State by State

Apparently there is an entire country between Boston and San Francisco.


by Damian

We end up sleeping on a plantation. We do not plan this. To tell the truth I am not eager to visit any plantation at all. Of course it’s hypocrisy on my part. There is little difference between slavery and peasants’ serfdom responsible for grand houses of good old Europe. And Boston’s wealth wouldn’t grow without trade with slave based economies. But admiring the splendor of the plantation big house is to me something akin to admiring the architecture of a concentration camp commandant quarters.

We drive, quite unimpressed, along the Mississippi banks. Unimpressed since we mostly see levees and some oil installations. The road is designated as scenic on our map so Natalia, being Natalia, tries to talk me into driving on top of the levee. I - being my usual worrying me - am doing my best trying to avoid it.

And suddenly we take this turn and see a perfect alley of huge old oaks leading to the immense pinkish residence. It looks like a Victorian landing strip. It’s startling. I hit the breaks and stop on the road shoulder to admire the view.

It’s after 6pm so we don’t hope for much. But the teenager working at the gates tells us we can walk the grounds. Once he starts talking I realize we are hearing yet another accent. Would it be rude if I start recording people? I have absolutely no words to describe the tantalizing variations of English spoken in this country.

After a brief walk we decide we want to stay for the night in one of the houses on the property. It’s off-season so we end up paying for one small bedroom and having the entire house to ourselves. We walk plantation grounds one more time just before the sunset. It’s slowly getting dark. You cannot see the stars yet but Mars and of course the moon are clearly visible. We sit on a big house veranda and listen to the cacophony of the summer evening. As darkness sets oaks start looking unreal. It’s strangely calming. We are not dressed properly but you get the illusion the time took strange detour back into the 19th century. It’s a good thing we don’t know then that this is where Interview with the Vampire was shot.

Next day is a bit disappointing. In the daylight, invaded by tourists, the house looks out of place. Oaks, while still beautiful, are showing their age. We take the tour. It’s full of French and Chinese tourists that seem to compete with each other trying to simultaneously translate the overwhelmed guide words into vernaculars. The guide concentrates on personal mishaps of the planter’s family. She barely mentions the slavery. I cringe at the phrase benevolent slave owner. I find it inexcusable. It needs to be said: the Southern economy, the US economy in the first half of 19th century would collapse without the unpaid forced work. And it did collapse after the Civil War. As in many similar cases the owners of Oak Alley Plantation could not keep the house. It’s a miracle it was saved. But many people would be much better off if it had not been built at all.


The houses look like nothing you see in the United Stated. They are colorful, interesting, inviting. They have unexpected angles, shaded terraces, outside staircases. This is modern architecture at its best. Cars roll slowly by and people stop to take pictures. Inhabitants, probably weary of constant attention, put up private property signs. Each house is slightly different. The one common feature is that they are either raised on stilts or capable to float in case of flooding. This is after all the area that suffered most during Katrina: Lower Ninth Ward. In order to get here we drove through devastated streets surrounded by abandoned housing lots and ruins. This was also something we never expected to see in America. The contrast makes new homes even more surprising, but they would stand out in each and every neighborhood in this country.

à la recherche du cadien perdu

The Lonely Planet guide suggests a trip through Louisiana Cajun Country highlighting a wild and jubilant French-speaking culture punctuated by crawfish boils, all-night jam sessions and dance parties. It calls Lafayette the grooviest town in Cajun Country […], full of beautiful people, tasty Cajun cuisine, and abundance of live music. Our guide to Texas that we’ve just bought after realizing that we are about to venture into the largest state in contiguous US completely unprepared, has Port Arthur under Lively Cajun […] noted for […] its superlative seafood and its Cajun nightclubs with their fiddle music and rowdy atmosphere.