Treasures of Grand Isle

Maybe your Gulf spirit will whisper to you in which of these islands the treasures are hidden –direct you to the very spot, perhaps
— Kate Chopin, The Awakening

In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, the very first book our Maymester class read for the course, Chopin writes about the pirate treasure that was said to have been buried on one of the islands off of Louisiana’s Gulf Coast. While the purpose of these next few weeks the rest of the class and I will spend in Southern Louisiana isn’t necessarily about finding some famed pirate treasure, we’re bound to find other treasures traveling and bookpacking around Louisiana.

The day our class arrived in Louisiana, New Orleans specifically, we immediately packed up the cars and set off for Grand Isle where we settled into our cute and comfortable beach house. We spent the next few days here as we got a taste of life in the South. The academic year at USC had just ended and the stress and chaos of living in a cosmopolitan city like Los Angeles began to melt away with the Southern heat as I began to reacclimate myself to the heat and the humidity of the South that I hadn’t experienced since I transferred from Vanderbilt University a little over a year ago.

Our days spent in Grand Isle were a fun mix of getting to know our new classmates and fellow bookpackers, as well as our professor, and totally immersing ourselves in the books we were reading. The Awakening was a lovely book to start our trip off with as the first half of the novella takes place on Grand Isle. As I lay down on my towel in the burning hot sand and began to read the book, I couldn’t help but marvel in the fact that I was sitting on the beach of the Gulf of Mexico, the exact same beach that the main character, Edna Pontellier, fictitiously sat on in the later decades of the 19th Century when Chopin wrote the book.

There is something absolutely mesmerizing about watching the waves crash into the ocean, especially here in the Gulf Coast where the water is warm. It was incredible to watch the water as it hit the beach and read on in The Awakening as Kate Chopin herself described the way the water looked in her work.

The sea was quiet now, and swelled lazily in broad billows that melted into one another and did not break except upon the beach in little foamy crests that coiled back like slow, white serpents
— Kate Chopin, The Awakening

I couldn’t help but smile as I imagined the white crests of the waves as serpents, just as Chopin described them. As someone who grew up swimming for a majority of her life, I love being around the water, and, although I personally was not alone on the beach as my fellow bookpackers were also with me, I felt a calming sense of isolation as I continued to read the story, just as Edna and her friend might have when they too were on the beach. As Kate Chopin wrote,

The two women had no intention of bathing; they had just strolled down to the beach for a walk and to be alone and near the water
— Kate Chopin, The Awakening

Eventually, the sun began to set and it grew too dark to read but had more chances to explore the local treasures of Grand Isle including some great places to eat like the Starfish Restaurant, Jo-Bob’s Gas and Grill or Yum’s Restaurant where I tried a po-boy for the very first time. We also went to the Grand Isle State Park where we walked on the pier to look at the glistening water of the Gulf and to head off to the marina to catch a gorgeous sunset.

We even visited the Grand Isle Cemetery and walked around the raised graves where generations and centuries of families have been buried. We also accidentally got locked out of our van, but with the help of a local man named Freddie and his Southern hospitality we were able to retrieve our keys from inside the car and resume our exploration of Grand Isle and Louisiana.

There’s something about the South that is makes you feel at home. Maybe it’s the friendliness of the locals and their willingness to help out, maybe it’s the food or maybe it’s the humidity, but I forgot how much more relaxed life in the South was since leaving Nashville, which I immediately appreciated after having left the busy life of a large city. Two things are very prized and prevalent in Louisiana: LSU signs and flags and the motto laissez les bon temps rouler -- I know we’ll undoubtedly put that motto to good use throughout the remainder of our time finding our own treasures during our time spent in Louisiana.