Friday, February 28, 2014

Lafayette: Rouse's Supermarket

Rouse's Supermarket, Lafayette, Louisiana

I'm pretty taken with the artistry of Rouse's Supermarket on Bertrand Road in Lafayette.

Rouse's Supermarket, Lafayette, Louisiana

It is an edible museum of southern Louisiana foodstuffs.   

Rouse's Supermarket, Lafayette, Louisiana

I like that you can buy potatoes boiled in spices.

Rouse's Supermarket, Lafayette, Louisiana

I thought you pronounced the name of the store like "rooses," but I heard a local call it "rowses."

The word is that because it was a cold and particularly rainy winter, the crawfish harvest isn't as good as it normally is, so the prices are very high.

I saw smoked turkey tails in Rouse's once and I regret I didn't have my camera with me because I haven't seen them since. Which just proves my point here.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Alamogordo, New Mexico: Tree Life

"Yucca palm" [sic], Alamogordo, New Mexico

Although I left New Mexico in September 2013, there's more to say about it. Here's one of those things.

There are a number of plants in New Mexico that I admire for their hardiness in an adverse climate and their hospitality to other living things.

The soaptree yucca is one of them. I love those guys. They are stand-up soldiers, waving to passers-by alongside the roads, never whining, always at the ready to provide some sustenance to their fellow biota.

The "yucca palm" seems similar. It's a thick-bodied tree with a crown of dense foliage. It can support a village of small birds within. Unfortunately, I can't confirm exactly what this tree really is, though I've tried several times. "Yucca palm" appears to be the lazy-ass name, but it may be neither a palm nor a yucca.  

"Yucca palm" [sic], Alamogordo, New Mexico

There were a lot of "yucca palms" in my Alamogordo neighborhood. They teemed with small birds year-round.


Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Oil and Louisiana, Part 1: The Louisiana Story

The Louisiana Story

I didn't fully appreciate the extent to which oil has figured into Louisiana's story until I got here.

I reckon it has had as much influence on the shaping of south Louisiana as have the waves of people who've made Louisiana their home, by choice or by force.

The 1948 movie, Louisiana Story, possibly captured the historic moment when two tribes - the bayou dwellers and the oilmen - intersected, both with interests in the same territory.  

You can watch the "documentary" in its entirety below.

I say "documentary" because Standard Oil funded the making of  Louisiana Story. Some call it "docufiction" or more kindly, a docudrama, but I think watching the movie in current times, knowing what we now know about the environmental effects of some enterprises, transforms the movie into a more authentic documentary experience.

The scene where the oilmen's speedboat swamps the Cajun boy's pirogue, plunging him into the bayou, is a pretty good metaphor for the cultural/ecological changes to come for southern Louisianans.

There's also an oil-rig explosion in the movie, with an unconquerable fire, which I think is a big ol' waving flag that oil in the bayou is not going to come without a cost.

But let me go on the record to say how creepy it is to watch the looks between the oilman and the Cajun boy. In these times, they come off like the prelude to sexual molestation. I'm trying hard to believe that back in the day, these nonverbal exchanges between boy and man were as innocent as the interactions between Timmy and Lassie, but I dunno.

Louisiana Story. Source: The Film Foundation

Here's what Robert Flaherty, the film director, said about The Louisiana Story's origin:
.... a note came from a friend of a friend of mine in the Standard Oil Company of New Jersey. .... Would I be interested in making a film which would project the difficulties and risk of getting oil out of the ground - admittedly an industrial film, yet one which would have enough story and entertainment value to play in standard motion picture houses at an admission-price?

....  a series of luncheon conference.... The upshot of it was that I agreed to spend three months finding out whether I thought I could make an interesting picture about oil.

Mrs. Flaherty and I set out in our car for the southwest. We drove thousands of miles. ....
In the course of our wanderings we came to the bayou country of Louisiana. 

We were enchanted by the gentle, gay and picturesque people of French descent who inhabit this little-known section of the United States; a people who have managed to preserve the individual flavor of their culture. We were delighted with their customs, their superstitions, their folk-tales of werewolves and mermaids, handed down from generation to generation. 

