Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Lafayette: Visitor Center

Lafayette Visitor Center, Lafayette, Louisiana

I popped  into the visitor center one weekend morning, thinking to get a map or two before pushing off to my next thing.

..... about an hour later, I left the center smiling after an enrichening conversation with the two docents inside. Native south Louisianans of cajun heritage, the two women enthusiastically shared engrossing information about the history, culture, and other tidbits relevant to the area.

Loved the outsiderish-art sign for the center.

There's a pleasant boardwalk trail on the property that guides visitors over the bayou. 

Lafayette Visitor Center, Lafayette, Louisiana

The only things I didn't love about the center is that it hides in plain sight on the Evangeline Thruway, which is always bristling with traffic, and regardless of which direction you approach the center from, you've got to make a fast left turn into the visitor center campus. The visitor center, in fact, resides on a wide "island" between the divided thruway.    

Once you know where the center is, it's not so much a problem, but I can't tell you how many times I drove right past it before I noticed there was a building there and later, that it was the visitor center. 

More prominent and earlier-on signage would be helpful to those unfamiliar with the area. Or just the directionally-impaired, like me.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Louisiana: Pierre Part: Christmas Parade and Gumbo

Gumbo, Pierre Part, Louisiana

A new friend in Louisiana, originally from Belgium, and who I'll call Coline, called me one day and asked if I wanted to join her at a family gathering in Pierre Part, which is in Assumption Parish.

One of the hostesses was a former colleague of Coline's, from when Coline taught in the community's French Immersion program at Pierre Part's public school.

Anyway, my answer was hell, yes!

It was a rainy, cloud-covered, chilly day as Coline and I set out from Lafayette to Pierre Part. It was important to get to Pierre Part before noon because that's when the bridge into town would be raised (swung?) to allow boat traffic through. I think it was 11:59 when we clicked onto the bridge. Whew!

A family matriarch, one of six sisters - all present - was the titular hostess for this gathering. It was at her house, which sits on a main street in town, parallel to the bayou.  Her son, Kent*, and daughter-in-law, Monica* (my friend's former colleague), met and greeted all arrivals and handled the hustle and bustle of hosting duties.

The six sisters reigned at the large dining table, smilingly receiving guests and happy homages. 


Kent explained to me some of the processes that go into making a big ol' pot of gumbo. In this part of southern Louisiana, folks use okra in their gumbo. Kent said this gathering's gumbo had its start more than 24 hours before, with the making of the roux. Some ingredients (and think in many pounds):
  • Sausage without its casings
  • Chicken 
  • Onions
  • Celery
  • Peppers
  • Okra

Plus seasonings and flour and water.

Pot where roux was made. Pierre Part, Louisiana.

Kent was the gumbo maker and sitter. His mother and aunts conducted periodic quality control testings to ensure the seasoning was just so.

Seasonings by the gumbo pot. And beer, of course. Pierre Part, Louisiana.

The art of making good gumbo reminds me of similar virtuosity needed to make churchkhela:

There was rice to put in your bowl before ladling gumbo over it.

Primary accompaniment: potato salad. Don't know why, but this surprised me. I've since learned that this is a traditional side for gumbo. 

Christmas parade

Because of the dreary weather, both the party and the parade suffered attrition from their usual large attendance.

Nevertheless, Kent laid out a large blue tarp on the grassy area by the road in preparation for the anticipated candy bounty delivered by the parade.

You know what I loved? It was the adults, mostly, including myself, who seemed to have the most fun collecting candy.

And beads, because we are in Louisiana, after all.

Kent, Monica, and their nuclear and extended families and friends were so gracious to receive a complete stranger into their midst.

Swamp People

Monica asked me if I'd watched Swamp People yet. What? My first thought was that she was referring to a horror movie like the vintage Swamp Thing. But it occurred to me that this might not be the case, so I recovered, and said, "No, what is it?" And she explained that Swamp People is a TV series about some local folks.

Also mentioned was another series called Swamp Pawn.

I haven't watched Swamp People yet, but I'm gonna. I did watch the first episode of Swamp Pawn, and you know what? It's damn good.


