Guest blogger: Mary Ann Sternberg

Mary Ann Sternberg

Did you know that the wall of the Our Lady of Lourdes Grotto at St. Michael’s Church in Convent is built out of the residue left from burning sugarcane instead of constructed of rock? Every other Lourdes grotto is made of rock; why on earth would anyone use bagasse?

And maybe you’ve noticed a fenced-in forest in the middle of sugarcane fields near Vacherie that has an historic marker out front describing a fabulous garden?. Who was Valcour Aime, its owner? And how could that overgrown plot ever have been part of something grandly called Le Petit Versailles?

The grotto and the Valcour Aime Garden are just two of the subjects I’ve written write about in my newest book, River Road Rambler, a collection of fifteen essays/sketches about unique or underappreciated River Road sites, according to me. I took the liberty of compiling such a compendium after wandering the River Road for over twenty years. I’ve always gone armed with an ever-curious eye and a reliable sense of humor as they are both necessities in the field and I took notes, snapped photos, and talked to locals. And I got access to places that are private where most people can’t go.

I layered on this untold hours in libraries, museums and archives, looking for source documentation of the history and culture I’d found.

That said, I should admit that I’m not a professional historian. Rather, I’m a writer who likes the heft of history and the delight of culture as well as the challenges of exploration, research and connecting the dots. Despite not being a “real” historian, however, who doesn’t produce scholarly work, scholarly, I nevertheless hold myself accountable to the same standards of fact-gathering and interpretation that all good nonfiction requires. With River Road subjects, however, I have to allow myself to take a little license (always fully noted) because legend and lore abound there and are almost as much a part of the landscape as facts. And they do add such charm…

Of course, there are many more stories of unique and underappreciated places to be found along the River Road beyond the fifteen in Rambler. Look no farther than each plantation (including the ten open to the public) which has its own remarkable narrative or each small museum with a singular insight into a certain slice of this corridor or the many sites along the way that go undefined and beg for descriptors. So Rambler is just a taste.

But I wrote it so that readers (should I be lucky enough to attract a few) will get to know some of the places as I have seen them and, even better, may come to care about them.

So the grotto at St. Michael’s, which is both protected and used daily, is worth a visit whether you’re Catholic or not. And the Valcour Aime garden? It’s also protected but it’s private property; you’ll need me to show you around as an armchair traveler and if you love a good tale.

Now set out on your own adventure through an LSU Press book. Use the code 04TRAVEL at checkout for a 40% discount on select titles. (Sternberg titles not included.)