Because tour day is always my favorite part of seminar, I generally only sign up for six days of classes. This year, ANG did not have any tours on the schedule. I imagine this is due to the past few years having very little participation. So Sue and I talked with the concierge here at the Hyatt and arranged for a tour of two plantations near NOLA.
We were picked up directly in front of the hotel this morning and our entertaining bus driver took us first to the Laura Plantation. This was a creole plantation (French, Roman Catholic).
The Laura plantation is unique in that early-on the inheritance passed through to the women in the family, a French and not American possibility. One tough old lady managed the plantation and family to obtain untold riches. Yet she was mean as could be. As interesting as this story is, the reason that this house is preserved is that the man who wrote “Brer Rabbit” based his stories on ones that he wrote on this plantation while listening to the oral histories of the black slaves.
I’d like to draw your attention to the doors on the front porch and then two similar doors from inside the house.
Sue and I thought that these were beautiful and would be interesting needlework designs. We learned that these were painted onto the doors using a carved potato. Every door was beautiful in itself and no two were alike!
I had to include this picture of the glassware on the dining room table because it reminds me so much of my Granny’s stemware!
From the house, we walked though the banana garden (36 kinds of bananas) to the slave quarters.
As noted before, the slave quarters are the reason that this plantation is considered a historical place.
We also saw the “dowager” house which housed eight people (including favorite slaves) in eight rooms — contrast this with the slave quarters which housed six people in one very small room.
Our tour guide at Laura was awesome — bordering on a professional actress (if not an actual actress). Listening to Camille was worth the trip all by itself.
Afterwards, we drove a few more miles down the road to Oak Alley plantation. There have been about a dozen films shot here and I think it fits most people’s perception of a “real” southern plantation.
When we arrived, we were greeted by a lady in hoop skirts and offered the possibility of a mint julep which we could take into the house for our tour. In the dining room, I was intrigued by the large lyre-like feature hanging where one would expect the chandelier to be. This was an idea from India — a large, slow moving fan — that would keep the dinner guests cooler during a long dinner. It’s power came from a young slave (about nine years old) who would slowly pull the rope until the last dinner guest had left the room. The table and chairs were quite short because the average creole man was about 5′-4″ and the average woman was 5″-0″. However, the silverware was quite large because it was a subtle way of advertising your wealth!
When we moved upstairs to the bedroom, we were told about the rolling pin bed frame shown below.
It seems that the mattresses were stuffed with Spanish moss which grew in great abundance. It was quite comfortable but would become lumpy over the course of the night. A rolling pin bed would have one of the spindles that detached and slaves would roll the mattress for about 1-3/4 hours each day per mattress to get it all flat again for the next night. An example of a detached spindle is shown on the bed.
One of the most spectacular design features of the house was the medallion in the master bedroom.
The last owner of Oak Alley did not have any heirs, so it set up a non-profit foundation to care for the house and a few acres of land. Other family members maintain homes on the remaining acreage and oversee the foundation.
Here’s Sue in front of the alley of oaks that gives this plantation its name.
After a quick bite at the cafe and an even quicker jaunt through the gift shop, our bus driver brought us back to our hotel in NOLA — just in time for stitcher’s EXPO!
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