But we weren't getting any closer to a film about oil.

Then one day we stopped the car for lunch near the edge of a bayou. Suddenly, over the heads of the marsh grass, an oil-derrick came into our view. It was moving up the bayou, towed by a launch. In motion, this familiar structure suddenly became poetry, its slim lines rising clean and taut above the unending flatness of the marshes.

I looked at Frances. She looked at me. We knew then that we had our picture.

Almost immediately a story began to take shape in our minds. It was a story built around that derrick which moved so silently, so majestically into the wilderness; probed for oil beneath the watery ooze, and then moved on again, leaving the land as untouched as before it came. [emphasis added]

But we had to translate our thesis - the impact of science on a simple, rural community - into terms of people. For our hero, we dreamed up a half-wild Cajun boy of the woods and bayous. To personalize the impact of industry, we developed the character of a driller who would become a friend to the boy, eventually overcoming his shyness and reticence. ...

Revisiting The Louisiana Story
In 2006, a group of students at Louisiana State University created short films revisiting the people and places of documentary maker Robert Flaherty's Louisiana Story. Through short film and essay, "Revisiting Flaherty's Louisiana Story" examines both the legacy of Flaherty's 1948 film and the experience of these student filmmakers in southern Louisiana. Suchy and Catano explore reflexivity in documentary filmmaking, depictions of the oil industry and the environment in south Louisiana, and the role of documentary images in making Louisianan identities.  

The movie the students made is right here

The students' essays are here should you have an interest in a close, holistic examination of The Louisiana Story.

An excerpt from the Introduction essay (by James Catano):
The [Cajun] culture was primarily rural and under significant economic stress. While Flaherty romanticizes living conditions in Acadiana and the arrival of big oil, residents were not unaware of what oil drilling could mean for them economically. In Cajun Country, Felix Richard makes that clear in responding to a question by Lomax about the impact of oil: "Oh my god that's it. If it hadn't been for that we'd be starving just like they're doing in Mississippi right now." But if Richard recognizes that impact, he also notices in hindsight that it doesn't come without a price. As he says, the coming of big oil "kind of destroyed some of that [culture]."

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Lafayette, Louisiana: Sounds From My Place

In Alamogordo, there were the ubiquitous sound of the doves.

In Lafayette, I hear complicated melodies from birds hoping to hook up for the spring. I don't see the birds usually, as they're in the dense foliage of my surrounding trees. But there's a nonstop conversation of trills and chirps and whistles and squeaks.

I doubt my birds are Baltimore orioles, but the sounds I hear are similar. 

Then there are the trains - some day I must try to count how many go through in a day. Lots. This train track below is less than a mile from my place:

I'm not far from a hospital, so I hear ambulances on occasion.

Squirrels barrel across the roof over my head frequently.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Louisiana: Courir de Mardi Gras: Introduction

Vermilionville courir de Mardi Gras, Lafayette, February 2014

The Mardi Gras come from all around, all around the center of town.
They come by once per year, asking for charity.
Sometimes it's a sweet potato, a sweet potato or pork rinds.

The Mardi Gras are on a great journey, all around the center of town.
They come by once per year, asking for charity.
Sometimes it's a skinny chicken, or three or four corn cobs.

Captain, captain, wave your flag, let's go to another neighbor's.
Asking for charity for everyone who'll come join us later,
Everyone who'll come join us later at the gumbo tonight!
Danse de Mardi Gras, English lyrics

Vermilionville courir de Mardi Gras, Lafayette, February 2014

To tell about the courir de Mardi Gras. ... Where to begin?

Vermilionville courir de Mardi Gras, Lafayette, February 2014

Here's where you can begin - by watching this one-hour documentary by Pat Mire, Dance for a Chicken:

Mardi Gras is essentially a game, and spectators are fair game for the players.
Source: Dance for a Chicken, Pat Mire

The song, Danse de Mardi Gras, is one of the songs traditionally sung during the courir.

Courir means run.