Another thing I heard about at the gathering are traditional healers of Acadiana, or traiteurs. People still seek out their healing gifts today.

Vermilionville, the cultural heritage site in Lafayette, has the Healer's Garden, which has medicinal plants that are or were used by traditional healers in south Louisiana.

My understanding is the traiteurs often have a healing gift for specific ailments, such as the elimination of warts.

More information to come on this tradition in the future, I hope.


In the cajun culture, nannies are godmothers. As it was explained to me in the Pierre Part gathering, the relationship between a nanny and her godchildren is very, very special.

More on this, too, I hope, in the future.


On the way out of Pierre Part, filled with gumbo and warm hospitality, we passed a community of houseboats.

Yet another topic for the future.


Pierre Part has an interesting history, not the least of which is the issue of language. An excerpt from wikipedia
Until the early- to mid-twentieth century the people almost exclusively spoke Cajun French at home. This caused the people of Pierre Part and the rest of the Cajun community to be labeled as "backwards" or "ignorant" by outsiders, and in many cases from the 1910s to the 1970s, students whose first language was French were punished corporally in school for speaking it. From the 1970s onward, extremely few children were taught Cajun French as a first language, since the previous generations were taught to be ashamed of their heritage.

In the 1990s an effort was made to reintroduce French into the school systems. This became somewhat controversial as the French taught in school was not Cajun French. Many of the teachers brought in were Belgian, French, and Canadian who taught their own dialect of French. However, there are still many who contend that the "Standard French" taught in French Immersion classes at Pierre Part Elementary School is the best chance that local Cajuns have at preserving their language and culture, since there is no written standard for teaching the Cajun dialect of the French language

I'd like to return to Pierre Part to explore more.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Louisiana: Doodlebugs

"Exploring for Oil in Mississippi Delta. Doodlebug crew in swamp setting shot line." Credit: Chevron Retired Workers

I have a feeling that as I learn some Louisiana terminology, I'll get myself into trouble sometimes, but that's part of the learning curve.

To say that oil is a big part of the Louisiana economy is an understatement. Its exploration, harvest, processing, and transportation permeate the Louisiana culture. 

So, doodlebug. The word isn't so much Louisiana-specific as it is oil-industry-specific.

(In one context, a doodlebug is what we in the Midwest call a rolypoly, you know, that bug that curls up when you touch it.)

But a doodlebug is also
.... oilfield workers know this term as describing a person who is in the oil exploration business. Mainly seismic crews.

"Some doodlebugs use dynamite to find oil and others use vibrators". "Those damn doodlebuggers tore up my cottonfield with their trucks again"

Related to oil exploration, a doodlebug is a device (as a divining rod) used in attempting to locate underground gas, water, oil, or ores. 

Doodlebug Days. Credit: Amazon

From the book Doodlebug Days: An American Family's Ups and Downs as Middle-Class Migrants, written about the Depression-era oil exploration industry: 
Between 1900 and 1936 California led the nation in petroleum production. Oil companies, certain that great reserves of oil still laid hidden, sent exploration crews - called doodlebug parties - out to find them ... 

Doodlebug (tanker) 1935. Credit: Chevron Retired Workers

Here's a song about a doodlebug who used a divining rod to find oil:


Saturday, December 28, 2013

Louisiana Movies: Alligator X

Alligator X. From: IMDb.

Imagine the quality of the movie you'd get if you were to combine the 10th sequels of all of these films: Jaws, Jurassic Park, Frankenstein, and Lake Placid.

Yes, you'd get Alligator X (aka Predator X), the story of a mad scientist who uses modern science to recreate a gigantic alligator from our prehistoric past, all set in the Louisiana bayou.

I did actually watch the movie. That is, my eyes were open and looking at the movie and my ears heard the sounds, for a half-hour or so, but eventually I did the only sensible thing while the movie ran: I deboned two roast chickens while listening (well, hearing) the dialogue.

The best actor was the one who played the smarter of the mad scientist's two henchmen. It was fun to watch him chew scenery completely unabashed, all while gumming his cigarette. He did everything except twirl the end of a waxed mustache.

