January, 2012. On the Geaux – Again – in Louisiana

Posted on January 27, 2012

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A few days ago we completed our tour of the Zydeco Cajun Prairie.

We started out in the farming community of Iota, in Acadia Parish.  Not an iota of interest in Iota.

Then it was on to Evangeline Parish, and the little town of Mamou.  This place calls itself the Cajun Music Capital of the World. (Haven’t we heard this before??) It IS home to Fred’s Lounge, a bar and dance hall featuring live Cajun music on Saturday mornings for over 40 years.  It is also the only bar we know that’s open ONLY on Saturdays, from 7:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. (P.M., not a.m.)

Then we drove over to Ville Platte in the same parish, which was almost as interesting as Iota.

From there, we traveled back to Eunice and Opelousas, places we’ve blogged about before.

Now, if you think this trip doesn’t sound all that interesting, you’re wrong.

We saw some beautiful agricultural countryside – miles and miles and miles of rice fields, huge flocks of egrets and geese, and miles of bayous and that particular wilderness that is the Louisiana coutryside.

On to South Louisiana.

Avery Island – home of that great American condiment, Tabasco Sauce.  We saw the film, took a short factory tour, and visited the factory store.  Everyone should do it once.

Franklin, the governmental seat of St. Mary Parish, located on Bayou Teche, was named one of America’s best 100 small towns by travel author Norman Crampton.

By the 1830s, Bayou Teche was the main street of Acadiana, with one plantation after another along its banks. The area’s sugar cane planters were among the South’s wealthiest agriculturists. This is reflected in the grand homes and mansions they built in Franklin and the surrounding countryside. Most of these magnificent structures are still standing, privately owned and well preserved, giving Franklin its unique architectural flavor.

Morgan City, 60 miles south of Baton Rouge, calls itself the Gateway to the Gulf.  We found a beautiful RV Park – NOT a trailer park – on Lake Palourde we’d love to return to some day.  We spent little time here as we were headed to Pierre Part, but its waterfront location and maritime activities – petroleum and shrimping – make it a place we’d like to visit in more detail…next time through.

Baton Rouge is, of course, the capitol of Louisiana.  It’s a medium-sized city right on the Mississippi River, full of history and full of interest.  We just did a one-day (more like one-half day) trip, so we saw only a couple highlights, had lunch and drove around a little.

The Old Louisiana Capitol Building is something to see.   It was built in 1852, in what is described as the Gothic Revival style, but to me the exterior looked to have more French/Spanish influences, as it has a decidedly castle-like look.  The inside, however, is purely American Gothic at its best.

The interior of the building burned in 1862, while occupied by Federal troops during the Civil War.  It wasn’t reconstructed until 1882, which probably says something about Reconstruction itself and how long it took the South to get back on its feet after the conclusion of the Civil War.

It served as the Capitol until 1932, when Governor Huey P. Long convinced the legislature a new one was needed.  Apparently Long hated the old building – I suppose the bad taste left by Federal troop occupation might have had something to do with his feelings;  perhaps, to him, it represented the “Old South”.

Anyway, to construct a state capitol building during the Great Depression was an idea only a powerful politician could have made a reality.  And Huey P. Long was a powerful politician who was both loved and hated.

“Hated” won out – he was shot to death by a relative of a political opponent inside his beloved Capitol Building in 1935.

The interior of the new capitol speaks to power and wealth.  Marble, high relief carvings, grill work, sculpture, bronze, leaded glass, symbolism and vast proportions give it a regal feel.   An odd “monument” to associate with a Governor who built his political career as the champion of the common man, but then, he WAS known as the KINGfish.

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