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St. Francisville in the Time of Covid-19

St. Francisville in the Time of Covid-19

By Anne Butler

So, in this scary time of social distancing and sheltering in place, some of us are using the downtime to reconnect with family and commune with nature, exercising and eating sensibly. Others, not so much…our only exercise is jogging to the icebox and getting lazier by the minute; we’ll be sorry when we have to give up our comfy pants and PJs for clothes with belts or waistbands. And it’s far from funny, but there are times when humor and prayer are our only comforts, and Lord knows there’s some hysterical stuff on social media these days.

We’ve been down this road before. A wonderful fact-filled article by that esteemed historian/author Brian James Costello of Pointe Coupee, just across the Mississippi River from St. Francisville and thus experiencing similar trials and tribulations, examines the historical antecedents of the Covid-19 Pandemic through the early years of constant floods and epidemics which plagued the area. There were 18 major river floods from 1770 through 1927; he reminds us that the disastrous 1882 flooding of the Mississippi River put four feet of water on Main Street in New Roads and five feet in St. Mary’s Cemetery, necessitating that Mrs. Philogene Langlois’ funeral procession proceed by boat and her remains had to be entombed in the uppermost vault). There were also numerous disastrous outbreaks of yellow fever, cholera, typhoid fever and influenza. The 1918 Influenza Pandemic, according to New Orleans and Baton Rouge newspapers of the time, reported 245,000 flu cases throughout Louisiana, resulting in over 5,000 deaths.

Correspondence from author F. Scott Fitzgerald, quarantined in 1920 in the south of France during the Spanish Influenza outbreak, reads as follows: “Dearest Rosemary, It was a limpid dreary day hung as in a basket from a single dull star…Outside I perceive what may be a collection of fallen leaves tussling against a trash can. It rings like jazz to my ears. The streets are that empty. It seems as though the bulk of the city has retreated to their quarters, rightfully so. At this time, it seems very poignant to avoid all public spaces. Even the bars, as I told Hemingway, but to that he punched me in the stomach… The officials have alerted us to ensure we have a month’s worth of necessities. Zelda and I have stocked up on red wine, whiskey, rum, vermouth, absinthe, white wine, sherry, gin, and Lord, if we need it, brandy. Please pray for us.”

And here we are a full century later, sheltering in place with only essential businesses operating (grocery and liquor stores still doing a brisk if carefully controlled business in “Lord, if we need it, brandy” and other staples of ordinary life). There are two big differences, however. In Louisiana, accustomed as we are to hurricanes and ensuing weeks-long power outages, we are grateful to have electricity and air conditioning. And then there is the enormous impact of social media, restoring a sense of community even as we remain homebound for what may seem like a very long time. Elementary school kids are connecting online through Zoom and Instagram and all sorts of sites, doing lessons, touring museums and zoos and parks, listening to celebrities like Oprah read children’s books, chatting with the little friends they miss so much; high schools and colleges have offered online classes. Farflung families are staying in touch, in spite of their next travel destination being from Las Kitchenas to Los Bed or La Rotonda De Sofa. One hairstylist posted pictures of her longhaired long-suffering boyfriend sporting a new hairdo every day, from George Washington to Princess Leia. Ladies are going from no makeup the first week to no bra the next, being reminded what their real hair color is and hearing stylists beg them not to cut their bangs, learning that Baby Wipes are good for more than a baby’s behind and toilet paper is a valuable commodity, and who knew how many times we touch our faces. And boom, it appears that we don’t need Hollywood as much as we need farmers and grocery store stockers and truckers, first responders and all levels of brave medical staff.

So what can you, an individual, do? Isolate, quarantine, shelter in place so as not to spread the disease and to flatten the wave, remembering to appreciate that you’re not stuck at home, you’re safe at home. Go into your yard to listen to the birds and watch the squirrels. Walk your dog; if you don’t have one, foster one, because there’s nothing more soothing than petting a dog or cat. If you live in a highrise, go out onto your balcony and join the chorus of singers or musicians or handclappers showing appreciation for all those laboring in the trenches. If you live in a suburban neighborhood, have a drive-by parade celebrating youngsters’ birthdays with honks and signs and balloons in lieu of in-person parties. Digital books, libraries, concerts, lectures, all of these and more are available online. Listen online to the growing number of out-of-work musicians like David Doucet of the eternally popular Cajun band Beausolail posting webcasts and virtual gigs from courtyards and other improv stages to keep the creative juices flowing and maybe even get a few donations into online tip hats like MusiCares; there are some fabulous syncs of choirs whose members are participating from across the world. Appreciate the community responsibility and generosity of folks like Drew Brees and Ralph Lauren, and if you’re not a millionaire, show your support for restaurants offering take-out meals or purchase gift certificates for later use at B&Bs, which have also lost all business due to event cancellations and home isolation.