The lead actress couldn't seem to move her mouth in any fashion that didn't make me think she must have got her start in campy soft porn.

Two of my favorite stupid lines:

  • Mandy, stop flailing! 
  • We've got to get out of here! 

I burst out laughing when the lead actress was splashed in the face with what must have been an off-screen bucket of blood when the alligator got blown up. Oh, whoops, sorry. Did I spoil it for you?

Here is a delicious review of the movie.

Recommend? Yeah, I don't think so.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Louisiana: Coonass

Credit: AV8R stuff

I can't tell you how often I've heard the word "coonass" since I've moved to Lafayette.

Well, mostly it's in the Louisiana-related movies and books I've been reading.

I asked one of my cultural interpretors about the term and he said that it can be good or bad, depending on who's saying it, to whom, and why.

Which jibes with the discussion here and here

In a Bayou Teche Dispatches post, author Shane K. Bernard stirred up some debate when he did his own investigation into the origin of the word.

The way I view such terms is like family. If I want to call one of my siblings a chucklehead, then I get to do that. But you don't get to do that. Because you're not in my family.

So as a visitor, I don't think I'll be using the word coonass, but I get that a lot of cajuns will. 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rootless: On Doing Holidays Solo

Gutter sun, Oil Center, Lafayette, Louisiana

Most major holidays I'm not solo, but there are times, such as this Christmas, I have been.

Since my happiness is my responsibility and not the job of others, it's incumbent upon me to create a satisfying holiday. ... Hmm, that holds true when I'm solo and when I'm with family and old friends.

The now-memories of Christmas Eve 2013 are luminous. They didn't come to me; I went out and got them.

In 2010, I wrote Holidays for the Rootless, reposted below: 

Some reflections here:
Holiday Homesickness, from nunomad.com
Expat Celebrations: Tips For Spending Holidays Overseas, by Anne Merritt, from matadornetwork.com
Family Holiday Traditions and Living Abroad, by Betsy Burlingame, from expatexchange.com

The ideas are for people who are abroad, but they hold true for anyone, really, regardless of where they are.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Christmas Eve in Louisiana and a Look at Christmas Eve Past

Christmas Eve 2012 on Canyon Drive, Santa Fe, New Mexico

Last year, my mother and sister and I were in Santa Fe for Christmas. The folks at the Silver Saddle Motel were so kind to invite us and some other motel guests to join them on the traditional farolito walk on Canyon Drive.

Today, Christmas Eve in Lafayette, I remembered how special it was to enter the St. Joseph Apache Mission Church in Mescalero, New Mexico, during Christmas season last year. My mother and I visited the church once when it was empty, and we also attended Mass. 

St. Joseph Apache Mission Church, Mescalero, New Mexico

What a beautiful space.

So today, it made sense to me to attend a Mass this year also.

St. Mary Mother of the Church, Lafayette, Louisiana

A new friend is in the choir at St. Mary Mother of the Church, so that's where I went.  Heard graceful song and breathed deeply of the exotic frankincense.

St. Mary Mother of the Church, Lafayette, Louisiana

... and then, I thought, what the hell - no I mean heck, because, shhh, we're in church! - what about going to midnight Mass?

Our Lady of Wisdom, Lafayette, Louisiana

For this, I selected Our Lady of Wisdom Church on St. Mary's Boulevard, on the University of Louisana - Lafayette campus.

I'm so glad I did.

Our Lady of Wisdom, Lafayette, Louisiana

The church was full but not overcrowded. The altar is an open one where there is seating in front and in back. Or better said, the altar is set perpendicular to the attendees.

Our Lady of Wisdom, Lafayette, Louisiana

The music, vocal and instrumental, was exquisite, and the acoustics or sound system or both, superb. Violins, cello, deep drums, soaring voices en masse and solo and twinned. It was possible to close one's eyes and simply dwell in the sound .... there were a few moments where it felt like being in the lapping water in the hot springs of Truth and Consequences.

Our Lady of Wisdom, Lafayette, Louisiana

The reader had a mellifluous voice; the priest(s) chanted the liturgy. The incense and its attendant smoke rounded out the sensory experience for the eyes, ears, and nose.