Mardi Gras is about more than what happens on that day
Source: Dance for a Chicken, Pat Mire

Vermilionville courir de Mardi Gras, Lafayette, February 2014

The complexity of the courir de Mardi Gras story reminds me of the matachine dance tradition in New Mexico. Both have origins that go back many centuries and both are an admixture of culture and time and place.

The courir de Mardi Gras is about: 
  • The lean times toward the end of the long winter
  • Communal assistance - the gathering of ingredients for one good meal
  • Begging, humility
  • Altered state via alcohol
  • Becoming the "other" - black becomes white; white becomes black; men become women; women, men
  • Parodying of those who have by those who haven't
  • Tricksters
  • Shedding the societal rules for a day  

Vermilionville courir de Mardi Gras, Lafayette, February 2014

When we participate in - and to watch is also to participate - the courir de Mardi Gras, we are participating in rituals that pre-date Roman times.   

Another version of the Danse de Mardi Gras for you, this one by Steve Riley and the Mamou Playboys:

A slide show of the courir de Mardi Gras at Vermilionville earlier this month:


Sunday, February 23, 2014

Louisiana Lit: Dave Robicheaux and Alcohol

Drinking in Dmanisi, Caucasus Georgia

Who is Dave Robicheaux? 

He's the protagonist in 20 books written by James Lee Burke, a New Iberia, Louisiana, writer.

Dave is a homicide detective in New Iberia, Louisiana. Cajun. Recovering alcoholic. Viet Nam war veteran. A man who marries. A father.

You can read more about Dave here. And what he thinks about north Louisianans here.

Bar glasses, St. Louis, Missouri

Dave and alcohol

I said Dave was an alcoholic, right? In the series, he's been abstinent and he's been in relapse. He's a member of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Here's how Dave's brain processes alcohol:

From Neon Rain (1987):
The sudden raw taste of alcohol after four years of abstinence was like a black peal of thunder in my system. My stomach was empty and it licked through me like canned heat, settled heavily into my testicles and phallus, roared darkly into my brain, filled my heart with the rancid, primordial juices of a Viking reveling in his own mortal wound.

From A Stained White Radiance (1992): 

The bottles of bourbon, vodka, rum, gin, rye, and brandy rang with light along the mirror. The oak-handled beer spigots and frosted mugs in the coolers could have been a poem.....

Descanso, New Mexico

From Jolie Blon's Bounce (2002):

[At an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting] .. I told them all of it. How I had stolen and eaten my wife's diet pills for the amphetamine in them, then had kicked it up into high gear with white speed I had taken from an evidence locker. How I had bludgeoned Jimmy Dean Styles's face with my fists, breaking his nose and lips, knocking his bridge down his throat, grabbing his head and smashing it repeatedly on the bar, my hands slick with his blood and the sweat out of his hair, while an insatiable white worm ate a hole in the soft tissue of my brain and I ground my teeth together with a need that no amount of sex or violence or dope would relieve me of, that nothing other than whiskey and whiskey and whiskey would ever satisfy. 

Beer bottles, Shiprock, New Mexico

Dave's description reminds me of how Mary Karr, in her memoir, Lit, explained how she fell for the drug:
The bottle gleamed in the air between us. I took the whiskey, planning a courtesy sip. But the aroma stopped me just as my tongue touched the glass mouth. The warm silk flowered in my mouth and down my gullet, after which a little blue flame of pleasure roared back up my spine. A poof of sequins went sparkling through my middle.

Wine, Alamogordo, New Mexico

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Louisiana Lit: Dave Robicheaux and Northern Louisianans

Acadian flag

A refresher on the three states of Louisiana

Back here, I talked about the three states of Louisiana (plus Baton Rouge).

In brief, there are
  • southern Louisiana, of which Acadiana is a large part --> Cajun (by way of France and Canada), creole (by way of Mali and Senegal, perhaps Caribbean), French language, Catholic
  • New Orleans - French, Afro-Caribbean, German, Italian, Catholic
  • northern Louisiana - Arkansas/Mississippi/Texas orientation --> Baptist
  • (Baton Rouge --> LSU and football)

Dave Robicheaux

Dave Robicheaux is the protagonist in 20 books by James Lee Burke. He's a homicide detective in New Iberia, Louisiana. Cajun. Recovering alcoholic. Viet Nam war veteran. A man who marries. A father.

