This weekend I visited Avery Island, which is better known for being the manufacturing hub for Tabasco hot sauces that go around the world. If you don’t know too much about Avery Island, a massive swath of the island is dedicated to the Jungle Gardens, which include a Bird Sanctuary (pictured) and a nearly thousand year old stone Buddha.
Those notable presences aside, the thing I found astounding about the Jungle Gardens was the fact that they were intentionally modeled after famous gardens in Europe–walking through them reminded me of the Peterhof Park and Gardens in St. Petersburg. The entire intention of the gardens is to impress the viewer and woo visitors into believing you are a slice of true aristocracy. Even reading the biographies of the McIlhenry descendants shows how dripped in privilege the family is–a smattering of sons had their pick of the litter in the best schools with educations in earth sciences and eventually served in the local government and on all sorts of boards for conservation.
The funny thing though, coming back to that aristocratic aesthetic, is the fact that Louisiana, no matter how much the countryside tries with names like Spanish moss, doesn’t look like Europe.
It almost felt like an odd betrayal to try so hard to look like something you will never be. Not to mention walking around in June the park was hot as hell and I can’t even fathom delicate women in long sleeves and men with top-hats riding buggies through the countryside without feeling like they are being jipped by the bait and switch and instead swelter in the heat.
Heat brings humility. Therefore, Louisiana is humble. Quiet. No one cares if you take out your trash in socks and sandals or go to the grocery store with no bra on. It doesn’t care about fat or skin or sweat or stink. All it cares about is when the breeze lifts everyone up with a perpetual sigh.
Last night I found myself in conversations about my hometown that haven’t been dug up in a long time. Stories of a girl comparing me to an ape in front of classmates and being too tongue-tied for a comeback. A teenage boy lifting his shirt to reveal his stomach after he called me fat and my response was “You’re fat!” His devilish eyes, “No I’m not!” Slap, slap, slap, proving his point with his own skin. Endless skin years and years later. An array of those people, men specifically, all stand in a line in my mind and I wander down the rows wondering, what ever happened to you? And all I see is camouflage and Taco Bell bags and beat down houses and dead leaves. Nothing.
I ended my midnight tirade telling my boyfriend how maybe the reason I gravitated towards people who got fucked up in high school was because if you’re drinking and getting high, the fundamental function is to simply lose care. It’s enveloping yourself in people who don’t give a shit how big your stomach is or what you eat. Again–it’s about humility.
Maybe what stood out to me about the Jungle Gardens was that I couldn’t tell what was imitation and what was unapologetic terrain, how much is embracing what you are and how much is striving to prove yourself to be worthy.