When I picture Cécile’s hometown of New Orleans I conjure images from my own visits there that involve listening jazz music, eating beignets in a cloud of powdered sugar, timidly crossing Bourbon Street, and of course, taking a cruise on the Mighty Mississippi. While jazz music did not yet exist during Cécile’s time and Bourbon Street had not yet gained its infamous reputation, she very likely would have enjoyed eating beignets and she most definitely saw, used, and was generally affected by the Mississippi River.
Incidentally, Cécile and I have that in common, because I too grew up quite near the Mississippi, though granted, several hundred miles north of New Orleans. I always think of the Mississippi as a sort of vital artery that sustains our continent, affecting our lives in more ways than we can possibly realize. The water in this picture may have started as a raindrop on top of a mountain in Montana. The electricity you are using to read this might come from coal that traveled in a barge up or down the Mississippi.
In Cécile’s time, the Mississippi was just as important as it is now. In fact, it was used in a lot of other important ways that have since become obsolete. Cécile’s brother Armand arrived back in the United States from France on a ship that brought him to the mouth of the Mississippi. Cécile’s friend Marie Grace had an uncle who captained a riverboat. In those days, people traveled the river as much as cargo did. Steam powered riverboats were first used in the early 1800s and became a crucial form of transportation for people and goods. The very first steam poweredriverboat used on the Mississippi happened to be called the New Orleans and was launched in 1811. If you were wealthy, you might have used such boats as a form of entertainment as some featured vaudeville and other theater performances. The advancement of barges and advent railroads gradually made riverboats impractical for most purposes besides entertainment, which of course is why they are best known today as a venue for gambling and merrymaking.
In addition to important transportation purposes, the Mississippi is a critically important ecosystem, providing habitat for hundreds of different species of fish, birds, mammals, and plants. Though Cécile was unable to pose for a shot with a Louisiana gator, she did get to see a great blue heron, a beautiful wading bird that stands patiently in the water and waits for an unsuspecting fish. Cécile is not a huge animal lover, but does has a soft spot for birds. I don’t think she’ll be trading her parrot Cochon for a great blue heron any time soon, though!