8/18/2009

Clash of Cultures

Jeff and I will use any excuse to tour a historical site. And to stay over night in one? Well, that’s even better!

Lately, I’ve been reading a lot about the history of southern Louisiana. In the space of a few hours, we got to glimpse the clash of cultures in that region firsthand. In the morning, we toured a Creole plantation house. It was built by a French family. That afternoon, we toured a plantation house built by an English-speaking family originally from North Carolina. A fascinating contrast!

Besides the obvious—French-speaking vs. English-speaking, Catholic vs. protestant—there were some other interesting differences. For instance, Creole houses were painted in bright colors. They had no hallways—one room flowed directly into another. The center doors were not used, though they often stood open. The planters conducted business from their bedrooms, only later using a small dressing room off the bedroom as a designated office space (because their more Americanized counterparts were not comfortable conducting business in a bedroom).

On the other hand, most homes of English-speaking people were painted white. The particular house we visited (and stayed in overnight!) was classic Greek revival with white columns, a large center door opening into a central hall and staircase. Very Gone With the Wind-ish. While in both houses the dining room comprised the largest of the rooms, this house sported two parlors and a library besides the various bedrooms.

Each family viewed their dwelling as differently as they built them. The English-speaking family lived in their house. It was home. For many French-speakers, the plantation house was business, a place to live during planting and harvesting seasons. Many considered “home” to be a house in New Orleans. Not true for all, but more common than for their more American counterparts.

The history represented in both houses is the kind of history I love. To me, the “big” historical events pale in comparison to how daily life was lived out. I love family histories and pictures and memoirs. I loved staying in that historical home and imaging what it would have been like to live there in 1850, 1880, 1910, 1950. We had a lovely adventure into the past at both plantations. I’m glad we got to visit them in the same day.

1 comment:

pixyolive said...

To me too, the everyday details are so fascinating. I enjoy reading old recipes and imagine the kitchen lit by firelight with dried herbs and ropes of onion hanging overhead. (yes, I am hungry)