In honor of me having achieved my goal of visiting all 50 US States, each day for the next 50 days, I will post a picture of somewhere I have visited in each state and write a paragraph or two about my experience. There is so much to see in every one of them, so I am just selecting one of my best memories.
“Laissiez Les Bon Temps Roulet” ( Let the good times roll) is more than just words in Louisiana it is a way of life. The most unique of the southern states (and quite possibly the entire nation) Louisiana takes it’s French and Creole heritage very seriously. While you will able to get by just on English in Louisiana. French influences are on the street names, cities, parishes (Louisiana is the only state not to have counties) and even in the surnames of many of the citizens. While the French impact is the most dominant, Louisiana prides itself on its cultural gumbo there are Spanish, Carribean, and African influences too. And now most recently the Vietnamese who starting coming in the 1970s to work in the shrimping and fishing industries.
New Orleans has been celebrating Mardi Gras all the way back to the 1600s. The celebration includes elaborate costumes, masks, parades and lots of music. Most decorations and parade floats entail the official colors of purple, green and yellow. The ceremonies occur all over the city but usually, meet at Canal or Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. The entire city of New Orleans and for that matter, most of southern Louisana seems to come to a halt for most of the week leading up to the big day. If you ever wish to attend Mardi Gras, it is recommended that you plan out a minimum of six months in advance, especially if you want to stay in the quarter. Last year, Mardi Gras attracted 14 million visitors who attended all or some of the festivities. There is so much to write about Mardi Gras, I plan on doing a future post just on tips for visiting and saving money. There are a few ways to save a whole lot of money and still feel like you get to see most of the fun. Stay tuned.
If the unbridled debauchery of Mardi Gras and the French Quarter is not really your speed, New Orleans and especially the Quarter is a charming old world city with some beautiful architecture and a languid southern style. You have Jackson Square, the Mississippi Riverwalk and quaint street cars. (While sadly the “Desire” line has been closed for decades, a couple of the streetcars that ran on “Desire” are up and running, so sorry to any Tennessee Williams’ fans that’s the best they have for now.)
We can’t talk about New Orleans without talking about Jazz. Music has been an intrinsic part of the city since it was founded. Believed by most historians to be the birthplace of Jazz, the city was home of such greats as Louis Armstrong. One of the most popular forms of Jazz here is Dixieland that includes French and African influences like the banjo (originally an African instrument). New Orleans was the only city in America that allowed Slaves to own drums. They were also given more musical freedom in Louisiana than other states. Over the centuries the music became a singular style from music you could hear anywhere else in the country. While the music form would evolve and move upriver to cities like Chicago, Kansas City, St Louis, and eventually New York City, New Orleans was the incubator that hatched this unique American Music genre.
Food in New Orleans and the rest of Louisana is rich and filling. Oh, and spicy, very spicy. Gumbo, Creole, Etouffe, and those insanely sweet Beignets everyone seems to have for breakfast. Louisiana is an epicurean delight.
New Orleans is also the home of the National World War II Museum. A sobering reminder of the world’s deadliest conflict and America’s role (with the British, French, Russian and other allies) in bringing a restoration of peace. This will also be featured in greater detail in a future post.
The Museum has a vast collection of uniforms, maps, airplanes, and military hardware. There are also some moving exhibits that remind us of the enormous human toll the war wretched on the soldiers and civilians who were caught in the crossfire. No visit to New Orleans should not include time here. We owe them this much.
There is more to Louisana than New Orleans, Louisiana’s capital and second city Baton Rouge has a beautiful former capital. Situated on a bluff overlooking the Mississippi River, the old state capitol building looks more European than New World. But given the state’s strong French influence that seems fitting. The interior of the building is stunning with its stained glass crenelated ceiling. Now a state historical museum, the building alone is worth a visit and make sure you bring your camera.
looking more like a gothic Castle than a statehouse, the building is even more captivating at night lit up with colored lights.
The mesmerizing stained glass ceiling. I could stare at it for hours.
The area of southern Louisana especially the areas around the delta and Layfayette are known as Cajun Country. The Cajuns descended from French settlers who formerly lived in Nova Scotia in what was at the time French Canada. But at the time they lived in the area they called it Acadie. The French lived in Acadie undisturbed from around 1608 to 1713 when the land was surrendered to the British. The British changed the name of the area from Acadie to Nova Scotia (New Scotland). The governor of the New British Province demanded the French settlers swear allegiance to the British Crown and the Anglican Church. Most of the immigrants who were devoted Catholics refused to do so. They were then forced into exile in a time that came to be known as “ Le Grand Derangement”. Louisana was still in French control at this time and over 16,000 Arcadians or “Cajuns” settled in Louisana. Weary of outsiders many descended into the Bayous and swamplands outside of New Orleans. To this day many Cajuns still cloister together living privately from the outside world keeping their French language and heritage alive.
The church of St. Martin de Tours in Layfayette Louisana is considered the mother church of the Cajun Community. Established in 1765, the church is the lifeblood of Acadiana.
A traditional French home in Layfayette Louisana. Given the sultry, humid weather many houses which were built before central air had breezeways to help keep the air temperature cooler.
Layfatte has a district called Vermillionville which is a living history park. The park includes restored Acadian homes and Artisans whose craftwork has not changed for centuries. The park is a font of Cajun Culture and is a fascinating visit.
Definitely come to Louisiana but make sure you get out of New Orleans as well. You will see a centuries-old culture that somehow found a way to survive and even thrive in modern-day America.