Chronicles of the Louisiana Trip Part III

"Rain, rain, go away. Come again some other day." Our anti-rain chant had no effect, however, and our original plans to go hiking had to be abandoned. After several attempts to look things up on the internet, which were thwarted by a spotty (at best) internet connection, we decided to throw maps, directions and planning out the window. Or at least, most of them. We got in the car and drove about until we found a road that ran alongside the river. High embankments on one side hid the water, while tall fields of sugarcane grew on the other. The cane fields were occasionally broken by a house, a small town, or a brown historical marker. We craned our necks to read the markers as we sped past, but usually just got to, 'this was the sight of the first....' before we had passed by.

We at length found ourselves in the town of Plaquemine. The first sight that met our eyes was on old railroad bridge that would raise up to allow boats to pass underneath of it. A little further on, we saw a building that surely belonged in a storybook. It was a little white structure with red trimmings. It perched on the very edge of the severe, grey, stone walls of the lock, with the water running below. A little fairy house surrounded by a moat. Actually, it was the historical Plaquemine lock house, built in the Dutch style. Why it was built in the Dutch style I'll never know. Nothing else in the town was even remotely Dutch, except for a small building that was erected much later, and was supposed to match the lock house.

"Oh, I want to go there!" I exclaimed when I saw the lock house. But I was distracted only a minute later by a small store that had a sign advertising imported merchandise. I love imported things, so we stopped. The store was rather disappointing. The only real imports were the American-looking things that were made in China. But the proprietor was most interesting in appearance. He looked like a dark-haired version of Albert Einstein, and his long hair waved all around his head in a disorderly black cloud as he went about the store. I wanted a picture of him, but I didn't see any way in which I could sneak it, and I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I think he will be in a book someday.

The next order of business was a look inside the lock house. It was not nearly as interesting on the inside as on the outside, but I did get some pretty good pictures looking out of the windows toward the town. A church framed in pink crepe myrtles, an old town hall (now museum) were captured by my camera.

A stroll around the lock house grounds provided even more photographic material. I snapped pictures of the lock house from various angles, pictures of the aforementioned railroad bridge, and still more pictures of the old church. Below the lock, there was a very nice walkway that was built out over the water on piers. On it was posted a sign that read:

Fish Cleaning,
Standing on Rails,
Diving, Jumping,
Swimming from Rail,
Pier or Sidewalk.

Mom and I followed the rules, and were saved from the invisible 'gators.

Lunchtime, and we weren't hungry for food, but still had a decided craving for exploration. So, we asked the friendly proprietor of a shop about nearby plantation houses. She gave us a taste of Southern hospitality as she took us into her office, Googled plantations, and called around for information. She also gave us some typically Southern directions: "Go up to the stoplight, and turn left at that Army place that isn't really an Army place. Then go on down the road 'til you get to that restaurant that's out of business..."

Nottoway Plantation was a tourist trap, and it was very expensive, and fairly reeked of bygone opulence. We toured the rooms that were open to the public. Rooms full of proud, old Southern splendor. High ceilings with delicate moulding, enormous windows opening onto broad verandas, a spacious ballroom, painted completely in white to show off the brilliant dresses of the ladies who had danced there. The grounds, peaceful and verdant, were thickly dotted with enormous live oaks whose bows drooped to the ground in leafy curtains. The family cemetery was there, dotted with marble slabs and old-fashioned inscriptions. I know that slavery is wrong and all that, but I can't help having just a wee bit of admiration, or perhaps pity, for those Southern aristocrats. What would it have been like to live there? To dress so finely, to sleep in those beautiful, walnut-bedecked bedrooms? What would it be like to stroll beneath those magnificent oaks, and know that everything belonged to you, the rich young planter's daughter? I'll never know, but I imagined it as I stood in the very place where those proud blue-bloods, now long dead, had stood.