by Willard Manus
Frank de Caro knew nothing of Lousiana when he accepted a teaching job
down there, but he soon began to develop an interest in how the state
"presented itself to outsiders, and how it was presented by those
outsiders who dropped by." Eventually he began to gather "some
of the work of those who had come to Louisiana and recorded their adventures
and impressions." In 1998 he published the results in LOUISIANA SOJOURNS--TRAVELERS
TALES AND LITERARY JOURNEYS and now the book has been reissued in a new,
updated edition by LSU Press.
While most of the contributors show an understanding of, and sympathy for, Louisiana's rich, mixed-race, multi-cultural life, de Caro has not been afraid to include some vicious racists, such as the architect Benjamin Larobe, who visited New Orleans in 1819 and was taken to Congo Square, where the local slaves gathered on Sunday to talk freedom and play the dynamic new music that eventually evolved into jazz and blues.
"I have never seen anything more brutally savage," Latrobe commented, "and at the same time dull and stupid than this whole exhibition."
Fortunately most of the other white writers in this anthology have more insightful and sympathetic things to say about life in Louisiana; their work combined with the one essay by an African-American (Hurston, on voodoism) help make LOUISIANA SOJOURNS a book worth having and savoring.