Tuesday, 6 December 2011

River City

Lone Star State!

While on our break |Sandra decided to work on some quilting projects for fun.  Notice Buddy under the table blocking the presser foot of the sewing machine!  I guess he wanted some attention!

Huge Christmas Tree out in front of the Alamo Historic Shrine

The Alamo - historic battle fought here in 1836 between Texas and Mexico - Texas lost!

Part of the Alamo - amazing - over 200 years old!

Down on the River Walk in San Antonio.  The River Walk is below the streets and roadways - note the roadway above. 

Wee tour boats along the River Walk - we took one of these guided tours - enchanting!

Fountains and water falls along the River Walk - the architect who designed this attraction did an amazing job!

Arched walk-way over the San Antonio River along the River Walk.  The San Antonio River is really quite small and along these channels is only about 4' deep.  They do have flood control gates and apparently they 'turn the river off' in January to do maintenance and clean up - dredge the 'stuff' out that has fallen in the River etc.  One fellow said they found a Rolex in the river bed one year and it was still running!

Walking paths stretch along both sides of the river.  One can stroll for 8 miles.  Sandra loved it!

A mural on one of the buildings lining the River Walk.  the buildings butt right up against the walk-ways.  We had no idea all this was down here - what an amazing sight!

Patron Saint of San Antonio!

A hotel along the River Walk - the most amazing thing being it was built in less than 3 months for the Worlds Fair - the original contractor defaulted, so the new contractor promised to deliver in the compressed time frame in order that the pre-sold rooms would be available for the Fair tourists - or he'd 'give' the building to the city.  He delivered!!!!

Light displays on the trees along the River Walk

Interesting architecture on the old buildings lining the River Walk


St Nick's Hospital along the River Walk.  Optical illusion - it looks like this is a free standing wall!

We dined here at the County Line on the River Walk

A view of the River Walk from street level

Enjoying the River Walk ambiance!

Sandra's steak dinner at the County Line Restaurant on the River Walk.  The steak size was modest - but the potato was "something else"!  It had to be the equivalent of at least 3 medium sized potatoes.

Where we've traveled in the US

A dramatic sky with Old Glory fluttering away!

A resident Egret at our RV Park.  He was so tame until we had the camera, then he tended to shy away.

We spent an afternoon strolling around Braunig Lake near our RV Park.  Here another Egret graced us with his presence and tended to pose a little better!

What a graceful creature!
We have taken a bit of a break.  Twenty weeks of staying on the move on the road does tire one out a bit!  We paused in San Antonio and again down here in the Rio Grande Valley - where we will stay put now for another 2 weeks before heading over to AZ for Christmas.  Damon's Mother In Law Paulina has invited us to share Christmas with her and her friend Patty in Tempe - which was very kind of them.  We will definitely enjoy the time spent with them and with old friends in our former park in Casa Grande for New Years.  Meanwhile - we'll post a few pictures of the San Antonio River Walk - which we found absolutely charming.  Many people recommended spending some time on the River Walk but we absolutely could not visualize it.  What a charming place!

Monday, 14 November 2011

French Quarter - New Orleans

Sandra loved the French Quarter!  It is pulsating and alive!  Music is everywhere and the Artisans and their art is everywhere as well.  We toured and walked and enjoyed!  Our tour guide to the plantation stressed that in New Orleans - it is the food and the socializing that dominates - and it is so true.  He stressed that they 'live to eat'!  Unfortunately, due to the Gulf oil spill - the seafood was not as plentiful or as affordable as it could have been. 

We took a walking tour of the French Quarter.  Our Guide for this tour too - was very informed.  The people of NO are very dedicated to explaining their city - its history and culture - and are most grateful for tourists that come and support their economy.  Our Tour Guides each stressed this point over and over!

Love the architecture in the French Quarter.  the street level is shops, restaurants and bars - and above are town houses and apartments!  One can determine if a structure is Creole or American but the architecture - Creole homes do not have a 'front door' but are entered by a side door leading to a long hallway and and a stair well to the upper rooms - with a courtyard at the back.  A non-Creole home has a front entrance door.

Jackson Brewery - no longer a brewery but shops, boutiques and restaurants right in front of Jackson Square in the middle of the French Quarter bordering the Mississippi River.

Driving into the French Quarter - big oak trees overhanging the streets - can't imagine being under these in a hurricane!!!!

Had to have some Jambalaya!

FQ horse drawn carriages in front of Jackson Square - we did not take a carriage ride here - but definitely enjoyed the ambiance!

Mime Artist outside of Jackson Square

Another Mime Artist outside of Jackson Square

Artwork on display outside of Jackson Square

Barry ordered a Muffuletta sandwich - Oh boy!!!!!!

Love Jackson Square - Andrew Jackson on the horse - he defeated the British in 1814 - the British wanted to capture this area to attempt to get back the New England States (they lost after the Boston Tea Party) - the Mississippi being the avenue to traverse inland to the interior and across country over the various tributaries to achieve this goal.  They lost - or New Orleans could have been far different today!  Early leaders in the community sent off plans and diagrams and plans to France - testifying to the design of the area - streets and all - before they actually existed - it was still a 'vision' later to be reality due to funding support from France and later Spain.

