Ralph Melton (ralphmelton) wrote,

New Orleans Trip, Thursday Mar-23-2011: Oak Alley Plantation

We had gotten a rental car for this year's trip, and we wanted to get value out of it. So we were focused on doing our touristing outside the French Quarter as much as possible. And the rain had stopped while we were in the Camellia Grill. So we went off to a plantation tour, and without much basis for choice beyond a few brochures, we went to Oak Alley Plantation.

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Oak Alley is named for the two long rows of three-hundred-year-old live oaks stretching from the river past the house. They predate the house by over a hundred years, but there is no record of the person who planted them besides the oaks. It makes me wonder, really—planting them would be no little project, so I would assume that the man who planted them intended to make a home and a livelihood there. What happened such that there's no record of him even in an old deed book?
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We started with a forgettable lunch at the restaurant on the grounds. Gumbo for me, roast beef po'boy for Lori.
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I've had trouble finding what to say about the mansion, so I've turned to Lori. She writes:
The mansion was the opposite of our lunch -- memorably beautiful! The tour was honestly fairly standard, and our guide was competent but uninspiring. However, the views of the "Oak Alley" from the veranda were stunning. The interior of the mansion was pretty, much of the furniture is period but not original to the house. I think the beautiful grounds with their stunning live oak trees are the reason why it has played host to several movie crews over the years. Most notably to me, it was Louis' mansion in "Interview with the Vampire." For me, it was easy to imagine a belle on the veranda anxiously awaiting her swain galloping down the avenue of live oaks on horseback.


This contraption was operated by a slave standing in a corner to shoo away flies. One was very aware of the differences in class and the fact that the whole plantation lifestyle was built on the back of slave labor. (Including some very skilled slaves—they said that the cook had been trained in France. I'm curious about how that worked.)
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Another view of the oaks from the veranda. Swain on horseback not included.
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At the end of the tour, we bought a mint julep from the organization for the volunteers at the plantation. It was very different from our previous mint julep experience with the mint juleps benefitting the Tennessee Williams Festival. (I would not have characterized myself as the type of person who has opinions between charity mint juleps, but apparently I am.) The Tennessee Williams Festival mint julep tasted primarily of strong bourbon, softened only slightly by mint and sugar. This julep was extremely smooth, so smooth that it was easy to overlook how potent it was. Sipping this made it very easy to imagine genteel Southern belles languidly fanning themselves on the veranda as bluecoats overran their plantation.
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As we were leaving, we stopped to ask one of the groundskeepers what he was doing. (Answer: he was pumping out one of the lawns for a craft festival that weekend.) This turned into a surprisingly fascinating conversation. He told us about the cycle of flowers on the site, and he told us that he was rebuilding the slave quarters for the plantation—by hand. He had already put two hundred hours of work into the slave quarters, and they currently had only a chimney and the beginnings of the floor.
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