Friday, July 07, 2006

St. Rose, Louisiana

Julian, a British reporter on extended holiday, comes with me to St. Charles Parish because I have told him that I am going to see the grave of Hitler's horse and a bathtub that used to belong to Zachary Taylor. Julian doesn't know who Zachary Taylor is, which I think is reasonable. Still, the potential historical ephemera entices him away from the Confederate Civil War Museum in New Orleans.

"How did Hitler's horse get to Louisiana?" Julian asks.

"It might not actually be Hitler's horse," I say. I tell Julian that I suppose we're going to the supposed grave of Hitler's horse. Or the grave of Hitler's supposed horse. Or something.

Nevertheless, Julian comes anyway.

The grave of Hitler's horse (“Nordlicht”) is at the La Branche Plantation, just outside St. Rose. I call them on the phone just after 10 am, to be sure that they're open. The message indicates that they're open every day, starting at 10 am. Still, the fact that they don't pick up the phone is a bad sign.

When we get to the plantation, there is no one around, so I pull onto the grass and park. Outside it is steamy and hot--in a couple hours we will pass a bank sign with the temperature, and it will read 99 degrees. Now, though, we get out and walk slowly, and even after a few steps in the sun I can feel my shirt sticking to me. In the West, the sun heats the ground; here, the sun heats the air.

We wander behind a shed--or perhaps a former kitchen, or slave quarters, or some other historic building built haphazardly--and find a small corral surrounded by a coarse, two-bar wooden fence. Inside are three girls on horses practicing dressage, and their instructor, a squat woman in her mid-40s. The girls and horses make upright circles, and the woman barks corrections at them.

"This doesn't look like a plantation tour," I say.

{ "Can I help you?" the woman in the middle says.

"Well, we're here, we should still ask," Julian says.

"Excuse me, miss" I shout, "we were just looking to take a tour of the plantation."

You shouldn't be here, she shouts back. The plantation's only open on weekends.

"I did call," I say. “The answering machine said it's open.”

"I don't know what's on the message." she says, "That's from before the storm. The plantation's closed."

And that's that.

But Julian still wants to see the grave of Hitler's horse, so after a few steps, he turns back to her.

“I really don't have time for this right now,” the woman says when Julian asks where the grave might be. She turns toward the middle of the pasture, then turns again to us.

“You know, there are No Trespassing signs,” she says. “I don't know what you think you're doing by coming back here, but I don't think you want me to bring the police round.” Julian and I look at each other, but neither of us reply.

“So much for Southern hospitality,” Julian says, to me, softly.

On the way out, we look for any sort of No Trespassing sign, but they are nowhere to be found.

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