Last Friday, Oct 22, we went to visit our Grandmere in New Orleans. Preparation had to be done quickly as it was a hurried, last minute planned trip and the few days prior to when we had to leave were more than chaotic as we tried to get the homestead ready. Arrangements for the care of the animals and plants were of priority.
We opted to take the Amtrak train as our mode of transportation, liking not only the “old-fashioned” romanticism of it but also the slow leisurely pace and, of course, the scenery. In this modern world of instant technology, riding the rails is a step back from the “rush here, rush there” way of society. We’ve taken the train several times before and always enjoyed the journey – even though it’s expected procedure to arrive a few hours late.
However, this train trip was quite different than the last one we were on.
At Los Angeles’ Union Station late Friday evening, as we claimed our tickets, we saw a notice to expect delays on route due to heavy freight traffic.
They weren’t kidding.
Instead of getting to New Orleans at 8:50pm on Sunday, we were six hours late and arrived at 3:30 am Monday. Outside of Houston alone, we were at a dead stop for nearly two hours waiting for freight traffic to clear.
America’s rail system is pretty pathetic. Where it was once the main lifeline that created the travel system throughout the states, it is now mainly shoved-aside and forgotten amid the faster, sleeker, more technologically advanced airplanes.
This particular southern route from Los Angeles to Orlando is owned by Union Pacific for their freight cars so they can claim right-of-way over the passenger trains – meaning that Amtrak will pull off to a sidetrack and wait for hours to allow a freight train to move on through. The revenue made from freight is of priority before passengers.
Amtrak is struggling through bankruptcy, though I do not know how they will ever be able to recover if train travel is so antiquated. During one of those “freight train waits” we discussed how someone with a lot of money (yep, that marks us off the list 🙂 ) should invest in a railway system with the efficient European model as an example.
In the documentary End of Suburbiaone man said that America has a railroad system the “Bulgarians would be ashamed of.” That statement pretty much sums up the tragic state of our railways.
Everyone on our train anxiously squirmed and griped over the delays, but someone “in the know” informed the passengers that Amtrak will refund you a ticket if they arrived at a destination more than two hours late. Union Pacific pays Amtrak whenever they cause Amtrak to be late, so if a passenger complains hard enough, Amtrak will toss some of the money that way to keep everyone happy.
Once safely arrived at Grandmere’s house we immediately called Amtrak and they gave us each free round trip tickets to anywhere we want to go. It really does wonders to soothe the irritation of being so late.
As I mentioned in a previous diary post, our Grandmere is not well and she was visiting the hospital often during our stay for surgical procedures, etc. Her spirits were really low so the main purpose of our visit was to brighten her up.
Monday, October 25
We always enjoy visiting New Orleans because for most of us, it is like returning “home” – our family history is so deeply entrenched in the very fabric of that city from the 1700s and on. There’s a connection that we feel even to this day. However, if any of us ever forgot it, history would remind us … a lot of family heritage is in the street names, museums, plaques, and books.
New Orleans was experiencing an unseasonable heat wave during our stay which took some getting use to. The humidity was thick enough to cut with a knife. We, Californians, aren’t used to that kind of humidity that sucks the breath out of your lungs. Our Grandmere’s house is near the banks of the massive Lake Pontchartrain which made the humidity even more stuffy.
Our Aunt was also visiting from Ithaca, New York so we got some time to talk with her about how progressively things operate in Ithaca. There’s people in that city looking to make a difference and DOING something about it. Not only that, they’re doing it in a different way and making it work. Our Aunt is on the board of directors for a successful banking credit union which has become a model for alternative banking options. Ithaca has its own currency and she explained the method of its value – 1 hour’s work equals $10, so they created money in accordance to that idea.
We each received a couple Ithaca 1/4 hour bills to spend if we visited… perhaps someday!
Tuesday, October 26
We spent the entire day exploring the streets and alleys of the French Quarter, enjoying the sights and sounds (and not to mention, those delicious candy and pastry smells!) To describe the French Quarter to someone who has never been there is very difficult. You can show pictures and explain history and architecture, but the atmosphere is beyond words. Only by experiencing it can someone truly know.
We immediately headed to the world famousCafé Du Monde’s for a breakfast of their famous to-die-for French Donut beignets. Of course, it’s not the healthiest breakfast, but it is a French Quarter tradition! And they are goooood ….
Having gotten our sugar fix, we walked the Quarter extensively, visiting the famous places and searching for the not-so-famous ones. We’ve been to the French Quarter times before, but every visit is a new experience and every corner turned is a whole unique world. The place is thickly seeped in history and exudes it from its buildings, shops, traditions … even right down to its worn motley of ancient sidewalks.
