Adventures off the beaten path in NOLA

Earlier this month, a friend of mine realized a long-deferred dream and moved from Wisconsin to New Orleans. We had Good Friday off from work, and I drove to the city to both take her to a “welcome to Louisiana” lunch and to photograph a couple of things on my list.

Fort Macomb is in the Venetian Isles neighborhood, and although it looks like the country it is in fact within the city limits. (You may remember it from the last episode of the first season of True Detective, where it stood in for Carcosa, the mystical/cursed city of the King in Yellow.) I’ve been there before, but only shot the outside from the adjacent marina dock. While I was able to get around a couple of chain link fences this time, alas, the front entrance had been padlocked and it would take someone a lot more athletic than I to actually get inside.

Fort Macomb

Fort Macomb

Fort Macomb

Fort Macomb

It probably doesn’t look much different inside than Fort Pike, which is only a couple of miles away. More overgrown, probably. I was fortunate enough to get inside of Pike during one of the brief periods it was open to the public—it’s always getting shut down due to hurricane damage and/or budget cuts. It’s the only Third System fort in Louisiana that’s even sometimes open to the public, and a perfect example of one of the things that makes me deeply angry about this state: they view “lock it up to keep out anyone who might be interested and then ignore it” as the depth of their responsibility to the historic places in their care.

ANYWAY. So then we went to the Luling Mansion, built for a cotton merchant just after the Civil War and somehow managing to survive into the present day, the former grounds surrounded by modern development and the house itself carved up into apartments inside.

Luling Mansion

Luling Mansion

Luling Mansion

Oh, and we also made a quick stop at the St. Roch shrine, because that place is awesome.

St. Roch chapel

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True Detective

Anyone else watching this new HBO show? It takes place in my corner of Louisiana, Cajun country/Louisiana prairie. (Yes, south Louisiana has prairie. It’s not all gator-infested bayou.) It’s always nice when Hollywood remembers that the state isn’t entirely made up of just New Orleans, much as I love the city. In fact, the murder victim in the pilot is found in Erath, which is literally down the road from me: if you go to the end of my street and cross LA-14 (which is a rural highway, so probably not what most of you think of when you think of a highway), you’d be in Erath.

true detective

Visually, I’d say it’s entirely an accurate representation of south Louisiana, which makes sense because they filmed it here. The rustling cane fields, the sugar and natural gas refineries spewing white smoke, the murmuration (seriously, that’s what it’s called) of starlings swirling through the air, the single huge oak standing out in a flat field. And of course, the abandoned church. I’m sure it was a set built for the show, but things like that exist here; I’ve photographed a bunch of them. When something in Louisiana burns down or gets wrecked in a hurricane or just abandoned, it doesn’t always get torn down and tidied up.

And the writing and acting is good, too. The storyline is more of a slow burn, but I prefer that to car chases and explosions every 30 seconds. Admittedly, the popular notion of Louisiana as (to use the A.V. Club’s words) “a lawless, hothouse trouble spot populated by weirdoes, freaks, perverts, vampires, hoodoo wimmen, and gangsters plotting to assassinate the president” sometimes gets old to those of us that live here. The only show to ever realistically portray Louisiana as a place where (mostly) normal people live (mostly) normal lives remains Tremé; perhaps not coincidentally, that show had dismal ratings. (Also–sort of–the ’80s sitcom Frank’s Place. Which lasted a single season. And also the premise was that Frank had to run the family business and stay in NOLA rather than sell it and move back to New England because of a Voodoo curse. So that’s really kind of a wash.)

But you know, I’ll take weird religious serial killers and creepy abandoned churches and matriarchal brothels out in the wilderness over the current “reality” TV portrayal of Louisianans as a bunch of mouth-breathing, gator-wrasslin’, drunken hillbillies.

Oh, and if you saw the photo of Dora Lange as a child surrounded by men on horseback wearing pointed hoods and thought OMG KKK, no. Those were Courir de Mardi Gras:

Courir de Mardi Gras_Dejouant ses bourreaux_HRoe_2012

The pointed hat is a traditional part of the local Mardi Gras costume and has been around much longer than the Klan. Wearing cheap plastic beads and flashing your boobs and/or dressing like a demented streetwalker is a New Orleans thing.