More street scapes!

The side streets are narrow so all One Way!  On this particular street - about in the middle on the right - Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie have a town house.  From the street you have no idea what is behind the walls.  The exterior is retained in 1700's - 1800's architecture - but inside they are modernized and interior courtyards are the norm.  Would have loved to see inside some of these.  Brad Pitt loves NO and the FQ we are told.  He can wander about or ride his bike and the Paparazzi - if they are even there - leave him alone.

Joan D'Arc - a gift from France to New Orleans

Loved the French Quarter City Market - everything from flee market fare to up scale artists fare!

Fountain sculpture in the French Market

Yours Truly in front of Jackson Square during our walking tour!  It was cooler that day!  St. Louis Cathedral in the background - still an active parish.  This is a rebuilt structure dating back to the 1850's.

Bronze Statue of General Andrew Jackson ("Old Hickory" - listen to Johnny Horton's "The Battle of New Orleans") - which I thing our guide said weight 14,000 Tons.  It is carefully sculpted to balance the steed on his hind feet.  Jackson defeated the British in 1814 - Battle of New Orleans - a victory of which they are very proud!

Note the protrusions on the pillars - on the buildings in the FQ.  The intruder protection during that era.  All kinds of undesirables would get off the ships (3'rd largest in the US in its day) - these protrusions were called "Romeos" as in Romeo climbs up then "Juliet" comes tumbling down!

Vestments on display in the Ursuline Convent.  The Nuns hand embroidered this garment back in the late 1700's early 1800's

Ah!  Beignets (French Doughnuts) and black coffee at Cafe Du Monde in the French Quarter - operating continuously 24/7 (except for Christmas Day) from mid 1800's to present day except during Katrina - they were closed for about 2 months!  SS still feels guilty indulging is such a decadent treat!
The FQ is about 13 blocks wide and 7 blocks deep fronting right onto the Mississippi River and dates back to the early days of when the city was founded - 1718.  The city was originally under the rule of France - and later Spain.  The settlers who came in the early years were of different cultures but French remained the dominant language and Roman Catholicism was the mandatory religion to be practiced - and non Catholics were required by law to be practitioners.  Those first generation inhabitants to be born in the region and since - came to be known as Creoles.  With the Louisiana Purchase in 1804 - New Orleans passed from French to Spanish  to American rule in one day.  Apparently they had the raising and lowering of three different flags in one day. 

When the Americans came (Non Creoles and Non Roman Catholics) they were restricted to settling outside of the FQ.  The bordering Canal Street was considered a neutral zone and is where the Creoles and Americans would meet to transact business deals.

A sampling of pictures may give a flavor of the 'Quarter'.

Plantation Tour

We chose the Laura Plantation for our plantation tour.  River Road between New Orleans and Baton Rouge along the right bank (North) of the Mississippi River was the sight of hundreds of plantations in their hey dey - cotton and sugar cane crops.

Our Bus Driver / Guide was very knowledgeable about the NO area and in particular the Creole peoples and their culture.  He very eloquently talked non-stop on the drive to and from the plantation.  At one point we worried that he was not paying enough attention to his driving - but we survived!

  The Laura Plantation is special as archivists discovered the memoirs of a descendant of the original Creole family who built and farmed the sugar cane (white gold they called it) crop on this plantation.  Four generations of this founding Creole family worked this plantation from 1805 to 1892 - when Laura (wanting to escape the Creole plantation lifestyle) sold out to a German family.  Laura's Father named the property after her in an attempt to soften her resolve to leave and entice her to remain and manage the business.  It didn't work.  She not only left, but she married a Protestant out of St. Louis to boot!   Laura wrote her memoirs in the mid 1930's when she was 74 years old - mainly out of a desire to preserve an accurate account of Creole plantation life and culture and to clarify misconceptions prevailing at the time with the filming of "Gone With the Wind".  Laura died in 1963 at the ripe old age of 102!  Her memoirs were not discovered for another 30 years - but now provide valuable insight to the restoration of the original buildings that are open to the public.

A home in the midst of swamps and marshes - as we were driving to the plantation.  We saw this as we first entered the NO area as well.  The beginning of 'lots of water'.

Interstate 10 over and above the Bayou's, swamps and marshes!

One of only about 8 plantations still in existence along River Road that is being restored.

A copper pot used during the sugar cane harvest to reduce the sugar can into marketable product!

Laura Plantation "Great House" - Corporate Headquarters.  There are no hallways in a Creole house - just rooms with doors leading from one room to the other.  A bank of rooms is on the front and a bank of rooms is on the back.  The kitchen is not a part of this main structure - but set back at the rear in separate buildings - for fire safety reasons.  Monsieur Deparc commissioned the services of a skilled Senegal Slave to design and build this house - it took one year to lay the foundation and base for the house - a series of 72 columns placed on pyramid type columns that were imbedded in the unstable alluvial soil.  Then other slaves were sent into the forest to cut the required sizes of cypress beams to assemble the top structure - brick within cypress beams - and this part of the construction took only 11 days!  Cypress is impervious to water and termites - hence the longevity of this home.  But Formosan termites apparently will attack the cypress, so these little pests are being exterminated where possible.  We did notice metal plates flush with sidewalks in front of buildings - and those are apparently the Formosan termite traps!  Sadly the Cypress was clear cut back in those days - reforestation was not practiced 200 years ago.  We asked and yes they are planting new forests of Cypress, but it is a very slow growing tree apparently.

An ancient oak in front of the Laura House.  these oaks served an important function - running in a row down to the river with a wagon road in the middle - they provided shade and an avenue for the river breezes to blow up to the Great House - where they then opened the Breeze doors along the front verandah to allow the cooling breezes into the house in the heat of summer.

A bonfire pier in front of the Laura House.  Back in the 1700's and  1800's every plantation would construct a bonfire pier like this in front of their property on the banks of the Mississippi - and then on Christmas Eve all the fires were lit - quite a spectacle up and down the river with a huge bonfire every mile or so for hundreds of properties!!!!

A earthen vessel like what would have been used at Laura.  The outside is not glazed - as this vessel would be buried in the ground - up to where the neck is glazed - and this served as a cooling vessel for food stuffs.  This vessel is valued at $6,000

Creole family members and descendants of the founding family.  They were very fortunate to have retrieved these valuable pictures along with the detailed memoirs and other artifacts gracing the prpoerty!

A fire did start on the property a few years ago - but they were able to salvage the property.  Here one can see the structural design - brick between Cypress Columns.  They removed gyproc to expose the original structure.  The gyproc does protect the brick from deteriorating in the heat and humidity.

The original brick patio behind the Laura House - and in the background is where the series of kitchen buildings would have stood back in the 1800's

The back verandah of Laura with a shot of a Breeze door.

Innovative use of wine bottles to warm the soil in the herb garden.  One of the business ventures the women practiced was to import Bordeaux wine from France (they had contacts) - and which they then sold for a handsome profit from the Great house.  As an example of their wealth back then - one of the Daughters had a dowry that would be $20 M by today's standards.  Creole women started out independently wealthy!

Banana trees out behind the Great House - there would have been massive gardens in its hey day - to support and feed not only the family members but the 186 slaves on the property.

This bell would have been used to summon the plantation workers (slaves) and family members to meals.  Slave children starting at age 5 would walk up to the kitchen with a pail each to collect food to take back to their families slave cabin.

One of the original slave cabins on the property.  They were required to provide a 8' X 16' cabin for each slave family - the family then innovatively built duplex structures 8' X 32 ' to house two families each.  The Creoles adhered to an established code of ethics in the management of their slaves.  They attached value and status to their slaves depending on the skill set that a slave may possess (the housebuilding slave from Senegal would have had a very high value at the time).  We asked if the Creole treatment of slaves was better than that other Southern American Slave owners.  The answer was "not necessarily better - just different".  And interestingly - when the English speaking (and Protestant) Americans started moving in and bringing their slaves with them - there was considerable distrust and animosity not only between the Creoles and the Americans but between the Creole owned slaves and the American owned slaves as well!

The retirement home of one of the family Matriarchs who, when she retired from the management of the plantation - had to move out of the Great House.  She refused to move into town so this home was built for her on the grounds.  Apparently- not totally ready to let go of the reins,  she tried to continue firing out orders to the workers from her walkway balcony - which has since crumbled.  The plan is to restore the building as well.
The Laura property was only about 3/4 of a mile wide - fronting onto the Mississippi - and 12 miles deep (12000 acres) - the French Colonial method of parceling out the land.  Everyone had to have a river front - as the river was the 'highway' of the day - the main mode of shipping and receiving goods!  The restored main house dates back to 1805 - over 200 years old!

The Creole lifestyle was very different from the American lifestyle in other Southern regions like Alabama or Tennessee.  For example (sorry guys!) the business in a Creole family did not automatically pass to the eldest son but to the 'smartest' child - and at Laura - that meat 3 generations of women heading up the corporation - and they managed the business with a shrewd skill.  Creole women had rights - they could do banking, sign contracts etc etc.  Rights not enjoyed by women elsewhere in the country in this era.

At the height of its operation the Laura Plantation had 186 slaves.  The main house served as Corporate Headquarters - and everyone who lived in the big house had to be a participating family member in the business or else move out.  The Creoles worked hard and played hard.  After the harvest was in and after Christmas but before Lent, they would leave the farm and move into the city (New Orleans) to their town house - and there would begin 2 to 3 months of socializing, partying, singing, eating, dancing and it would be at this time that the young women or "Debutante's" would have their coming out appearance - then the courting would start!  The pictures will fill in some blanks!