By early evening (nearly 4pm), we kept with tradition and purchased some traditional pecan pralines from the outdoor French Market and some fudge and decided to head back to Grandmere’s house. We had been roaming the city from 8:30 that morning.
New Orleans’ public transportation system is much more established than Pasadena’s – not to mention that the old fashioned trolleys are a heck of a lot nicer to look at than the sterile bleakness of Pasadena’s Gold Line trains.
We used the trolleys and buses to get back to the house and found that our Grandmere was doing well after her surgical procedure and was already home and recovering – enough to eagerly accept some fudge!
Wednesday, October 27
Our Aunt wanted to go down to one of New Orleans’s oldest cemeteries to see if we could find a family tomb. Over time, the records of where our family’s ancestors were buried had faded from recent memory. So, because the listing of this particular side of the family was in the church’s records, we wanted to see it. So far, we do not know where the others are, but maybe someday, if we can “unearth” some records, they’ll be found too . Our Aunt said she believed the reason why so much history is lost is because it used to be passed on by word of mouth. With today’s families living scattered across the nation, family heritage gets dropped.
Grandmere said she remembered washing the tomb (and other family ones) on All Saint’s Day when she was a very young girl, but had forgotten where it was.
At the gates of the old St Louis cemetery #2, we were greeted by a group of men and women dressed in an assortment of costumes, ranging from Gothic to Victorian. New Orleans’s cemeteries are an experience in themselves with their above-ground tombs and the legends surrounding them. Being as that we were visiting close to the Halloween holiday, you could only guess what kind of activities were going on in the city’s cemeteries.
At first, we were struck by an awful smell akin to that of death. JC stumbled on a body of a dead cat so perhaps that is what we had smelled and who knows how many other dead cats were strewn throughout the place, considering the ancient, morbid traditions and superstitions often faithfully observed in New Orleans.
This was one of the original city cemeteries so a lot of the tombs were crumbling away due to age and disrepair. Beautiful statues were losing features and limbs, wood rotting clean away, wrought iron rusting to fragility, and engraved names fading into the stone from which they were carved.
We were mildly amused to find the doors to several sepulchers open and empty, as though the building had been vacated.
After searching up and down the unkempt rows, we finally stumbled on the family tomb, surprised to find it in reasonably good condition.
OK, now onto more pleasant subject….
That evening, we thought it best to take Grandmere for some time away so we took her to visit the famousMorel-Wisner house in the Bayou St. John area. Our great-great-great (etc, etc,) Grandfather, Christoval Morel built and lived in the beautiful three story mansion in 1840. There was an even older house next to it belonging to Christoval’s father, but it burned down decades ago.
Somehow, many years back, it eventually was no longer was under the family ownership (sigh) and today it is owned by a wonderful couple who are trying to preserve the unique and wonderful heritage of this home originally known back in Christoval’s day as the Magnolia Plantation.
The history of that house had been lost to our own family with most relatives noting only vaguely that our family once owned property on Bayou St. John but no one bothered to research and see if it still existed until JM, doing investigative work on the Morel history came upon the website the new owners put up, listing it as the residence of New Orleans famous lawyer, Christoval Morel.
She contacted the owners who graciously invited us to visit whenever we were in the area again. Everyone was excited about going to see the house but were a little apprehensive on meeting the current owners. Our aunt brought along family photos that we have of the Morels as we thought that perhaps the new owners would like to have them.
The house was purely classical New Orleans, high ceilings, tall and elegant windows, large and airy porch. Much of it was amazingly original from the day it was built. Some modifications had been made, but did not detract from the beauty of the house. In fact, modifications HAD been made by previous owners through the years until later, they decided to bring it back to original state as much as possible.
It was wonderful to see a relic from our family still standing beautifully.
During the evening the conversation drifted from the house’s history to the preservation of the historic homes to which one of the owners commented “being a poor city is what saved New Orleans where other cities wealth have destroyed their history.”
We thought it’s a pretty profound statement.
Today, the Morel-Wisner house will be preserved always. It’s a listed historic home and cannot be destroyed. Originally it sat on many acres of land, but parcels of the plantation were sold off through the years and houses built around it. It is the oldest house in that particular area and side of the bayou and is still standing strong
To top the delightful evening off, they offered us fresh baked French bread, brie cheese, and red wine. Their hospitality was truly amazing – must be that good ol’ Southern hospitality – we felt as if we made new friends….. Actually, we DID make new friends. Thursday, October 28
On Thursday evening we all were invited to see our great-aunt’s daughter (aka Julie Jules) perform with theLouis Armstrong Society Jazz Band.
