Mandeville to Slidell. 20.8 miles/1190.2 total
Sunday, January 17, 2010
This morning I'm departing from the Winn Dixie parking lot a few miles north of Mandeville, headed down there, then east to Slidell. It's overcast, but the weather report calls for a sunny day, in the high 50s.
The first part of the walk takes me down the treacherous Louisiana Route 59, with its almost nonexistent shoulder. It's a good thing it's a Sunday morning and the traffic is very light. Right off the bat I pass by Fontainebleau High School, home of the Fighting Bulldogs. Go Dogs, or as they like to write it down here, Geaux Dawgs.
As in Mississippi, possums are the most frequently run over animals on the road in Louisiana, by a country mile. Old Brer Possum's gettin' his ass kicked down here in the Sportsman's Paradise. A distant second is birds of all kinds, although I should say that I'm not counting every little dead bird as roadkill, only the ones that have obviously been hit. I understand that when it freezes hard the way it did a couple of weeks ago the birds can stiffen up and fall right out of the trees, or off the wires. So I don't include the birds that look like they just plummeted--and there are a number of them, especially, for some reason, goldfinches.
I arrive at the intersection of 59 and U.S. 190, but I'll continue south a little more, because Mandeville is built right on Lake Ponchartrain, and I want to see the lake. Most of the cities I've been through on the North Shore aren't right on the lake. Mandeville is a city of about 12,000, which has long been a resort and getaway for people from New Orleans. Before the causeway was built in the 1950s, boats used to ferry people up here to Mandeville, where they would vacation and sail their yachts and listen to jazz and generally kick back in affluence. Now Mandeville is at the northern terminus of the Lake Ponchartrain causeway.
From what I can see it's a civilized little place, filled with Sunday morning joggers and bicyclists, and copies of the Mandeville Picayune in plastic bags at the ends of driveways. I haven't seen a cutesy resort like this since I went through Saugatuck and Douglas, in Michigan. And that's just the kind of place it is. I stop in a little antique shop and buy a couple of pocket knives. Down by the lake there's a restaurant where people are eating out on the porch, although I think it's a little too chilly for that.
Down at the lake there's a breakwater with a sidewalk, and a biking trail. The lake is brown and roiling with whitecaps, due to the stout wind. To the west I can see the Lake Ponchartrain Causeway, and when the sun comes out briefly, I can spot the New Orleans skyline, 26 miles or so to the south.
At the end of the breakwater there's a historical marker that tells of the Battle of Lake Ponchartrain, in 1779, in which the Americans engaged the British and won, under Captain William Pickles, leading to the surrender of the British living hereabouts. I guess this little area was under British control at the time. But that raises the question of how the area got back into Spanish hands in time for the great revolution of 1810 that led to the 90-day Republic of West Florida.
I'm back out on 190 now, heading east. The shoulder is getting a bit wider. The gravel on the roadside is beginning to include an admixture of tiny mollusk shells, together with acorns, the spiky seed pods of sweetgums, and lots of pine needles. I can hear, in the water-filled ditches, a rich glottal chirping from some animal, not mammal or bird. Maybe frogs, or maybe the reptile that dare not speak its name.
I pass the entrance to the Southeast Louisiana Hospital, and from the looks of it, this isn't a medical center, but a nuthouse. I can't even see the place, but there's a guard house about fifty yards down the drive. It turns out that it is indeed a mental hospital, and it's where Louisiana Governor Earl Long (brother of Huey) was confined, in 1959, while still in office. But he continued to run the state from the hospital, including firing the head of the state hospital system and replacing him with a crony.
About nine miles into the walk I enter Big Branch, which is little more than a sign on the road. Here I stop at a place called Bayou Moon Antiques, and spend a pleasant half hour talking to the woman working there, Mandy from Mandeville. (Or is it Mandie, Mandi, or Mande? I forgot to ask.) She gives me lots of local information and tells me some good places to go in New Orleans, and where to get the best boudin (in Lafayette). I also buy several more pocket knives. If you're reading this, Mandy, thanks for the conversation and for taking an interest.
The next town I come to is Lacombe, a city of about 7,500 of which I don't get to see much from Highway 190. The people of Louisiana seem to be crazy for what they call "snowballs," which I assume are snow cones--shaved ice with flavorings. About every two or three miles I see a snowball shack by the side of the road--all closed for the season now.
Here's something confusing to contemplate. I'll bet that every school child in Louisiana is told, "Now boys and girls, in every other state they have counties, but here we have parishes, and that's because we used to be owned by the French." And indeed, that's about what kids in other states are told, too. Louisiana has parishes instead of counties because it used to be French. But consider this for a moment. It was in France, not in England, that the geographic unit known as the "county," or comte (with an accent aigu over the "e") originated, over which noblemen called counts, or comtes, held sway. It wasn't until after the French conquered England that what the English had previously called "shires" came to be called "counties," although English noblilty never did adopt the rank of count. The legal officer in charge of a shire was called the "shire reeve," which became "sheriff." Furthermore, England and France both continue to have parishes as ecclesiastical districts covered by individual churches, as does the Roman Catholic Church everywhere, but they are generally much smaller than counties or Louisiana parishes. So those of us from outside Louisiana could as easily say we have counties because of the French, and here they could say they have sheriffs because of the English.
At the east end of Lacombe I stop into a charming little family cemetery, La Fontaine Cemetery, filled with dead people named LeFrere, Cousin, and Robert.
After a whole lot of nothing past Lacombe, except for a neat sculpture store, the Acts One Tax Service (offering salvation along with financial help), and Billy's Lounge featuring a Drag Show January 23 with Big Mama Coca and Guest, I at last reach what is designated on the map as Colt. Less than a mile to go now.
The sunshine never happened today, and it remained overcast and chilly.
At 20.4 miles I enter the corporation limits of Slidell. Today the motor home is parked at Walmart just inside Slidell, on Northshore Drive, I think the first time my journey has ended right where I will spend the night.