Dave's views on northern Louisianans

I'll let Dave do his own talking on this issue.

From Neon Rain (1987):

 ... he had the flat green eyes and heavy facial bones of north Louisiana hill people. He smelled faintly of dried sweat, Red Man, and talcum powder.  ....

... They were big men, probably Cajuns like myself, but their powerful and sinewy bodies, their tight-fitting, powder-blue uniforms, polished gunbelts and holsters, glinting bullets and revolver butts made you think of backwoods Mississippi and north Louisiana, as though they'd had to go away to learn redneck cruelty.

From Burning Angel (1995):

... When the two guards, both of them narrow-eyed and cheerless piney woods crackers, brought him into the reception room and sat him down in front of a scarred wood table in front of us and slipped another chain around his belly and locked it behind the chair, which was bolted to the floor, I said it would be all right if they waited outside. ...

From A Stained White Radiance (1992):

Two men in suits stepped in front of me, and one of them stiff-armed me in the shoulder with the heel of his hand. ...

'Where you think you're going, buddy?' he said. His breath was rife with the smell of cigars.
'Yeah? Who's that with you? The African para-troopers?' he said.
'He's FBI, you peckerwood shithead,' I said. 'Now, you get the fuck out of my way.'
Mistake, mistake, I thought, even as the words came out of my mouth. Don't humiliate north Louisiana stump-jumpers in front of either their women or the boss man.

Heh, heh, heh, he said "peckerwood"

I'm not sure I ever heard the word peckerwood until I read a hilarious book by Percival Everett, I Am Not Sidney Poitier: A Novel. Dave Robicheaux' reference to peckerwoods reminds me of one of Not Sidney Poitier's misadventures.

Mr. Everett is ruthless in his lampooning of back-back-back-backwoods white folk in the same way some white folks like to characterize black folks. In the book, a black man named Not Sidney Poitier's life seems to roll out in vignettes of Sidney Poitier movies. In the example below, he was arrested for, more or less, driving while black in rural Georgia:
Once you leave Atlanta, you're in Georgia. 

... a flashing blue bubble atop a black and white county sheriff's patrol car. I watched as the nine-foot tall, large-headed, large-hatted, mirror-sunglassed manlike thing unfolded from his car, closed his door, and walked toward me - one hairy-knuckled suitcase of a hand resting on his insanely large and nasty-looking pistol, the knuckles of the other hand dragging on the ground.

.... Before I could whistle Dixie .... there were three more black and white patrol cars and similarly brown-shirt-clad miscreants swinging their long arms around me.* There was a lot of whooping and chattering and hoo-hahing and head-scratching about whether my license was phony, about whether my car was stolen, it was just too clean, ..... 

... I was taken to the town of Peckerwood, the county seat of the county of the same name .... We rolled through pine trees across spiderwebbed and cracked asphalt deeper into the county's colon. We stopped finally at the farm. Shacks and more shacks, rows of dusty nothing, with many trees that managed to provide no shade at all. 

"What do they grow here?" I asked no one in particular, but for some stupid reason said it aloud. 

"This here is a dirt farm, boy," a mirror-lensed set of eyes shouted at me. "Our dirt crop ain't what it used to be and it never was!" That's what I finally figured out he said. It sounded like: "Dis chere a dir farm, boi. Aw dir crop ain't wha eah yoost to be, but den tit neber wa." .... 

*If Dave's sidekick, Clete Purcel, had been there, he would have said they were swinging their dicks around.  


Getting back to Dave

I leave you to draw your own conclusions about what South Louisianan Dave Robicheaux thinks of North Louisianans.

Disclaimer: I do not endorse this message.

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Abbeville, Louisiana: Broussard

Yesterday, one of my cultural interpreters and I - let's call him Landry - entered an Abbeville shop that had just opened (more on the shop later), and we met the vivacious Gail.

We started talking about Cajun surnames and I noted how there seemed to be a fairly small stock of same, and Gail went and got the Abbeville phone book, and gave it to me.

