Oak Alley Plantation

the eviction pineapple

On our way from Natchez to New Orleans, we made a brief pit stop at Oak Alley Plantation. It is absolutely beautiful, and probably one of the more famous plantation homes in America; it's been used as the backdrop for a number of things, from Beyoncé's Déjà Vu video to Interview with a Vampire. However, it wasn't just the beauty of the place and the incredible alley of enormous oak trees that give the place its name that impressed me, but their comprehensive acknowledgement that the home and the grounds would not have existed at all had it not been for the awful, gruesome practice of slavery.

That might seem a touch obvious - the slave trade, its complete annihilation of human rights and dignity, and total devastation of so many lives is well documented in the history books and is, or ought to be, a stain on the collective conscience of all countries who participated in it. But that wasn't what we had found so far in our trip. Slavery had somewhat been glossed over in our experiences in the plantation and antebellum homes we had visited to this point - at one point a tour guide did provide information on the value of the homeowner's slaves, as if they were a carefully curated portfolio of stocks, rather than actual human beings, but that was about as far as it got. And to be honest, it felt more like a point made to emphasise the owner's wealth, rather than a damning of history. Discussion points of other tours had circled around the business activities, social exploits and post-civil war sob stories of riches to ruin of the owners and family of the plantations, an emphasis which I felt was an effort to sweep the fact of slavery under the carpet. 

At Oak Alley however, this was not the case. True, the tour of the main house did focus on the exploits and social mores of the Roman family who lived there, including my favourite tidbit; when you had outstayed your welcome, you would wake up to find a pineapple on your bed, the old school southern sign for 'get the fuck out my house.' But, there was also an entire area of the grounds dedicated to a reconstruction of the slave cabins, explanations of how they were defined and differentiated and the punishments and hardships they had to endure. There was full frontal acknowledgment of the slaves that lived at that plantation, how the beauty and grandeur of the home and the grounds was entirely as a result of slave labour, and that it was, of course, absolutely, incomprehensibly horrific to be a slave. It was poignant and unsettling, but rightly so; such a horrible chapter of history cannot simply be glossed over to save tourists from unhappy thoughts.

I really rate Oak Alley - it's not only beautiful, but well organised, with entertaining 45 minute tours leaving every half hour, but, it has a conscience; it fully acknowledges the plight of the hundreds of Oak Alley slaves that lived there, and by extension, confronts the dark history of its existence as a whole. So, if you find yourself in Louisiana, I whole-heartedly recommend spending a few hours exploring Oak Alley.

(They also do fabulous mint juleps, just FYI)


Natchez, Mississippi: Photo Diary

Having absolutely no idea what a Hot Tamale was, we nevertheless headed to Fat Mama's to see what all the fuss was about. It was the cutest, brightest little casual dining spot, specialising in Hot Tamales and 'Knock you Naked Margaritas.' Sadly, Fat Mama had run out of Hot Tamales by the time we arrived, so I am still yet to try one, and still have absolutely no idea what they actually are, but we did stay for lunch. Obviously, I didn't leave without trying one of those margaritas either. Let me tell you, I'm glad I opted for the small one!

Best Margarita of my life.

I took three pairs of sunglasses on holiday with me; I wore only these, from Quay Australia.

Drinking Kentucky bourbon overlooking the Mississippi.

Natchez is a quaint little town on the Mississippi. Founded by the French in 1716, it's old and quaint and beautiful and its history certainly imbues it with charm. It feels almost as though it has been frozen in time.

It is much more compact than most American cities I've been to, and downtown is full of beautiful old Antebellum houses, pink flowering trees (the names of which I clearly do not know) and the odd horse and cart. Pre civil war, it had more millionaires per capita than New York, and was an important trading post for all sorts of produce.

Natchez was also a massive slave trading centre with one of the busiest slave markets in the country, is a part of its history which definitely isn't brought to the fore, but there are a few museums and the visitor centre in particular which explore this darker side of history a little more. Although I will admit I did prickle when told that the Civil War was nothing to do with slavery, but pure economic warfare, and that actually New Yorkers profited more from the slave trade than the entirety of the South.

Chequered history aside, Natchez is a beautiful little town, right on the banks of the Mississippi and we had a lovely time there, recharging the batteries, drinking Kentucky bourbon on our balcony and stuffing our faces with good souther cooking. It was the perfect slice of respite before heading onwards to the raucous wildness of New Orleans...


Walking in Memphis: Photo Diary

When we arrived it Memphis we raced to Sun Studios, and managed to make it in time for the last tour of the day. Aside from Willett Distillery, it was possibly my favourite 'tourist attraction' we took the time to visit. 

Before it became Sun Studios, it was known simply as the Memphis Recording Service.

Big Elvis' year book. 

The Million Dollar Quartet: the iconic photograph taken at an impromptu jam session at Sun Studios of Elvis, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis on 4th December 1956.

in his element


Whisky and cokes flowing
Beale Street was really fun. We pitched up at B. B. King's Blues Club, which may be a bit of an obvious choice, but we only had one night in Memphis and we felt we couldn't miss such an institution. It didn't disappoint, the calibre of the musicians playing there was awesome, so much so I was cajoled into going on stage to spend $20 on a Preston Shannon CD, which we listened to all the way to Natchez. 

The perfectly preserved motel where Martin Luther King was shot on 4th April 1968. The National Civil Rights Museum stands nearby too.

Excited for the Graceland tour.

Graceland, Elvis' home, is definitely worth a visit, even for the non-Elvis fan. We opted for the cheapest tickets, and so missed the cars and aeroplanes, which I'm slightly gutted about, but it was still an awesome way to spend an afternoon.

Very minimalist, was old Elvis.

Looking suave.

Seeing how many awards Elvis won in his lifetime was astounding, and I'm actually halfway down the corridor for this shot, so there's pretty much the same again behind me. Mind blowing.

It might be a bit of a tourist trap, but god damn, the ribs at Charles Vergo's Rendezvous are hands down the best I've ever had. It's a cool little place too, tucked down an alleyway and down an alarmingly vertiginous set of stairs, full of memorabilia of their 60 years in business, with slightly churlish waiters who will grossly underestimate your ability to polish off an entire plate of ribs. But, as you can see, I was totally in my element: