Yesterday I flew back to The Netherlands after three weeks in Louisiana, my first ever visit to the United States. I was in Houma for all of the stay apart from the last night which we spent in New Orleans. I wrote a few articles while I was down there but I want to put together my general thoughts of the country and the people.
Quite a number of US natives were a little negative when they heard of my destination, referring it to deep Cajun country, the inference being that it was hicksville. It was most certainly an eye opener, of that there was no doubt. My first day there coincided with Mardi Gras and such a culture shock I have not encountered since my time in Africa. My first impressions were negative as it felt like an alien world to me. In many aspects it is an alien world, and I have never experienced anything quite like it.
For me the most striking aspect to my stay were the people. These are good people. They were genuine, warm, welcoming, respectful, polite, and immensely proud of their country and their heritage. A young woman asking if I could spot her in the gym referred to me as sir. I found myself quickly reverting to the way that I had been brought up to treat women; opening the door for them; allowing them to go first; paying them a multitude of small courtesies. In Australia this would land you in the feminist dunce corner immediately, with cries of sexism and mansplaining ringing in your ears. In Louisiana it elicited smiles, blushes, words of thanks, and on one memorable occasion a curtsy.
I liked that a lot. The traditional roles of the sexes are still functioning down there in the South, at least on a level that I could see. People are also religious. The end of Mardi Gras is the beginning of Lent and it was actively observed by many of the people with whom I associated. The general feeling that I had was calmness. The level of aggression compared with a similar sized city in Australia was simply non-existent. Perhaps this is due to the fact that so many people are armed. Traffic was even polite as I saw very few instances of bad behavior on the highways.
The same could even be said of New Orleans. I had been led to believe that it was a dangerous den of iniquity. It was certainly a den of iniquity, but the danger was minimal. We spent time in the French Quarter and on our final day on the way to the airport we drove 40 blocks down Magazine street looking for a small jogging store that my colleague wanted to visit. Away from the tourist traps the city was quite breathtaking, with stunning architecture and wonderful little local street corners made up of small shops, cafes, and bars. Once again the people were lovely. I have lived and traveled all over the world and I find it difficult to think of a more friendly and welcoming place that I have experienced.
It isn’t all positive of course, and I am not one for rose colored glasses. The general level of infrastructure was appalling, at times approaching African levels of decrepitude. People over there may take a lot of pride in their cars but the same does not often extend to their homes and communities. When a business goes bankrupt the owners simply walk away, leaving behind what they couldn’t sell to rot. We passed an enormous super yacht lying on its side on a waterway, stripped to within an inch of its life, and now rusting and derelict in the middle of the surrounding homes and businesses. It was at times somewhat depressing with each fading sign or broken down building a testament to hopes and dreams that went bad and never recovered.
I never saw a child playing in the street or riding a bicycle the entire time that I was there. The level of obesity I have already written about but it is so evident that I find it impossible not to mention it again. The local cuisine was certainly inspiring and original but I grew tired of the absence of fresh and wholesome foods. And the coffee was absolutely appalling.
But the bayou itself was stunning. Certainly we were there at the very best time of year in regards to the weather, but even so it is a land of great natural beauty. I have long read writers such as James Lee Burke so to experience the same country where so many of my favorite novels were set was very special for me.
It was a long and exhausting trip, but a successful one. With that in mind I shall be returning very soon for a period of some months. I hope to delve even deeper into the local charms, with hunting and fishing very high on my agenda as I have so many offers of hospitality for when I get back. I also want to thank all of my readers for their advice concerning a new computer which was much appreciated. I haven’t made a purchase yet but it will happen on my next trip over there. The next time I will be able to relax a bit more and ease into the local rhythms. I am very much looking forward to returning, with my Italian coffee pot in hand.