It’s Not the End of the Earth
A couple of days ago, I called Venice, Louisiana the end of the earth. It’s not. It’s the end of the world.
At the time, I did not know Venice’s official nickname was “The End of the World.” Now, having gone and returned, the REM song “It’s the End of the World As We Know It” keeps looping through my brain.
We went to the last community on the Mississippi River you can reach by automobile because of a Eudora Welty short story I read before I turned twenty years old. Thus focused, I did not know we were also traveling to the proximate area of Hurricane Katrina’s landfall. In more ways than linguistically, when I said we were driving to the end of the earth, I underestimated what we were doing.
The drive to Venice begins on an ordinary highway into Belle Chasse and Jefferson Parish. You emerge from the Belle Chasse tunnel and feel you’re underway. The levee appears rather suddenly on the left side of the road, the green hump clearly defined by the boats that rise above it, traveling the river. The Chevron Oak Pointe Plant is precursor of the oil dominance to come. It stinks.
Most of the business signs point to the oil rig support system: welders, pipe shops, culverts. Most of the trees are planted in rows, not just the citrus groves but the pecans, crepe myrtles, even the clumps of banana plants. Occasionally, small above-ground cemeteries slide between the houses. Just past the Phillips 66 Refinery, the marsh spreads to the right, a flat alluvial plain.
After Port Sulphur the levee curves so close you feel as if you could reach out and touch it. The levee appears on the right side as well, and you begin that narrowing that indicates you’re traveling a spit of land. Top the bridge and you can see the water, dotted everywhere by tall cranes.
Patches of Tara-look-alike houses spring up for no reason discernible to outsiders. The rest of the homes are trailers. The mobile homes are permanent residences with curving brick front steps, screened back porches, and brick porticos added thereto. The bars advertise Lingerie Night. Every vehicle on the road-except ours-is a truck.
Gradually the road dips so that it rises no more than inches from the shoreline. The asphalt gives way to dirt. Large elephant ears mound along the shoulder, alternating with water grass, scrub bushes, and flowering hydrangea. When the road ends we take a left, circle around, and take a right. I’m still not sure if we made it to the end or not.
Maybe one day I’ll go back. Knowing what to expect, I’ll be a better observer. Less blinded by how industrial it all is, how ubiquitous the refineries and oil companies are. Aware of the present-day reality, maybe I can do a better job of seeing the beauty there to be seen.
here’s to creative synthesis . . .