Check Out Baton Rouge!
Louisiana's culture and heritage is one of vast diversity, making it an eclectic melting pot unlike most other states. Owned by the Spanish, British, and French, ten flags have flown over the skies of this Gulf Coast state. Renowned for unique customs and foods, Louisiana is unique because of this mix. The traditional Cajun Mardi Gras, still celebrated in the heart of rural Acadiana, is much like our state. This Mardi Gras celebration has no throws or elaborate floats. Instead, this "Courir de Mardi Gras" features masked horsemen riding at dawn across the countryside, begging and collecting, door to door, for contributions of ingredients to a huge Gumbo. Be it chickens, sausage, or onions, everyone donates what they have on hand toward the meal that all will partake in later in the day. Louisiana itself is so much like this Mardi Gras Gumbo, for the contributors to "the pot" have been many, such as the Spanish, French, American Indian, Irish, Creole, German, Acadian, English, African American, Scottish and Italian settlers. Yet we all partake in the wonderful mix of food and customs that gives Louisianans their "joie de vivre". And, the very warm and friendly people here are always anxious to share their love of life with visitors and newcomers alike!
Baton Rouge, the state capital of Louisiana,
is situated along the Mighty Mississippi River. A state noted for its rich history, culture and diverse heritage, Baton Rouge is the epitome of what makes Louisiana so unique. From the cotton fields of the north to the sugar cane of the south, from the oil fields to shrimping, from influences of the many early settlers to the state, Louisiana offers something different at every turn. Boasting the tallest State Capitol building of any in the United States, Baton Rouge is the hub of state agencies and legislative activity, creating thousands of jobs and revenue for the area.
Business and industry thrive in Baton Rouge, creating a very stable economy. Major plants and refineries stretch from just south of Baton Rouge to New Orleans, along the river. The Port of Greater Baton Rouge is the largest inland port in the world, and the only port on the Gulf that provides terminal facilities for the exclusive use of barges. Shops and markets range from "Mom and Pop" operations that have been in business for years to expansive malls, outlet shopping centers, large franchise stores, and some of the largest antique shops in the south.
In the heart of town is Louisiana State University, lending tremendous revenue and educational opportunities to Baton Rouge and its residents. LSU also enjoys an athletic following matched by few! A member of the Southeastern Conference, all sports are supported avidly, especially championship baseball and football teams. Tiger Stadium, or "Death Valley" as known among competitors, seats 92,000 people and is near capacity every home game. In Baton Rouge however, the stadium is fondly known as "the best party in town with 90,000 of your friends!" LSU holds the 2003 (Yeah, Yeah, we know what those California folks say, but there is only one '03 crystal football and it is in Baton Rouge!) and 2007 National College Football Championships.
The city is situated in the heart of "plantation country", where gorgeous historic homes give evidence of a rich agricultural history. North of Baton Rouge, in the Feliciana Parishes, many homes are on tour such as famous Rosedown Plantation(photo). All of this home's original contents are preserved and the landscape is listed as one of the Nation's five most important historic gardens. From just south of town to New Orleans, the Mississippi River Road on both the East and West banks is dotted with dozens and dozens of beautiful homes like Houmas House, Nottoway (the grand daddy of them all), and Destrehan, to name only a few!
Just an hour southeast of Baton Rouge is the city of New Orleans. Much has been written about "The Big Easy" and even those who have not visited the city have been exposed to its French Quarter and Mardi Gras through movies such asThe Pelican Brief, A Streetcar Named Desire, and The Big Easy. One of the largest "melting pots" of European culture in the country, immigrants from Ireland, Italy, France, Spain, and the Caribbean isles all had a hand in shaping New Orleans' unique personality. From the architecture and music to the food and dialects, there is nowhere else quite like it! A Mecca for tourism, the city has wonderful art museums, the National D-Day museum, a world-class zoo, Aquarium of America, theatres, and exquisite antique shops. New Orleans also houses much industry, business, world-renowned medical facilities, and over 20 universities and colleges within its city limits.
PLEASE NOTE THAT I'VE CHOSEN NOT TO CHANGE MY DESCRIPTION OF NEW ORLEANS, POST KATRINA. I firmly believe the city, like our great state, will "weather this storm" of change and rebuilding with the very courage that built a city so different to begin with! For those who love "her", you understand already. For those that never knew "her", we are sorry. And for those who are skeptical, you are in for a big surprise! I once read, though the author eludes me now, that "Personality is Built on Adversity" and New Orleans has more personality than any city in this country. Yet, she is no stranger to adversity and Katrina will not hold her down for long either.