And don’t forget to laugh. As Aunty Acid says, “Please don’t mistake my humor about the virus as a lack of seriousness or concern. Laughing through difficult times happens to be how I got through my entire life so far.” And on Facebook, there are some really hilarious postings:

So you’re staying inside, practicing social distancing and cleaning yourself? Congratulations, you’ve become a house cat.

Some of y’all are gonna be beggin’ Jolene to take your man before this quarantine is over.

Pretty is out. Now men want a woman who can catch a chicken.

Girl, I know you hear these kids out here. I’m ‘bout to bite one (picture of legs lounging in bathtub with dog sticking his head around the curtain)

Dog again: Girl, I almost bit you. Where is your wig, eyelashes and makeup?

Getting real tired of babysitting my mom’s grandkids right now (as old folks, considered the most vulnerable, are no longer available to babysit).

I’m stocking up on ice cream, canned fruit, raspberry sauce and sprinkles. I’m planning to self-isolate for a month of Sundaes.

This quarantine has me realizing why my dog gets so excited about something moving outside, going for a walk or car rides. I think I just barked at a squirrel.

I swear my fridge just said, “What the hell do you want NOW?”

After years of wanting to thoroughly clean my house but lacking the time, this week I discovered that wasn’t the reason.

Mona Lisa taking advantage of the closure of the Louvre to take a little time for herself (shown in sun glasses with exposed legs crossed, cigarette in hand, wine glass and guitar nearby).

My body has absorbed so much soap and disinfectant lately that when I pee, it cleans the toilet.

I never thought I’d see the day when weed was easier to get than hand sanitizer and toilet paper.

I ate 11 times and took 5 naps and it’s still today.

I’m from Louisiana. Talk to me in a language I understand. Is the virus a Category 4 or 5?

I don’t think anyone expected that when we changed the clocks earlier this month, we’d go from standard time to the Twilight Zone.

Now you can really dance like no one is watching.

Y’all are about to find out why your great-grandmother washed her aluminum foil and saved her bacon grease.

Mosquitos be waking up from winter like “Where y’all at??”

My mom always told me I wouldn’t accomplish anything by laying in the bed all day. But look at me now, I’m saving the world.

Homeschool Day One: Spankings and prayer about to return to classroom.

Homeschool Day Two: For science, we studied the effects of NyQuil on students.

Homeschool Day Three: If you see my kids locked outside today, mind your own business. We are having a fire drill.

Homeschool Day Four: One of those little bastards called in a bomb threat.

Homeschool Day Five: Science project (image of copper moonshine still).

Homeschool Day Six: And just like that, nobody ever asked why teachers need a fall break, spring break or the entire summer off again.

And then there’s this: In the rush to return to normal, use this time to consider which parts of normal are worth rushing back to. On the 26th day of March, 2020, attention was called to Isaiah 26-20: “Come, my people, enter your chambers and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed.”

Located on US Highway 61 on the Mississippi River between Baton Rouge, LA, and Natchez, MS, the St. Francisville area is a year-round tourist destination. Several splendidly restored plantation homes are usually open for tours: The Cottage Plantation (weekends), Myrtles Plantation, Greenwood Plantation, plus Catalpa Plantation by reservation; Afton Villa Gardens is open in season. Particularly important to tourism in the area are its two significant state historic sites, Rosedown Plantation (a National Historic Landmark) and Oakley Plantation in the Audubon state site, which offer periodic living-history demonstrations to allow visitors to experience 19th-century plantation life and customs. At this stage, check locally in this fluid situation; some outdoor spaces are open, but no house tours; restaurants are limited to take out only, and some are closed.
The nearby Tunica Hills region offers unmatched recreational activities in its unspoiled wilderness areas—hiking, biking and bicycle racing due to the challenging terrain, birding, photography, hunting. There are unique art galleries plus specialty and antiques shops, many in restored historic structures, and some nice restaurants throughout the St. Francisville area serving everything from ethnic cuisine to seafood and classic Louisiana favorites. For overnight stays, the area offers some of the state’s most popular Bed & Breakfasts, including historic plantations, lakeside clubhouses and beautiful townhouses in St. Francisville’s extensive National Register-listed historic district, and there are also modern motel accommodations for large bus groups. Again, check locally for closures.

For visitor information, call West Feliciana Tourist Commission and West Feliciana Historical Society at 225-6330 o r 225-635-4224, or St. Francisville Main Street at 225-635-3873; online www.stfrancisville.us, www.stfrancisvillefestivals.com, or www.stfrancisville.net (the events calendar gives dates and information on special activities).