UK but which were very much a part of my childhood. And also I bought a souvenir for $3, a genuine musket bullet from the Civil War. I’m probably odd to be so excited but it’s a real live bit of history (or else a round shiny bit of stone!!) Just hope it’s not related to the super fertile bullet in that story or I could be in trouble 😉
After lunch in Vicksburg (where we also saw a funeral with the ladies or ‘daughters of the church’ all wearing dazzling white so we thought it must be a wedding until we saw the coffin) we set off to drive further South to the town of Natchez.
On our way we stopped in a tiny place called Onward at the general store, which was the real deal, no touristy things at all – but on the wall was a mural showing President Roosevelt and a local hunter bear hunting. The story goes that they trapped a small bear but the President couldn’t bear (!) to kill it and its life was spared. When this story got back to Washington it was used in a cartoon and from there spread all over the country – and toy bears were made as souvenirs, which became known as Teddy bears after the President. I’ve no idea if the story is true or not but it apparently happened in Onward, MS!
Whilst we were there a truck pulled up and out jumped some men in camouflage gear including face paint, carrying guns! Turned out they were duck hunting. The truck was covered in stickers with Bible verses and encouraging little comments like ‘Believe or Burn.’ Don’t think they meant the ducks either!
You can get to Natchez on the Highway or Interstate, or you can take the Natchez Trace Parkway which is what we did for a bit. The Parkway follows the route animals would take along higher ground, then the Native Americans used it. Now it’s been restored as a recreational road, going through lush greenery with lots of hiking trails and barbecue places. It was really pretty and a welcome change from the normal roads where you could be Anywhere, USA.
When we reached Natchez we were thrilled with our hotel. So far we’ve stayed in nice enough places but apart from the Heartbreak Hotel pretty standard chains. The Eola was the original grand hotel in town. It had been recently restored after years of neglect and was full of Art Deco furniture, Greek statues, fountains, mirrors etc. I’ve read reviews saying it’s dark and shabby but we loved it as a change from all the functional modern places.
It was mid afternoon so John and I went out exploring and discovered markers directing you around the town centre pointing out different buildings and what they were or had once been. Then we arrived at the Bluff where the Mississippi river comes sweeping around a bend and you half expect to hear a deep voice singing ‘Ole Man River’. A guy sitting on a bench got our attention and then tried to sell us a bottle of genuine Mississippi river water. We were tempted!
Years ago Natchez was a staging post for the steamboats and down by the riverbank in an area called Natchez-under-the-hill there is still a very old inn and lodging house where Mark Twain is supposed to have often stayed. It was Saturday evening and the place was full of Bikers having a few beers so we had to admire a few bikes as we went past and had a bit of a chat with some men who were fascinated by my accent, they thought I was the Queen or something! And I loved their accents too, somehow swearing didn’t sound nearly as bad in a southern drawl (and they did quite a bit of it!)
It was very very hot so we dragged ourselves up the hill again, and collapsed in a bar there overlooking the river. The plan then was to go back to the hotel, get changed and go out for the evening but we decided that was too much like hard work so we found somewhere to eat by asking a couple out walking their dog, had a meal and then went back to our room for a couple of drinks and a film on TV. What did we watch? Crocodile Dundee – which is very dated and doesn’t lend itself well to 10 mins of film and then 10 mins of adverts!
Another night excelling ourselves as lightweights, but we were very smug the next morning as many in our group had really bad hangovers which doesn’t go well with early starts and road travel - or eating the breakfast which was more substantial than other days. John tried grits but it looked too much like watery rice pudding for me.
Anyway, Day 3 of the road trip took us first of all to a big house outside Natchez called Monmouth Plantation where we had a look around and heard all about the families who had lived there over the years. I hadn’t been too bothered about this visit as I thought it would be a whole lot of ooh-ing . and ah-ing over antique furniture and soft furnishings, but it was very touching to hear the stories and see the personal belongings of these families. Life wasn’t easy even if you had money especially as most of your babies died.
The house is an upmarket B&B now and the day before had hosted a wedding – it would be a beautiful place for a celebration like that.
I think by now everyone was anxious to get to New Orleans but today still had some surprises. We had lunch at a cafeteria called Piccadilly’s where the line of food you could choose from went on for what seemed miles. More waddling out afterwards!
We were now driving through Cajun country in Louisiana and stopped off at the Arcadian Cultural Centre where we saw a film about the Cajun people. Cajun is a corruption of the word Arcadian and refers to the people who ended up in Louisiana as dispossessed people from Novia Scotia. And the bad guys in their story are us Brits!! Since their establishment in Louisiana the Cajuns have developed their own dialect, Cajun French, and developed a vibrant culture including music and cuisine. Cajun music is evolved from its roots in the music of the French-speaking Catholics of Canada. In earlier years the fiddle was the predominant instrument, but gradually the accordion has come to share the limelight. There’s even a Grammy Award nowadays for Best Zydeco or Cajun music.
That evening we went to a place on the water (bayou) which was right away from Touristland, called Whisky River Landing. Every Sunday from 4pm – 8pm they are open for dancling to a Zydeco band. It’s a popular place with local people and we had such a good time dancing and listening to the band who were great. The music is a funny mixture of traditional and what sounds very modern. There were lots of couples there and also some very elderly gentlemen who just wanted to dance with a lady!! Also the drinks were cheap!
At 8 we were rounded up and off we went for dinner. We went to a local Cajun restaurant called Prejeans and I had a real sense of déjà vu until I saw they had a webcam and remembered that ages ago when I was researching our trip I’d found their website and had watched people in real time having a meal at Prejeans. And now here I was wondering if someone else on the other side of the world was watching me eat my alligator. Yes. really! And it was yummy.

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