Inger and Jeff Latreille
Cajun Vs. Creole
~Tuesday, January 31, 2023~
Jeff had a horrible night’s sleep, so slept in until 11:00. The quietness of the morning allowed me to get caught up on our website and begin a new Christmas stocking project for my second grandson, Carson (age 2). I’ll hopefully have it complete before his 5th birthday. 😝
It was another day of authenticity, as we drove the historical River Road headed to Vacherie, LA to visit the Laura Plantation. Again, it seemed like we had most of the place to ourselves. One of the first questions we had for one of the staff in the gift shop was what the “lighting of the bonfires” was all about. What prompted our question were the mini versions of the long-logged, pyramid shaped structures they had on their shelves; the real ones can be as high as 20 feet. The tradition goes something like this…..annually, at dusk on Christmas Eve, usually around 7:00 p.m., the pyramid structures that dot the banks of the Mississippi are doused with flammable liquids and set ablaze, lighting the sky and the surrounding area with towering flames that would be impossible for Papa Noel and his reindeer to miss. Now that would be something to see. Here is a link to an example of what it looks like: https://batonrougefamilyfun.com/bonfires-on-the-levee/Adding it to our bucket list for sure.
Our tour guide, Crystal, was witty and possessed a wealth of knowledge who kept the 4-generation family tree straight for us up until a certain point. We just couldn’t keep up….it was that complex. The family drama was very heavy which she likened it to a daytime soap opera. As she began the tour of the property, a few more people joined us which brought our group to 8. It was on this tour that we really came to understand the difference between Creole and Cajun. Was it based on religion, ethnicity, or political affiliation? This particular plantation is the epitome of Creole heritage, where women predominantly managed the business. There are 3 key elements to being Creole where you must possess all three criteria…….
You must have been born in Louisiana
You must speak fluent French
And you must be Catholic
First was talking about the house itself. Modest in size compared to larger plantation homes, it had just received a new coat of
paint from its previous white. Apparently when they removed the 2 coats of white, it revealed the original colors intended for the home…..ochre, red, green, mauve and gray. It had also been given a new metal roof a month ago to replace the traditional composition shingles, hoping it would be more resistant to hurricane damage. Surrounding the home were several live oak trees (these are without moss), some at around 200 years old. The bottom floor (more like a basement) displayed the slave’s highly skilled
craftsmanship as we investigated the ceiling/floor joists and the overall framework of the home. Evidently, before building the home on site, they would harvest or cut down the Cypress trees that were in the swamps, assemble each piece there, number them, and then reassemble the house at its final resting place. Some of those numbers
remain to this day. It seems like double the work, but in the end, this would save time and energy ensuring that they had everything they needed to avoid overhauling the distance to the plantation.
At the height of its sugar cane production, the property was one of the largest in the area at 12,000 acres. Sugar cane was the dominant crop in south Louisiana, setting the region apart from the rest of the American South. We were able to witness just how dominant this region became by looking at a map of all the plantations
that were along the Mississippi River (about 350) on River Road alone, some being just a narrow but deep sliver of land with access to the Mississippi River.
The home wasn’t just about family gatherings and raising children in them. It was about running a business. Laura Locoul was born on the family plantation in 1861 who eventually to her dismay, felt it more of an obligation, not a desire to run the business for many years. Other women in the family down the line, inherited this as well. But as we got further along in the tour, I realized this was not just about a beautiful plantation. It was more about the complex layers of slave life and how their existence was integrated with the lives of their masters. From the age of 3, you were a slave, serving as a playmate for a plantation owner’s children. And from that age, you became enslaved, thought of only as property which became a cycle nearly impossible to break. They worked day and night with grueling, intense conditions, sometimes working for up to 20 hours a day during harvest or planting season. In fact, conditions in the cane fields were so brutal, that Virginia planters would threaten to sell their slaves south to Louisiana. Their lives were filled with tragedy and triumph with many unknown or forgotten until now thanks to the vivid vignettes we’ve come to see and learn from on this trip.
On the way back to our campground, we encountered some pretty dense fog making for a slower ride home. It finally opened up the closer we got to our campsite, but appeared to just be in the one pocket we were driving through. In my rare occasion of cooking (at least on this trip), I offered to whip up a delicious creamy cauliflower soup with a side of spinach salad. I’m sure Jeff enjoyed the break. While we ate, we had the entertainment of a few critters taking part in their meal of acorns right over the trailer and man is it loud. Everybody manger!