We have now officially reversed our direction and are heading back west. From Florida, we drove to New Orleans, camping at the same park we’d stayed at over Thanksgiving (see New Orleans Reunion). Bayou Segnette is a nice, spacious state park right in urban New Orleans, just 20 minutes from the French Quarter. This time, we got a space with a wooden deck, which really helped us avoid the stinging ants that plague the area.
Visit with Our Daughter
We arrived on Friday night, and Tobi flew in on a Seattle red eye, arriving at 8:00 Saturday morning. We hadn’t seen her since the beginning of our trip, exactly a year ago (see Seattle). It was wonderful not only to see her again, but to have four full days of leisure time with her. I can’t even remember when we’ve spent that much time just with Tobi.
Each day was a nice mix of activity and relaxation. Visits with family, museums, hike, and French Quarter walks, along with late breakfasts, lounging with books, and watching movies and the finale of Downton Abbey. This was Tobi’s first visit to New Orleans, and we were happy to show her some of our favorite places.
Two of my four nephews are in law school at Tulane University, and late Saturday afternoon (after Tobi had had a good nap), they came out to the campground with their girlfriends, five pounds of boiled crawfish, and an ice chest full of beer. They insisted that for the full Louisiana experience, we must all partake in the crawfish feast, and like good sports, we did (although we declined to suck the brains out of the heads).
Kate and I had plenty of food as well, and at dusk, we built a huge campfire. We roasted hot dogs and made s’mores, and laughed and talked for hours. We really enjoy the girlfriends, as well as the nephews, and it was so gratifying to watch Tobi connect with them all. Each of my three siblings live in different parts of the country, so growing up, cousin visits were short and far between. I always wished my extended family lived nearer, but we still managed to maintain close ties. I loved seeing the warmth and ease between them all now.
My brother is dean of the Tulane Law School and he and his wife (a law professor and author) have crazy travel schedules. Trying to pin them down for a visit is nearly impossible. We missed Amy, but Dave was in town one day while we were there, and he devoted most of it to us.
Dave drove us out to Jean Laffite National Park for a nature hike through bayou country. It was a warm Sunday afternoon, and the place was more crowded than Dave had ever seen it. But we managed to sight a great variety of swamp critters: an otter, two owls, a snake, a lizard, a tree frog, turtles, and about half a dozen alligators. It was a perfect Louisiana adventure.
Dave gave us a tour of their new 140-year-old house near Magazine Street, then we all went out to dinner at a fun neighborhood restaurant that offered a good sampling of New Orleans food: jambalaya, fried green tomatoes, and Creole shrimp. It was so great to have some time with my baby brother!
When Kate and I were here in November, we went to the Whitney Plantation Slavery Museum. It had opened just months before, but as the only existing plantation museum with a total focus on the atrocities of slavery, it promised to take off. Sure enough, it has. Tobi was interested in seeing this, so we drove the hour out of town to return to it. Our last visit, there had only been a handful of other visitors, and I had a long talk with the owner. Now, after being featured in the New Yorker, the place was packed, and we had to wait over an hour for a tour. I’m glad to see its success, because a museum like this is so important and long overdue. For more about this museum, see Whitney Plantation and Slavery Museum.
A walk around the French Quarter is imperative for New Orleans visitors. We got there early on Tuesday morning and went straight to Café DuMond for biegnets (traditional fried doughnuts with powdered sugar). We walked around side streets, taking photos and peeking in galleries and stores. Then we went to the Katrina Museum, right on Jackson Square.
This small museum was well worth the $5 entry fee. We’d heard so much about this devastating hurricane and flood, but watching videos of first-hand accounts, and seeing artifacts and detailed information was a moving and somber experience.
Included in the entry fee is the Mardi Gras Museum on the second floor. Our parking meter kept this tour short, but it was so interesting to see some of the wildly elaborate costumes over the ages, and to learn about the history of this unique tradition: initially and still to some degree religious, but shifted into an over-the-top celebration of freedom and fantasy. As an outsider, I can’t help but be appalled by the mass quantities of cheap trinkets tossed into the streets during these parades. So much money and plastic discarded. But I can really appreciate the creativity that goes into the floats and costumes, the atmosphere of extreme gaiety, and the freedom to be outrageously silly and wild. It reminds me of San Francisco Gay Pride parades I attended in the 70s and 80s.