Our Lady of Wisdom, Lafayette, Louisiana

What a satisfying Christmas Eve in my new land.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Portable: Full-Timers

Villanueva State Park, New Mexico

I have two agendas for this post - one is to talk about full-timers and the other is to insinuate some of my loose-end New Mexico photos into the conversation. Specifically, my photos from Villanueva State Park, off of Highway 3.

What is a full-timer?

I didn't hear the term "full-timer" til my New Mexico Year was almost finished. Before I had the proper handle, I referred to them as semi-permanent park residents.

I first heard "full-timer" at Villanueva State Park when I emerged from the pit toilet at the upper campground, shared a greeting with a gentleman there, who self-identified as a full-timer. His portable house was either a van or a smallish truck with a camper shell.

A lil rascal outside a pit toilet, Villanueva State Park, New Mexico

Like the folks at Oliver Lee Memorial State Park, this man was of a certain age. If I understood correctly, he was a scientist in the space industry in California before he retired.

Here's one definition of a full-timer from an RV perspective:  Full-Timing is living 365 days a year in an RV; Having an RV for a home.


I can live with every part of that sentence except for the use of the word RV, which I picture as a medium-to-large-to-massive rig that has more than one living space. My mental model about RVs has me scratching my head when I see the author of the definition note that "full-timing is an opportunity to .. live economically." 

I just don't get the economy of these unless one's financial bar is set significantly higher than mine to start with. Many RVs cost as much or more than a lot of houses in the U.S., they suck gas, maintenance is a frequent expense, and site rentals are not cheap. If you've got to trailer a car behind your rig and have reliable internet access, then your costs rise even further. 

So either I've got to be more relaxed about my understanding of what an RV is or I need to drill down some more for the niche of full-timers that reflect a clearer picture of the people I've met. 

Villanueva State Park, New Mexico


The definition above leaves out a component that I think is intrinsic to full-timers - migration, even if only twice a year to follow the winter or summer season. If one lives in a home-on-wheels (to broaden the definition) in the same place year-round, is one really a full-timer? I don't think so. I think you're a person who happens to live in a home with wheels, not much different from someone who resides in a mobile home or a tiny house that is permanently sited on a parcel of land.

Villanueva State Park, New Mexico

Full-timer niches

Moving beyond RVs, there are people - by choice - living (and migrating) full-time in: 
  • Trucks with shells
  • Vans (Good Luck Duck has a blogroll of van dwellers here)
  • Cars
I like the practical tips offered at Vagabond 101, which informs readers in a spare and straightforward way how to get started living a mobile life, whether by hitchhiking, train hopping, or car/truck/van dwelling. 

I don't rule out the possibility of some day living mobile in a van or a truck with a shell. I've ruled out car dwelling. I've already done a fair turn of sleeping in my car, and it's just too cramped. 

In the past, I've written about these full-timers (using the term loosely): 

.... and about that Villanueva State Park

The park has two levels. The lower level is pretty - the upper level is a wow. Every campsite up there with a walloping view; each has a three-sided stone shelter with a picnic table inside, and grand open windows. Well-maintained pit toilets. 

The park is off the lovely Highway 3 and near the historic village of Villanueva.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Lafayette: Farmers' Market at the Oil Center, Winter

Farmers' market, Oil Center, Lafayette, Louisiana

In the parking lot across the street from the Champagne (shawm-pine) Market, every Saturday morning, is a farmers' market.

Farmers' market, Oil Center, Lafayette, Louisiana

Being as it was rainy and in deep December, there weren't a lot of vendors here, but there were some.

Farmers' market, Oil Center, Lafayette, Louisiana

I had breakfast at the market, which included: 
  • One pickled quail egg (not bad)
  • One beef-potato tamale (good)
  • One kale-cheese chip (would have been good without the cheese)
  • About 4 oz of beet juice (good)

Farmers' market, Oil Center, Lafayette, Louisiana

Farmers' market, Oil Center, Lafayette, Louisiana

I bought three pounds of satsuma oranges at the market @ $1 per pound.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Louisiana Movies: The Big Easy

From: IMDb

MovieThe Big Easy

Provenance:   Filmed in New Orleans, Louisiana. A police-and-corruption plot, where Louisiana is also a supporting character, with the actors' lush accents, the regional music, and the New Orleans sets.

