Oof, spelling Natchitoches and saying it are two different beasts. By the time you reconcile the fact that you just won’t be pronouncing half the letters/syllables in the word, you’re then tasked with spelling it and half to reinsert all those letter/syllables you were told to ignore. If you’ve never been to Louisiana and are wondering what the hell I’m talking about, it looks like this word SHOULD be pronounced, “Natch-uh-TOH-chez.” But it’s actually: “NAK-uh-tish.” I could maybe understand “toches” being one syllable, as French will often make an -es at the end of a word silent, but I will never understand how the “tch” becomes a “k” sound…maybe if there weren’t a “t” in that cluster…but I digress.
I spent about 36 hours in this quaint little town of the parish of the same name, and was told there were many things I needed to see/do/eat. Natchitoches, here forth referred to as ‘The Town’, has a very small historic district, with about 15 blocks of gorgeous southern mansions and other smaller beautiful homes, and a strip of storefronts along the Cane River with that typical ornate wrought iron balcony fencing that you’d see in the New Orleans French Quarter. They’ve done a waterfront revamp in the last few years, with lovely seating areas, a stage-like area, and these calming water features along the stairwells down from the street to the river front. It’s the type of place you’d want to just sit with a good cup of coffee and read a book, or just people watch. The whole of the area was well-manicured, lush scenery, which I’m sure was only aided by the abundance of crepe myrtles that are finally in bloom in more varieties of color than I’ve ever seen in one place.
The Town is famous for its meat pies, the oldest general store in Louisiana, the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame, and the Steel Magnolias, which was written by someone from The Town, based on his family, and even filmed there when they turned the play into a movie. The house where the main characters lived is now a bed & breakfast called The Steel Magnolia House that you can just casually pass by and stay in. The Town is also home to Northwestern State University, just outside the historic district, with more lush greenery, crepe myrtles, and classic looking red brick buildings.
Once you drive five minutes outside of The Town in any direction, you hit vast stretches of rural farmland, grazing cattle and horses.
I came to the area for work…my meeting was actually in Many, Louisiana, but since it’s another small town, it was highly suggested I stay in The Town. But at the end of my meeting during some small talk about where I was staying and how I liked the area, we started talking about the social dynamics of The Town. Sure, it was beautiful and quaint, but the community had “cliques,” either you were one of the wealthy that lived in those gorgeous homes, or you were extremely poor. And, of course, those groups don’t associate with each other. I assumed by extremely poor she just meant people who lived in those more rural areas outside of town, which still isn’t a great situation, but she meant vast wealth disparities even within The Town boundaries.
Driving back to my hotel after walking around the historic district shopping area, as I was passing Northwestern State and admiring its beauty on my left, I turned to look to my right just in time to see ‘Martin Luther King, Jr. Drive,’ and before I could even finish processing my thoughts, my eyes confirmed it…all the passengers in the cars, all the people on the street…this is where the Black people must live. Whereas in the historic district all the shop owners, workers, and pedestrians were white. You might see a few Black folks pass by in cars, but I could count on my hand the number of Us walking around and it was clear that we were all visitors. Had I driven a different direction, I would’ve left the area assuming that The Town was just predominately white. In fact, after doing a cursory google search, Wikipedia tells me The Town is predominately Black (59%). Obviously this misconception says more about my ignorance than of anyone misleading me, but when you say you’re going to The Town, you’re immediately steered towards the historic district. Much the way people are steered toward the French Quarter in New Orleans (despite the obvious differences in the type of tourism). But in the French Quarter, there’s so much diversity in the workforce, because the service industry is one of the biggest employers…you’d never leave the French Quarter confused about the makeup of the city by demographic. But not so in The Town, albeit the type of tourist attraction of the riverfront is very different than the FQ, and much smaller, but just like the historic district is only a fraction of the larger community, the FQ is only a small fraction of New Orleans, and yet…all white everything.
My over-analysis aside, I did do the touristy things recommended to me:
For breakfast my first day I went to Lasyone’s Meat Pie Restaurant and had grits, two eggs, and a big meat pie. I didn’t take any pictures mostly because clearly most of the people eating there were locals who all knew each other very well and regularly ate here. And even though I’m sure they were very clear that I wasn’t from there, I didn’t want to draw any more unnecessary attention to myself by sitting around taking pictures of my food. The meat pie was delicious!…the rest of it I could’ve left; the grits were entirely underwhelming.
After my meeting I did go on a plantation tour, which admittedly is something I’ve resisted for the most part. I’ll write about that experience in another post, but I went to the Melrose Plantation (there were many to choose from, unfortunately). Post-plantation, I headed to the river front and walked around. I stepped into the Kaffie-Frederick General Mercantile, which I
mentioned is Louisiana’s oldest general store. This was a cool place to wander. I wish we had a general store like this in my neighborhood…it was a home depot, bed bath & beyond, toy store mixed together. The majority of your typical needs at any one of those places could be met without having to be overwhelmed and distracted by crap you never needed or wanted when visiting a warehouse. I popped in and out of the store fronts, got some fudge, saw the soapery, passed by an olive oil specialty shop, and then walked along the beautiful riverfront before ending the 3 block tour at Maglieaux’s for dinner. On my way back to the hotel I made sure to pass by the Steel Magnolia house just so I could say I saw it.
It was cute, quaint, fun. If you’re in the area or passing by the area, I’d say stop for a half day or so. You can basically see everything there is to see in a day or so, so I wouldn’t linger much longer, and I wouldn’t necessarily go out of my way to visit, unless you were going for one of their festivals. But it is beautiful, and there is a ton of history in the area.