UPDATE: 01/06/2007: Having spent several days in New Orleans in December for the wedding of our son, and this past weekend there for our beloved LSU Tigers' Sugar Bowl victory, it is good to see The City alive and working again. Shops, restaurants, hotels and businesses were up and running from the business district to the Riverfront, along Canal and to the Quarter - go Big Easy!
One hour southwest of Baton Rouge is the area known as "Acadiana". French settlers known as "Cajuns" (short for Acadians) settled much of south Louisiana, but the mass of these landed in St. Martinville, Lafayette and the surrounding areas called "Acadiana". Expelled by the British in the 1700s from their homeland of L'Acadie, the French region of Nova Scotia, Canada, the culture of the "Cajuns" has had a profound and lasting effect on south Louisiana. This lasting effect can be heard in their dialects and music, where French is still paramount; it can be tasted in many of Louisiana's favorite dishes such as Crawfish Etoufee, and it can be seen in the friendly manner south Louisianans greet each other. But mostly it can be felt! Felt, because the Cajun's tremendous zest for life is evident in how Louisiana loves to have fun! Or as a Cajun would say - "Man cher, they pass a good time!"
Known as the “Sportsman’s Paradise”, Louisiana and the Baton Rouge area has something to offer everyone’s passion - from championship college ball at Baton Rouge’s Southern University and LSU campuses to pro football in New Orleans with the Saints to Horse Racing in Lafayette. There’s pro salt and freshwater fishing throughout the state, with fishing rodeos from Toledo Bend in the northwest to Grand Isle – the barrier reef at the southernmost tip of Louisiana. Thousands of acres of waterways, lakes and bayous give the weekend fisherman many choices for that favorite “fishing hole”. The second largest swamp in the U.S., the Atchafalaya, is just 15 minutes west of Baton Rouge. Tens of thousands of forest acres give the hunting enthusiast a giant playground during deer, alligator, dove, rabbit, and other hunting seasons.
|Alex Demyan photo provided by LA State Parks|
War has never been far from Baton Rouge’s doorstep. The city played an important role in both the American Revolution and the Civil War, while the New Orleans’s shipbuilding industry built many of the ships that comprised our Naval fleets in WWI and II. The Battle of Baton Rouge in September of 1779 was the only battle of the American Revolution fought outside of the original 13 colonies. The towns and forts along the Mississippi River saw more than their share of the Civil War, as some of the most severe fighting of the entire war took place along the banks of Old Man River. One such site, which proved to be a crucial turning point to the war's outcome, was the siege of Port Hudson and Fort Desperate. Just 15 miles north of Baton Rouge, the battle is commemorated at the 900+ acre site at Port Hudson, which is open to visitors. Costumed rangers conduct the tours and there are daily reenactments (photo) of the battle, as well as year round special events. Visitors not only learn of the battle itself at Port Hudson, but also how the ravages of war affected life and the people of Louisiana.
Anything for a party - even a celebration of Frogs! There are more than 600 fairs and festivals in the state of Louisiana, and all with the best food, music and crafts you’ll find anywhere. From the Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans to the Sugar Cane Festival in St. Martinville, to the Christmas Festival of Lights in Natchitoches – Louisiana is always hosting a party! We celebrate rice in Crowley, alligators in Boutte, peaches in Ruston, dolls in DeRidder, andouille (spicy sausage) in LaPlace and even frogs in Rayne (photo on Rayne building). There are festivals for shrimp, gumbo, oysters, catfish, and crawfish. There are celebrations of heritage for being Irish, Italian, Native American, German, African American, and French, to name a few. And of course we can’t forget the hundreds of Mardi Gras parades, balls and celebrations. No matter the reason or the season, there is sure to be a fair or festival somewhere in Louisiana.
Music has always been an important part of Louisiana life, and like everything else here, it runs the spectrum of diversity, from the Baton Rouge Symphony Orchestra, which hosts a full season of fare to Preservation Hall in The French Quarter that promotes Jazz heritage. A unique sound to Louisiana is Cajun music, where ensembles of small accordions, fiddles, and guitars back the ballads sung mostly in French. A newer and more up-beat version of this accordion music has emerged in recent years, known as Zydeco. The northern part of the state was important to early country music, where the Louisiana Hayride hit the radio waves every weekend before live audiences. Many musicians and singers got their first break on the Hayride; one in particular in the 50’s was a young Elvis Presley from Tupelo, Mississippi. A few of the musicians and bands who’ve called Louisiana home are Al Hirt, Pete Fountain, Louis Armstrong, Johnny Rivers, Le Roux, Jerry Lee Lewis, Webb Pierce, and Mahalia Jackson. The state even had a famous singing governor. I’m sure you’ve heard the song “You Are My Sunshine”. It was written and sung by Governor Jimmie Davis, who was singing about his beloved horse, Sunshine.