It's possible it was The Big Easy, when I saw it many years ago, that first planted a seed about my future in Louisiana.

I love the scene at Remy's family home, with the music on the front porch, the dancing, the food, and the waterfront adjacent:

Beausoleil, a renowned cajun band, played in the movie 30+ years ago:

Watching it again here in Lafayette, the movie still holds up for its fun, its sexiness, its musicality, its cajun flavor.

Recommend? Even though it's over 30 years old, yes.


Friday, December 20, 2013

Louisiana: Lake Fausse Pointe State Park: A Second Visit

At the end of November I visited Lake Fausse Pointe State Park a second time.

Approached the park entrance about quarter til 8:00 a.m.

Saw this.

Morning mist. Near Lake Fausse Pointe State Park, November 29, 2013.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Louisiana: Sugar Cane

Sugar cane field, Louisiana

I came down to Louisiana the end of November, the same time as the sugar cane harvest.

Sugarcane harvest, Louisiana

Before I moved here last month, when I thought of Louisiana, I thought of: cajun/zydeco, cajun/creole, New Orleans, festivals, swamps, bayous, alligators ... (I didn't even think about oil although it's become clear to me that oil - its search, harvest, processing, export - everything about oil - is just as much part of Louisiana as are the bayous. More on this, I'm sure, in the future.)

Sugarcane harvest, Louisiana

I didn't associate sugar canes with Louisiana, although like oil, I realize now this was a knucklehead oversight on my part.

I followed a sugarcane truck on my way to Lake Fausse Point State Park recently, while listening to the excellent KRVS, Acadie Radio.  

I've missed this year's sugar cane festival, but I'll make up for that next fall.

Some factoids on sugar cane

Source: wikipedia
  • Sugar cane is the world's largest crop. 
  • It's a grass. 
  • "Sugarcane plantations, like cotton farms, were a major driver of large human migrations in the 19th and early 20th century, influencing the ethnic mix, political conflicts and cultural evolution of various Caribbean, South American, Indian Ocean and Pacific island nations."

Factoids on sugarcane in Louisiana

................................ Oh, right. .... coming right up ... I was distracted by this.

So anyway:

This brief video explains a bit about the 14-month cycle and therefore, the need for three parcels of land to maintain uninterrupted cycles. short crop (for next year's harvesting), tall crop (for this year's harvesting), and a fallow parcel for soil resting.

Produced by "Louisiana Sugar," the infomercial video below is long at almost 15 minutes, but it presents an interesting overview of the life of sugar from planting to packaging.

The harvesting machine looks so antediluvian. Fascinating to watch.

Highway 78. Sugarcane harvest, Louisiana

A style note: There seems to be no consensus on "sugarcane" versus "sugar cane," and as you can see, I couldn't make up my mind, either.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Louisiana: Traditional Music: Louisiana Folk Roots

Cajun jam, hosted by Louisiana Folk Roots, Vermilionville, Lafayette, Louisiana.

There are a number of organizations that support traditional music of southern Louisiana. I say southern Louisiana for now, and I say traditional music for now, but both terms are fluid for me til I learn more.

Cajun jam, hosted by Louisiana Folk Roots, Vermilionville, Lafayette, Louisiana.

One group is Louisiana Folk Roots, which exists to "nurture, share and perpetuate Louisiana's rich cultural heritage," more specifically, its cajun and creole roots. 

Cajun jam, hosted by Louisiana Folk Roots, Vermilionville, Lafayette, Louisiana.

This past weekend, Louisiana Folk Roots hosted a cajun "super jam" at its headquarters in the historic Begnaud House in Vermilionville

Back of Begnaud House. Cajun jam, hosted by Louisiana Folk Roots, Vermilionville, Lafayette, Louisiana.

It was rainy and a little chilly, and my tentative take is that this keeps southern Louisianans at home. So there were perhaps fewer in attendance than would otherwise have been if the weather had been better. Even so, there was plenty of good energy here among both the musicians and the appreciative listeners. 