Before the show, we took Grandmere on a stroll through the French Quarter. It had been so long since she was out in the “city”. Mobility was hard for her, so JC pushed her in a wheelchair. She really enjoyed getting to be out and about in her native New Orleans and it was great to see her eyes sparkling again. The streets were packed with an amazing array of people and performers.
Our Aunt wanted to treat us to some beignets, so we found ourselves once again atCafé Du Monde’s for more of the sugary pastry (without argument of course!) It’s a real challenge to eat these donuts without getting powdered sugar everywhere (nose, hair, clothes, etc!)
The show celebrated the life and music of Louis Armstrong (A Salute To Satchmo!) who was a native born son with selections from some of his most popular works. It catered primarily to the visitors of New Orleans and shared with them a history of traditions and pride. Finally, as a surprise to the non-natives, the show ended with an unexpected “second-line parade,” in which the entire audience was given brightly colored umbrellas and was ushered out into the street and sidewalk to follow Julie Jules and the band members as they played a stirring rendition of “When the Saints Come Marchin’ In.”
A second-line parade is the traditional funeral march of the New Orleans culture. On the way to the cemetery, the music would be a sort of dirge but on the way back, it was time to get down and boogie. At this show, everyone was encouraged to dance and get “with it” but only the natives really got into the spirit of things. At first, the others in the audience, some being from Ohio and other Midwest states, looked confused but they eventually got caught up in the infectious music and couldn’t stop doing a little bobbing and shaking and twirling the umbrellas.
Friday, October 29
It was time to hop back on the train and head back to LA. It’s always difficult to say goodbye but it was great to have had a chance to see our Grandmere and we’re glad that it looks like she is recovering and doing well from the surgery (for the time being — unfortunately it looks as if she has the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s).
Saturday, October 30
As I write this post entry of the past events from this week, it’s early Saturday morning and we are at dead standstill somewhere in East Texas, there is something wrong with the engine and it looks like we aren’t going to be moving for awhile……
We are supposed to arrive in LA early Sunday morning, but from the way things are shaping up on this train ride back, we will again be late. It’s just a matter of how many hours late.
Sunday, October 31
HELP! That last 24 hours have been extremely stressful!!!!!!!!!!!
As if waiting for freight trains weren’t enough to put everyone in a bad mood, the train broke down somewhere outside of El Paso Texas. Since last (Sat) evening, we’ve not moved one inch and were are going on about 8 hours… going nowhere, can’t even go outside to get some fresh air and stretch our cramped legs.
To top off this insane situation, occasionally the power in the coach cars go off, so no lights, air or even water to use the restrooms. At times these outages last from a few minutes to at least an hour.
This morning, even after they got the problem “fixed,” we had to stop again for another hour or more in the middle of nowhere to wait for a crew to arrive to take over, since the 12 hour mandatory shift of the others had expired.
People’s moods on the train are hot, as one can imagine in a situation like this. One poor guy is going to miss his sister’s wedding. It was unreal, the train was being called “the train from hell.”
After some people balked, we are getting complimentary lunch and dinner …. as if that’s real satisfactory, considering it’s train food — well, I better stay off of the subject of meals before this post turns into one long tirade!
Anyhow, as the day turns to early evening, we find that we aren’t progressing very fast at all. Unfortunately we are still in Texas! We joked among ourselves that we should just get off the train and start walking since the way things are going, we’d get to our next stop, Tucson before the train would. It’s frustrating to watch cars whiz by on I 10 in the distance. Someone please get this train moving!
Monday, November 1 (morning)
We arrived in LA on Monday at about 9:30am, 26 hours late!!!! We should have been home on Sunday at 6: 00am
Of course we complained to Amtrak who acted as if 26 hours late was the most normal thing in the world. We asked for our money back, but they refused. We still got those free round trip ticket vouchers so we can experience another crazy adventure. Oh well.
One good thing from our time on train, each of us got a lot of reading done, I did some knitting and we all dozed off now and then to catch up on much needed sleep.
It was certainly a train ride to remember and recount for many years to come.
Monday, November 1 (afternoon)
We made it home just in time for the “Outstanding Recycler Award” presentation at the City Council Meeting this evening (photos coming later). There’s going to be a big reception with all the award participants, City Officials andPatagonia on Thursday Nov 11th.
(Tidbit: overheard a PWP official say that Pasadena’s offering Solar Rebates again!)
It’s good to be home!
There’s a lot of catching up to do, I will try and post the latest happenings and adventures here at the homestead in a few days. Can’t believe it’s already November!
Weather Report: Crisp, fall like.