On the Road Again in France
Yesterday, we jumped out of bed, dressed for a chilly day, had berries and coffee, hugged Mickey farewell, and rode Evie on the A10 to visit the city of Orléans. No, we we’re not back in the USA I’m referring to the ‘old’ Orléans, not New Orleans in the States. It is only a coincidence that it was just a little over six years since Ted and I had taken our last trip in the States to New Oeans. The occasion was my birthday and an enjoyable and relaxing voyage was just what us two doctors ordered after a difficult year of goodbyes and the stresses and strains of what was to be a very big move. Ted had never traveled in the South of the country, so we decided on a visit to New Orleans that included a bus tor throughout the city admiring the gorgeous homes, some 250-300 years old,
a canal boat trip through the bayous, and a weeklong cruise up the Mississippi River and back to flesh out the sense and the taste of this colorful area of the South. On the bus trip we were steered clear of many wards and Parishes along the coastal marshlands, those that were most horrifying, having never recovered from Hurrricane Katrina and the two hurricanes
(one just weeks before and a month after) that had overwhelmed New Orleans nearly a decade before our visit. Although Katrina’s eye went through Mississippi, her storm surge resulted in multiple levee failures in the New Orleans and the overflowing of Lake Ponchitrane flooding over 80% of the city.
Many areas were inundated by more than 15 feet of water. The failures of the levees meant to protect the city from such natural disasters were considered the worst engineering disaster in the history of the United States. Thousands of people were stranded inside their homes or on rooftops requiring rescue by boats and helicopters.
Many buildings and homes were damaged. More than 134,000 housing units – approximately 70% of the residences in New Orleans – were impacted to a large degree. The famous Superdome, where countless residennts took shelter when left stranded, sustained significant damage as well with two sections of its roof compromised and the Dome's waterproof membrane peeled completely off. The famous French Quarter and Garden District escaped flooding because those area are above sea level.
The death toll was 573 in New Orleans alone and several other parishes (neighborhood’s) were severely impacted by the storm. According to the Government, in St. Bernard Parish alone, 81% (20,229) of the housing units were damaged and most were unlivable. In St. Tammany Parish, 70% (48,792) were decimated, and in Plaquemines Parish 80% (7,212) were all but destroyed. Nearly one million Louisianians were left without electricity for an indefinate period of time. Throughout the state, 1,577 fatalities were reported and it is estimated that Katrina alsone caused $108 billion in damage throughout the Southern US, with much of the loss occurring in Louisiana. Our drive through the city didn’t begin to tell this story of the poorest citizens. But the heart of The French Quarter looked
as if nothing untoward had happened. We stayed in a delightful Antebellum hotel in the French Quarter before and after our cruise up the "Great Muddy". We strolled the streets, savored the eats, and soaked up the jazz everywhere we went. It was a fitting goodbye to the USA and covered some historical events in history of the Southern United States, especially the Antebellum period that spanned the end of the War of 1812, throughout the beginning of the American Civil War in 1861. The War of 1812 was a conflict fought by the United States of America and its indigenous allies against the United Kingdom and its allies in British North America, with limited participation by Spain in Florida. On January 8, 1815,
General Andrew Jackson's hastily assembled army won the day against a battle-hardened and numerically superior British force. That impressive American victory at the Battle of New Orleans soon became a symbol of American democracy triumphing over the old European ideas of aristocracy and entitlement. The battle was the last major armed engagement between the United States and Britain. From that war onward until The Civil War, slaves made up at least 45 percent of Louisiana's total population,
and more than 60 percent of the population outside of New Orleans. We were surprised to learn that there were a large numbers of free Negroes who owned black slaves; In fact, these slave owners existed in numbers disproportionate to their representation in the society at large. In 1860 only a small minority of white people owned slaves.This story was told to us by a gracious older black woman in costume who took us on a tour of a typical plantation of the day on one of the excursions off the boat. On the cruise in this modern day paddle steam ship on which we were comfortably bedded down and served in a lovely suite with its own private balcony from which we enjoyed the private views of sunrises and sunsets with a mint julip.
Each night we were joined by local entertainers, musicians, and story-tellers of the highest calibre. Voices that sang of the history of this region of our country.
We were also treated to the company of other retirees, perhaps a bit older than us, and mostly Republicans (so talking politics was just a bit dicey). By chance we sat with a group of four other couples on the first night. They had cruised together many times all over the world, and they adopted us a newbies to retired life and cruising. Thus we dined together for all our meals, which was a welcome surprise that opened our eyes.