Her husband, Billy, said that Broussard was the most common Cajun surname.

Sure enough, there are more than three pages of Broussards in Vermilion Parish, which has a population of 58,700. There are ~ 79 Broussards listed in each column of the phone book, for nine columns, totaling 711 Broussards.

This means that one in 82 Vermilion Parish residents is a Broussard. And really, that's not right because the phone book only counts adults.

Furthermore, 26% of Vermilion Parish residents are under age 18, so I'm going to throw out a wild ass guess and say that one out of every 70 Vermilion Parish residents is a Broussard.

You  may be surprised to learn there are: 
  • 10 Paul Broussards
  • 3 Pervis Broussards (and a Perfay)
  • 5 Pressleys (or Presley) Broussards
  • 3 Shane Broussards

And this is only Vermilion Parish. Acadiana encompasses 22 parishes.

According to this source:
By the time of the first census in 1671, there were 47 Acadian surnames (that left descendants).  Many of today's Acadian-Cajuns go back to these families.  These earliest Acadian settlers to leave descendants are in the following table.

The prolific Broussards appeared in the 1686 census.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Louisiana Lit: James Lee Burke: Dave Robicheaux

James Lee Burke. Credit: Deep South Magazine


I've seen Louisiana author James Lee Burke compared to the likes of James Patterson and Dean Koontz. A travesty - Messrs. Patterson and Koontz churn out the equivalent of Harlequin Romances for men. Mr. Burke writes.

Back here, I looked at Mr. Burke's very first book, which I wasn't madly in love with. Subsequent books are exponentially better.

Mr. Burke has written more than 30 books. Twenty of the books center around protagonist Dave Robicheaux.

Dave Robicheaux

A Cajun, Dave Robicheaux is a police detective and the owner of a recreational fishing enterprise outside New Iberia, Louisiana. He was a detective with the New Orleans Police Department til everything went to shit, and then he became an on-again, off-again detective for the New Iberia Sheriff's Department.

Most of the Dave Robicheaux books are based in New Iberia, where Dave lives, though he burns up a hell of a lot of gas and time on his forays to and from New Orleans, working on cases that may have started in New Iberia, but have tentacles elsewhere.

Dave's character

Dave Robicheaux is a man with cracks in his foundation. He was a low-bottom alcoholic while with the New Orleans Police Department, and he had a relapse or two after he joined Alcoholics Anonymous.

Ghosts from Viet Nam invade his dreams, though less so after he stopped drinking. 

Dave had a mother who loved him and whom he loved, but she had some demons, and he suffered collateral damage from those demons. He admired his father, who was known as a guy who enjoyed a good brawl.

At the point I am now in the series, Dave has had three wives. The first left him because of his drinking and other issues. The second, Annie, was murdered. The third, Bootsie, is alive and still married to Dave. She has lupus. 

Dave has a daughter he saved from a plane crash (murder), in which the plane plunged into the Gulf and drowned her mother and the other passengers. A Guatemalan girl, witness to atrocities in her village, Dave was able to adopt her through the magic of literary license. He named her Alafair. 

Time span

  • The first Dave Robicheaux book was published in 1987; the most recent (as of this writing) in 2013. 
  •  Dave was born in the 1940s and as noted above, served in Viet Nam. 
  •  Mr. Burke was born in 1936, and spent most of his youth in the Texas-South Louisiana coast region.

I draw your attention to this because:
  • Dave Robicheaux does grow older with the passage of time in the book series.
  • Mr. Burke, as he channels through Dave, shares some particular worldviews on Louisiana and the people within and without. 
  • There is a stream of time where you can see how embedded was~has been~is the culture of slavery, indentured servitude, oppression, and almost thoughtless dismissal of human life in our society


Certain threads wind through Dave Robicheaux' stories:
  • Alcoholism, drug addiction, Alcoholics Anonymous
  • Southern Louisiana geography and culture
  • The underclass in particular and class in general
  • Violence
  • The insidious, institutionalized inhumanity against man that is part of southern Louisiana's history
  • Environmental issues
  • Living with lupus

I don't know if there are many authors who portray the underclass with... I don't know ... humanity. Mr. Burke does so, albeit without tenderness or sentimentality.

