Saturday, January 23, 2010

Day 72: Jesus Really Is Lord

Vallier to Savoie, Louisiana. 20.4 miles/1281.4 total

Saturday, January 23, 2010

There's really no Vallier to speak of, although I think this collection of six or eight houses is supposed to be it. I'm heading south toward Houma, but I won't quite get there today. I'll be going through Des Allemands and Raceland and ending up along Louisiana 182 a mile or so north of Savoie.

The weather forecast was for sun today with thunderstorms coming in the evening, but it is completely overcast and looks as if it's about to rain right now. There's a fine mist in the air. The temperature is about 60.

I'm walking down Louisiana 561, running parallel to Highway 90, the back way into Des Allemands. No shoulder to speak of, but very little traffic. A quiet walk so far. Another name for this road is the Old Spanish Trail, and I imagine this was the highway before they built the four-lane semi-expressway that is U.S. 90 today.

The terrain is very flat and the land is low, surrounded by swamps and rivers and canals. What we'd call wetlands, except that here they call it the bayou. Not many tall pine trees down here, only swamp oaks and other water-loving varieties, not very tall. Occasionally in someone's yard there will be a few live oaks, broad and green because they never lose their leaves. The rest of the trees are bare and gray on this mid-winter morning.

Here's a first: a dollar bill by the roadside. That brings my state total up to over seven dollars. Thank you, Louisiana.

I pass the Shellmound Cemetery of the Antioch Baptist Church of Des Allemands. Most of the graves are of the vault variety, with their tops rising about a foot and a half above ground level.

There's an inordinate amount of garbage in the ditch alongside Route 561--bags, cups, coolers, household trash--lining the edge of the swamp and floating in the tea-colored water as I approach the town. More than the usual bottles and cans you find in all the states that do not have bottle deposit laws, and more even than the usual higher number of bottles and cans you find in the southern states. This is extra garbage, suggesting that when people get just north of town they throw all their crap out the window. Hey, why not? It's a free country, right?

I pass another cemetery, which at one time was the Des Allemands Mennonite Cemetery. Des Allemands got its name from Bayou Des Allemands, which means "bayou of the Germans" in French. There are a few German surnames in this cemetery, but not many. The majority are French.

The Mennonite thing might explain why Germans were here so early. I think I read yesterday that they started coming to Louisiana in 1721. Mennonites already were being run out of Europe by that time, and some had come to Pennsylvania. Why the French tolerated them in their colony I don't know. But I don't think the majority of German immigrants to this area were Mennonites.

Des Allemands is a grubby little fishing village of about 2,500 that calls itself "The Catfish Capital of the Universe," no less. Now that's presumptuous. Wonder what Zaphod Beeblebrox would have to say about that? I rejoin Highway 90 and head through the southern outskirts of Des Allemands, which consists of a few places offering swamp tours, a small casino/restaurant/gas station, several seafood restaurants, and an adult bookstore.

This is Lafourche Parish. At about eleven miles into the walk I get off Highway 90 onto Louisiana 182. Shortly thereafter a guy from Raceland offers me a ride. I decline and give him the story and we chat for a few minutes while I stand at the driver's side window. Finally he wishes me well and goes on. The whole time we've been in the middle of the road. That seems to be the style on these rural byways.

Now I'm passing sugar cane fields. Up ahead is what I think is a sugar plant. The side of the road is filled with cut pieces of cane stalk, about six inches long, just the way cotton lined the roads up in the Delta. From the fields there comes a smell like fermenting sawdust and manure.

You might remember that at the entrance to Amite last week there was a sign saying "Jesus Is Lord Over Amite." Well here in Raceland there's a sign that reads, "Jesus Really Is Lord Over Raceland." There's a slightly argumentative tone here, as if this answers Amite's wimpier claim to being under Jesus's thumb. Like kids on a playground: "Jesus is the boss of us." "No he's not. Jesus is the boss of us." "Oh yeah?" And I'm thinking, "Don't these people have anything better to do with their time?"

Raceland is a city of about 10,000 located on Bayou Lafourche. It's not much different from the average rundown southern town--houses built up on bricks, rusting tin roofs, the occasional decent-looking place right next to one that looks like a strong wind would blow it over. The big difference here is that virtually all the names are French--on the stores, the funeral home, the bait shacks, the gas stations.

The gas station/convenience store I stopped at has a drive-though daiquiri window. I've noticed a number of these, as well as a chain of little bars called Daiquiris, not much bigger than fast food places. From this I gather that it must be okay in Louisiana to drive up and order a daiquiri and drive off drinking it. It's hard to come to any other conclusion. I've seen drive-through liquor stores in other places--we used to have them in Michigan--but the assumption, however naive, was that people were buying beverages in closed containers to take somewhere else to drink. Here they're buying mixed drinks for immediate consumption--and frozen at that, necessitating that they be consumed soon.

Well, Raceland is underwhelming. Now I'm on 182 heading south out of town. As I go under Highway 90 it's less than two miles to the motor home, which sits by the side of the road, among a number of other scattered vehicles that have pulled off for one reason or another. In the distance I can hear shooting, and everywhere there's a bridge people are fishing off of it.


Billie Bob said...

A large number of Mennonites came later (1800's) and settled in Kansas and Nebraska (and the Canadian grain belt; and some in Pensylvania and Indiana, who spread out into the midwest). They were agricultural people who introduced winter wheat to the USA. In Europe, they weren't treated particularly well because they were anti war and, heaven forbid, they allowed adult baptism. Catherine the Great cut them a deal and let them settle the Volga River lands north of the Black Sea. They got to live in peace as long as they contributed food. Once Catherine was gone, the handwriting was on the wall, so they fled to the USA and Canada. These people eventually produced my Grandmother, who was born in Kansas.

sunburnhighways said...

You are indeed following part of the original Old Spanish Trail, a transcontinental highway started in 1915, linking St. Augustine, Flordia to San Diego. I'm now following your journey. Good luck.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

sunburnhighways: Welcome to the blog. Happy that you're following. And thanks for the info.

Billie Bob: The Mennonites produced my great grandfather and his parents, too, who were born in Germany and came to Michigan.

S said...

Apparently some Mennonites moved from Kansas to Beauregard Parish, Louisiana in 1937 to flee dust storms and very cold winters. The Des Allemands Mennonite Church was started in 1936-37 after a previous colonization attempt in the '20s had failed. The congregation includes people from Catholic and Cajun backgrounds which goes to show that they are pretty open-minded.

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Wow, thanks for the information. The readers come through again.

Anonymous said...

Raceland:"an average rundown southern town" in short,"underwhelming" to you. You sound disappointed outside of New Orleans. W.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations to the NO Saints for winning the NFC Championship today--You must have brought them luck 'Ol Man----Art

Peter Teeuwissen said...

Art, I watched the last quarter and overtime of that game with some very tense and ultimately happy people. Lots of honking, fireworks and random celebratory gunshots in the distance afterwards.