Today is a tour of the Oak Alley Plantation. The better part of the day will be taken by this tour which starts by just getting there.
The plantation is almost an hour outside of New Orleans proper which provides enough time for our tour guide to provide a little insight to this challenged city.
Amongst other things, the first African American mayor of New Orleans managed to convince the Sheraton hotel to build not only a 1000 room hotel, but a major convention center as well. In addition, the complexes never cost the city itself anything. Today, the convention center alone brings in about $1 billion annually.
The Mercedes Benz Superdome is the world’s largest multi-purpose facility. It can seat 78,000 for football, and hosted the Pope with 103,000 faithful for mass. The Rolling Stones held a concert (in 1981) that generated $18.50 per seat (CHEAP!!) but there were 98,000 screaming fans so all in all a good night for the group. Interestingly enough that record for an indoor concert attendance stood for many years until June 2014. At that time, George Strait showed that country music could have a bigger draw when 104,793 adoring fans showed up at the Dallas AT&T center in Dallas Texas. That single show grossed over $18 million.
The I 10 highway (that we’re currently travelling on) covers a lot of territory stretching from Jacksonville, Florida to Santa Monica, California.
Many plantations were started by people given land by European aristocracy because of the riches that could be gleaned from that land. However, in order to be granted land for a plantation, the new owners had to meet 3 conditions. First they must be Catholic, second they had to stay for a minimum of 7 years and third they had to clear the lands and produce crops (sugar cane, cotton, whatever). It takes about 1000 pounds of sugar cane to produce 100 pounds of sugar. After about 1.5 years, the first of 3 crops of sugar cane can be harvested. It is then plowed under, soy beans are planted for a year, and the sugar cane process is then repeated.
The German people that came had no problem with this concept but the French, many who were aristocrats themselves, took exception to the amount of work that actually needed to be done. Most of the land was either marsh or swamp (swamp has trees, marsh primarily grasses and bush – both have a lot of water. And just to lay concerns to rest, Santa Claus comes through the marsh on a flat boat pulled along by alligators. No-one is missed.). Somebody else needed to do the work and slaves seemed like a perfect answer. Over time, that didn’t work out so well. .
As our trip to Oak Alley ends and the mansion comes into view, the rain that has deluged the road for the entire trip is now letting up, sort of. The ship-provided umbrellas have certainly been used and appreciated getting from the bus to the main building. There we are greeted by period-dressed people one of whom provides us with a just-right sized plastic bag in which to carry our soaked umbrellas. Smart people…bet they’ve done this before.
The building is in remarkable shape despite its 200 plus years of existence. This is now due to the Oak Alley Foundation which was begun by its last owner to preserve the history of the plantation. Started in 1837 and finished in1839 it is a testament to life without comforts we now take for granted. Most of it is made from clay bricks that, in turn, were made from clay out of the Mississippi river. Keep in mind, the clay was neither gathered nor made into bricks by the plantation owners. Many of the finishes inside the home are made from Cyprus wood, yet stained and painted to look strikingly like marble.
The Alley of Oaks is a quarter mile alley of 300 year old Virginia Live Oaks. They were first planted in the early 1700’s by an unknown settler. There are 28 oaks, spread 80 feet apart in two equal rows leading to the river. Massive in stature, the largest has a circumference of 30 feet and a spread of 127 feet. Some of these branches are now supported by metal posts driven into the ground with a saddle at the top holding the limb. As surprising as the sheer size of these magnificent trees is the fact they are merely middle-aged. Live Oaks have a life span of about 600 years. I should look so good at 300!
There is much to see but the rain prevents a lot of wandering about the yard. However, if you are so inclined, read up about it online. It presents a lifestyle both fascinating and horrifying. The buildings and grounds are beautiful but the human cost is beyond comprehension.
It’s a trip back to the ship now and the bus is strangely quiet. Certainly some are sleeping (the heat didn’t really let up despite the rain) yet I suspect others are simply letting their thoughts dwell on all they have seen and heard.
Back in our room we dress a little more appropriately (pants vs shorts and fresh shirt/blouse) and off to Blu we go for dinner.