Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Christmas Eve in New Orleans

So what happened next?

The Man had reserved seats for us to take the ‘Bonfire Tour’ on Christmas Eve. This was a bus tour that took us to Destrehan Plantation during the day and then on to see the lighting of the bonfires to guide in Papa Noel. This was to be followed by the midnight mass at St. Louis Cathedral in Jackson Square (not part of the tour).

Because we were going to mass I decided to wear my skirt and flats instead of the casual dress the tour recommended. There was no time for us to return to our trailer and change between the bus tour and mass. No problem. In fact I felt rather ‘dressed up’.

The bus tour took us first to Destrehan Plantation where we were given a guided tour and a Cajun turkey dinner. Before dinner we went to two demonstrations on the plantation. The first showed us how they had used the Spanish moss from the trees and how they dried it before use. We learned how they used the moss for stuffing in their mattresses and in a concoction that went between the building logs to keep out the elements.

After that demonstration we went into the cookhouse and learned how they had cooked their meals and then transported them to the main house to another kitchen before it was served.

We then all proceeded to a big barn where we had a turkey dinner complete with stuffing and dessert. This was the beginning of the end for me.

I’m a celiac. This means that my body cannot process gluten and if I ingest it I get very ill. Gluten damages my intestines and I can’t assimilate my food. It sounds all very confusing for people who can eat anything – but for me it is a major obstacle in my life. I can get sick easily and remain ill for days. The effects of gluten in my system are debilitating. I will be ill for a couple of days and then my body needs about 4 months to heal. It’s almost like falling dominoes. One event triggers another that triggers another in my body – and I’m done.

The day before we left for our New Orleans holiday we went to a Sarah Brightman concert. The Man had managed to gets us tickets 14 rows from the stage. I was incredibly excited. Before the concert we went out for dinner. Partway through the meal I started to feel ill and when we got to the event I was asking the man to drop me at the door so I could find a bathroom. I spent most of that concert running back and forth to the bathroom and it was a grueling hour and half drive home afterwards. The next day we were packing the trailer and I was almost useless.

I was still dragging three weeks later when we took this tour but I had my brave face on. You have to right? I had even packed a celiac sandwich and it was in my purse. But – I asked the women who were serving if there was anything I could eat in the lovely Cajun turkey dinner they were offering. They pointed me to the turkey and the potatoes and I had a small dry salad as I watched The Man tuck into my dessert.

After the meal we took a tour of the main house. A plantation house is so romantic. I walked around in another world – my long dress sweeping the floor as I fanned my face out on the veranda and handsome swains threw flowers at my feet. I trilled with laughter as I drank my mint julep and watched as the men performed daring feats on their horses as they pranced in the courtyard. Ah yes. I was the belle of the plantation.

What I didn’t notice was The Man wandering around taking pictures of the plantation from different angles and our tour guide touching him on the shoulder repeatedly and following him around.

Now this doesn’t come as any surprise to me as I have had many comments on the good choice I have made in my man – from other men. As for The Man – he good-naturedly puts up with it and gets that ever-suffering look on his face which cracks both of us up.

After the tour of the plantation we were rushed through the gift shop and into the buses once more. I managed to grab a small three-legged teacup with saucer covered with fleur de lis before we were whisked away.

Night had fallen by this time and the whole bus tour (10 buses) was escorted with flashing lights on top of the police vehicles into the small town and up to the levee. The Cajuns believe that Papa Noel (the Cajun Santa Claus) has to be shown where they live and they light his path with bonfires to guide him through the fog and dark. Huge structures are built on top of the levees and set alight then judged on their burning abilities. Some are in shapes but most of the ones we saw were pyramids built of logs and about 15 feet high.

We climbed the levees and strolled around the bonfires that stretched off into the night in both directions. Out on the Mississippi River some of the ships were covered with Christmas lights and swinging at anchor on Christmas Eve. It was very beautiful and smoky. The night was warm and sultry and I felt an incredible peace within me. I felt at home.

When our time was up we boarded the bus again and drove back into New Orleans. Our guide told us harrowing tales of his sojourn in New Orleans during Katrina and after the levees broke. He pointed out places we had not noticed that were standing empty – like the Hyatt Regency Hotel near the Superdome. He had been in the building that had been hit by the roof of the Superdome when it blew off and he had stayed there for a week before swimming to the Convention Center and getting on a bus with the others and getting out of the devastation. My heart ached for what these people had been through.

Still - it was a wonderful tour given by Gray Line Tours.


Daryl said...

Now of course I want to go to N'awlins at Christmas ..

Did they point out the convention center next to the hotel which is also deserted and likely to be torn down?

Cath said...

Sounds magical.

A great shame that you fell prey to gluten. You have my sympathies. I hope you are somewhat recovered now. :)

Leatherdykeuk said...

How utterly fabulous (the bonfires)

Sorry you were so ill, though1

menopausaloldbag (MOB) said...

Sounds fabulous and you and that man have such a great relationship - just right for each other. The hurricane devastation was heartbreaking to see on TV. You can't help but feel immense sorrow for the people that lose everything.

Great pictures by the way. X

Dr.John said...

Glad the day turned out fairly well despite the gluten.
It has been a joy to take this trip through your eyes and pictures.

Mean Mom said...

You certainly packed a lot in, and it's great to hear that you had such a good time. Sorry about your dietary problems, though. I have a friend who suffers from the same thing. It's a shame that you have to miss out on food that the rest of us take for granted.

doctorj2u said...

Aren't the bon fires wonderful! I am so sorry you were not up to par. Time has another quality in southern Louisiana. The past and the present exist together. I am glad you noticed. You are welcome back anytime. P.S. I want that fleur de lis teacup! LOL!

sallymandy said...

What a story and a glorious trip, except of course for your bout with the gluten, which sounded vile. I'm so sorry you have that condition. I can eat most things, but I do have another health condition that I've often felt burdened with (won't burden YOU with it here). That must be pretty scary to go out in the world not knowing where you're going to find gluten.

I loved reading about your trip. I'm a serious fan of history.

Lovely, thank you.

Anonymous said...

I would have loved that plantation house too. It reminds me of the series North and South.

CJ xx

grandmamargie said...

Sounds like a wonderful time with the exception of you being ill. And I love the teacup. I collect glassware and have a few sets of them too.

Akelamalu said...

What a shame you were ill but you didn't let it stop you did you? :)

It all sounds so wonderful I just have to see it for myself, though it may be a few years in the future.

Salute said...

Sounds fabulous. The aftermath of Katrina was so devastating.

TSannie said...

Amazing there's still a city to enjoy...I really have no idea what N'awlins is today.

We have more than one celiac kids in our school. One of the girls came to our office and asked for lotion as her skin was dry. We started to give her our standard - which is supposed to be totally hypoallergenic. Thank GOD she had the presence of mind to read the guessed it - there was an ingredient she couldn't tolerate. I, nor any of us, would ever have thought there was a problem with that "hypoallergenic" product! I feel for you, Aims!

Hope your whole N'awlis trip was just a BLAST!

Retiredandcrazy said...

What a great trip and how wonderful that you can look back on it through your writing and photographs. I'm living it with you.

Anonymous said...

What a lovely tour. It must've been so special driving through those flames. I am sorry you were so ill. I have to be very careful about celery- my daughter too. Some places just can't tell you sometimes about what has gone into their food if they don't bake fresh.

Moonroot said...

What an amazing and magical time (gluten notwithstanding). I wish I could have been there - but your wonderful description makes it feel like I *almost* was.

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