Monday, April 21, 2008

My wife and I just returned from spending two weeks in south central Louisiana. The 22 parishes of south central Louisiana make up Acadiana and are home to those folks calling themselves Cajun. Speaking French and English, and living in an area of swamp, prairie, and bayou Cajun’s have developed a culture unique in the United States, if not the world.

The Atchafalaya basin, with its river, swamp and bayou is the most distinguishing feature of Acadiana, and we took a boat ride on its river, a very short walk on a path into its swamp seeing contented alligators sunning themselves on fallen trees, and being bitten by unseen silent mosquitoes.

We visited Avery Island, home of Tabasco and its beautiful bird sanctuary with hundreds of gorgeously bright white great egrets and pink spoonbills. We climbed on the ladders and decks of a once proud oil platform, now mostly rusted and used for training. We toured the old capitol building in Baton Rouge, where former governor Huey Long once held sway, and now used for introducing school children into the world of Louisiana politics, and the new capitol building (the tallest in the country) built by Long and ironically where he was murdered.

Of the several very nice museums we visited the New Louisiana Museum in Baton Rouge was the most interesting and well worth a return trip.

Of the grand antebellum houses we saw Shadows-on-the-Teche was the most memorable. A property of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and furnished with mostly period pieces it provided a glimpse into what life for the wealthy was like prior to the War Between the States.

We enjoyed some of the best food we have had the privilege of eating including perfectly seasoned boiled crawfish, rich creamy crab chowder, red beans and rice, thick gumbo with hunks of spicy sausage, smoky jambalaya, boudin balls and of course the ubiquitous beignet.

We went to Fred’s Lounge in Mamou, at 9:30 in the morning to drink a beer (a first for me at that hour) and hear Cajun music played with abandon, and broadcast on a local AM radio station.

We went to the Savoy Music Center Eunice to listen to Cajun music at a jam session and to meet Marc Savoy. Marc is not only crafts beautiful Cajun accordions; he is a musician of the instrument playing in his family band, and a keeper of Cajun heritage. Marc took the time to not only answer my many questions but to speak with me regarding his music and passion for Cajun culture.

We went to the Liberty Theater, in Eunice where I was fortunate to meet and speak with song writer, singer and guitar player, and national treasure DL Menard. Wow, did we pick the right night to be at the Liberty. It was a celebration of Menard’s 76th birthday and the entire audience was treated to an evening of great music, delicious jambalaya and birthday cake. Since the performance, broadcast on radio, was mostly in French it was fortunate that the lady sitting next to me generously translated. Sort of like the Prairie Home Companion, the show was warm folksy and very entertaining.

Not all of the restaurants we ate at were good, in fact at least one was terrible and I certainly do not recommend the Harbor Seafood Restaurant in Morgan City to anyone.

In my opinion DI’s Restaurant just southwest of Eunice was the best, but Shuck’s in Abbeville was very good as was Mulate's in Breaux Bridge with a ceiling of business cards, and Don’s Seafood in Lafayette. Every restaurant we had dinner at had live Cajun music and I defy anyone not to want to get up and dance, which the wife and I did. Of course it helped that we had about 45 minutes of lessons and that the Cajun waltz and two-step are incredibly easy to get the hang of. Don’t misunderstand, I not saying that we danced like Cajuns, but boy did we have fun.

Surprisingly, the best gumbo was served at Frenchman’s Wilderness Campground. It was thick, rich and prepared by a family member of the staff at the campground. Also, the best red beans and rice was served to us at the Rural Life Museum in Baton Rouge.

After nearly two weeks of fish; fried, boiled, broiled and baked, the ribeye steak I ate at Don’s Seafood in Lafayette was tasty indeed.

If you are wondering how you can participate in a similar experience just get yourself an Airstream trailer and join Wally Byam Caravan Club International.

1 comment:

Mommy said...

They are called "noseeums" not sure of the spelling. Could be no see'ums
or it could be something else but those mosquitoes you don't get the point. : )

Love you dad, this is your best work yet.