The excursions off-ship included famous locales such as Oak Alley, Baton Rouge in Louisiana, Natchez, Tennessee, and Vicksburg, Mississippi. We visited charming Antebellum homes and gardens, preserved as if time could stand still, and historic battlefields and even a Battlefield Museum in Vickesburg. They were all eye openers.We felt as if we were in another country, and the costumes worn by guides and
docents contributed to the atmosphere of that colorful if violent and troubling time and place. After the cruise, we walked the streets
and enjoyed the St. Patrick’s day Parade and another parade with a very formal brass band marched the main street of the French Quarter. When queried what the occasion for that parade was, we were informed that " there is always reason for a Parade in New Orleans.And so it seemed!. We celebrated my birthday the next day with a trip by boat through the Bayous, where we saw wildlife and flora not found in Los Angeles, and we had a superb Creole dinner in the famous Arnaud’s Restaurant and Jazz Club. It was unexpectedly romantic and before we retired for the night, we visited their Mardi
Gras museum of costumes and hats. The Germaine Cazenave Wells Mardi Gras Museum, named for successor and daughter of Count Arnaud, opened upstairs in the French Quarter restaurant in 1983. Wells reportedly reigned as queen of over twenty-two Mardi Gras balls from 1937 to 1968, more than any other women in the history of Carnival.The museum displays more than two dozen lavish Mardi Gras costumes, including 13 of Mrs. Wells’ queen costumes, one of her mother’s, and one of her daughter’s, as well as four king’s costumes worn by Count Arnaud, (whose title was entirely local and honorary), and six children’s costumes.
The collection was topped off by by dozens of vintage photographs, fabulous Carnival masks and faux jewels, and elaborate invitations and party favors. The traditional colors of Mardi Gras–purple, green and gold, symbolizing justice, faith and power–shimmered throughout.
Back on Bourbon Street, there was yet another parade, and we ended our evening feeling as if we had taken a huge step back in time. On our last day before flying home, we visited a rather curious oyster bar and we payed our respects to a golden statue of St. Joan in the French Market. We munched on beinets (little French puffy donuts), and strolled the streets to the sound of Dixie-Land music.And when it was time to fly back home, we felt refreshed and renewed for the adventure across the Atlantic.
This day-trip to the old Orléans in France was something else to celebrate, indeed. There was so much to discover in this city, so close to Paris. But there was no doubt about where we would start our visit: at The Basilique Cathédrale Sainte-Croix d'Orléans in this city that Jean D’Arc had liberated.
Although Joan had been born in Domrémy, a commune in the Vosges department in Grand Est in northeastern France, the village has since been renamed Domrémy-la-Pucelle after Joan's nickname, la Pucelle d'Orléans. St. Joan of Arc became a national heroine of France, who had begun as a peasant girl who beleived that she was acting under divine guidance as she fearlessly led the French army in a momentous victory at Orléans in 1429 that repulsed an English attempt to conquer France during the Hundred Years' War. The exterior of the cathedral was extraordinary,
not just from the front, with its two towers similar to those of the Notre Dame de Paris, but above and along the sides one could really visualize the refined details of this masterpiece of Gothic architecture. Orléans' Cathedral is a Roman Catholic church and is the seat of the Bishop of Orléans. It was originally built between 1278 to 1329, but was partially destroyed in 1568 by the Huguenots during the French Wars of Religion, and was rebuilt between 1601 and 1829. Inside the Cathedral were a a number of beautiful
chapels, the first of which was dedicated to St. Joan, rendered in white Marble. This chapel was flanked on both sided by two special
monuments; On the left was a memorial to the British Soldiers who had died on French soil during the first and second World wars, and on the right, a memorial to the American Soldiers who had also lost their lives defending France
during those same wars .The interior of the church is accencented with brightly colored banners bearing the Holy Cross, and stained glass the windows many of which depict the story of Joan's actions which contributed to the lifting of the siege in Orleans.The transept has a large rose window at either end, which suggests the royal sun at its height on the south side and the setting sun on the north side. Both windows were thus made to represent the Sun King Louis XIV. The many statues and carvings add exquisite ornamentation to the Cathedral and each has some special historical meaning.I regret that there is so little space in my
to share with you all that I would like to, in both pictures and words, but perhaps one day you'll visit this magnificent structure for yourself and soak up it’s history and the history of this town in your own way. Of course, I can't neglect to mention that Ted had found yet another wonderful restaurant for lunch. This one was called l'Hibiscus. It was small, simple, painted pale grey with subdued art sparsely placed on the walls, but the food was simply “Incroyable” as we say here in France.
After lunch we walked through town, passed by the Music Conservatory to the Musee Beaux Arts that contains fine art from all over Europe, housed on
four floors collected in Orleans from the 15th through 17th Centuries, From The 17th through the 18th centuries, from schools of the 19th century, and in the basement were the Modern and Contemporary schools. Quite a bit to visit in one day, and yet we left knowing that we'd be back one day to see all that we had just begun to catch a glimpse of! Perhaps this will have given you a taste of what is just a day-trip away from us here At Home and In Paris.