There was a giant kettle of pork jambalaya, too.

Pork jambalaya. Cajun jam, hosted by Louisiana Folk Roots, Vermilionville, Lafayette, Louisiana.

It was especially fine when I went out to the back porch, rocked on the wooden bench, and looked out at the pond while listening to the music within:

Pond behind Begnaud House. Cajun jam, hosted by Louisiana Folk Roots, Vermilionville, Lafayette, Louisiana.

A great blue heron swooped through while I rocked and listened. 

There's a wide age range at these jams, and that's essential if traditional music is to thrive. More girls and women needed, though.

Is it the coolest thing that I can go listen to cajun or zydeco every single Saturday and Sunday, practically on my doorstep?

Yes, yes it is.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Lafayette: 2nd Saturday Art Walk: December 2013

Donald Leblanc, Gallery 549, Lafayette, Louisiana

A new friend took me to Lafayette's 2nd Saturday ArtWalk.  It's downtown and goes from 6-8 p.m.. There's a featured music performance, free wine/apps at the various galleries, and an open house with artist & writer tables at the Acadiana Center for the Arts.

2nd Saturday ArtWalk, Lafayette, Louisiana. December 2013.

ArtWalk is a concentrated gathering of creative people, so it's, as Dr. Phil liked to say, a "target-rich environment" for interesting conversations.  

In addition to ArtWalk's visual feast, an artist, Darryl Demourelle, gave me a lead on some good boat-related stories to follow up on. A tidbit: Fishermen used to sink their boats in the off-season to avoid paying taxes on same. Federal agents knew this and often searched the waterways for the sunken boats. (Keeping the boats submerged also preserved the wood during the off-season.)

About Mr. Demourelle, well, I'll be damned if he isn't the artist who painted this, which I snapped on my 2011/2012 road trip.

Breaux Bridge, Louisiana. Artwork: Darryl Demourelle.

We lingered in the good-smelling Benoit Gallery, talking with artist Bryant Benoit and his wife/business manager, Joey Benoit. Mr. Benoit is moved to layer his work figuratively and literally, an approach that jibes with all of the layers that comprise southern Louisiana.    

Bryant Benoit, Benoit Gallery, Lafayette, Louisiana

We moved on to the brightly-lit, open-spaced Gallery 549, owned by Donald Leblanc. Lots of folks there, plus what looked like a goodly assortment of artists' works represented. One assembly of work really pulled me in:

Donald Leblanc, Gallery 549, Lafayette, Louisiana

It was so amusing to learn later that this was Mr. Leblanc's work!

Over at the Acadiana Center for the Arts, artist-in-residence, Keaton R. Smith, gave a sneak preview of an upcoming presentation:


Also at the ACA was an exhibit by Luis Cruz Azaceta:

Luis Cruz Azaceta, Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette, Louisiana

I'm a sucker for his Godzilla:

Luis Cruz Azaceta, Acadiana Center for the Arts, Lafayette, Louisiana

When we walked by the artists and writers tables, my friend cried out, "Mon Dieu!" (She is French.) There in front of us, though I didn't appreciate it at the time, was Zachary Richard. Who I in short order learned is a legendary songwriter. His book, The History of the Acadians of Louisiana, was just published, in English and French.

To help me out, Mr. Richard noted that he'd written Colinda (a very famous cajun song and which is on The Big Easy soundtrack). When he mentioned that song, I mentally cocked my head like a dog does when it's hearing something it kinda gets, but which remains elusive. It wasn't til I looked it up and found this video that I realized I'd heard the very same song earlier the same day because it is on my mp3 player. Doh.

At the same table was St. Martinville artist, Dennis Paul Williams. In partnership with a photographer, he created a book of his paintings. (Mr. Williams is also a musician.)

Soul Exchange, Dennis Paul Williams. Credit: University of Louisiana Press

Some beautiful work there. The cover painting and his connection with St. Martinville reminded me of the floating Christmas angels in the trees in front of the church in that town.

Christmas angels, St. Martinville, Louisiana. December 2011.

It was a good way to spend a Saturday night.

I drank a little too much wine, though.