Missouri writer Daniel Woodrell does. In his case, he tells his stories through the eyes of the societal stratum we like to call trash.

About Clete

Clete Purcel, who I suppose one could call Dave's sidekick, is in my opinion, a psychopath. Damned if in every Dave Robicheaux novel, Dave doesn't say Clete was the best homicide detective he ever knew. He never gives a scrap of evidence of this, however, and there's nothing in Clete's actions that support Dave's statement. Unless you consider urinating in a man's car or demolishing a guy's house with a bulldozer good detective work.  

This dumb loyalty to Clete the psychopath is indicative of a chronic flaw, I believe, in Mr. Burke's books. In his very first book, Half of Paradise, one of the protagonists allies himself with a complete asshole, no matter how much this costs him in prison. In the Lost Get-Back Boogie, same thing - our hero will not let go of his loser, crazy-ass "friend" til the very end.

 ... but no one's perfect.

I'm still as engaged in the Dave Robicheaux series now as I was from the start. I thank my mother for pointing me in his direction. 

This is the first in a series on Louisiana as seen through the eyes of Dave Robicheaux as channeled by James Lee Burke.

Coming soon -->  Part 2: Dave Robicheaux and the Northern Louisianans

Friday, February 14, 2014

Lafayette: 2nd Saturday Artwalk: February 2014: Swamp Pop 'n Fizz

Swamp pop, Lafayette, Louisiana

Like New Mexico, southern Louisiana has a real sense of place. Louisianans eat and drink their local products, which have location-centric names.

At February's 2nd Saturday Artwalk, my friends and I returned to the Astra Modern Market. The display of Swamp Pop packages looked like good art to me. 

Swamp pop, Lafayette, Louisiana

I love everything about the Swamp Pop beverage brand. It embraces it all: "swamp pop" music, sugarcane, satsuma oranges, Jean Lafitte, and the quintessentially Southern sweet, pralines. And look at that big ol' fancy L for Louisiana on the front of the packaging.

Swamp pop, Lafayette, Louisiana

'course, I've never tasted the product, so I have no idea if it's any good. But that's beside the point.

Swamp pop, Lafayette, Louisiana

And here's a taste of the other swamp pop:


Thursday, February 13, 2014

Rootless Relocation 2015: Plans A, B, and C

I've started my relocation plans for 2015.

Plan A:

Go to the Middle East, make good money, and get behind the veil, so to speak, of being a woman in the country I select.

A caveat: I ruled out the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. To me, that'd be like being black and going to live in South Africa during apartheid. Why would I do that? Well, I wouldn't.

Plan B:

The front-runner for today is Mexico. Here's why:
  • Six-month tourist visa that I can renew for another six months by a visa run to Guatemala. 
  • Climate of my choice.
  • I speak a little Spanish already. 
  • Reliable, fast internet so I can continue to teach English online.  
  • Affordable cost of living. 
  • Diverse cultures, history, language, and geography. 
  • The relocation cost isn't bad. 

Plan C:

Still wide open, but with these criteria:
  • Mild climate
  • Sun
  • Affordable cost of living
  • Reliable/fast internet
  • Visa situation is such that I can spend a year in place, with low-hassle visa run(s) in that year 

About visas, I found this website that provides all of the basic visa requirements in every country, depending on your citizenship. I emphasize the word basic because it doesn't include information about visa renewals.

It's February now. So this time next year, I wonder where I'll be? 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Worst Travel Advice

The Lonely Planet has a list of the worst travel advice ever here. It's not bad. 

Here's my list of worst tips:

1. "Let's ask if they can help us buy some coke." 

Yes, a temporary travel companion did propose this to me in Ecuador.

Don't do this.

2.  Bring candy, pencils, and small coins to give to the children in the streets.

This tip is offered to those visiting a country such as Ethiopia.

Do not do this. Do not do this. Do not do this.

It promotes begging in lieu of school (for those who have access to school). It causes a plague upon the tourists who follow you, as you set up the expectation that foreigners are walking Santas.

Besides, you will never have enough stuff to distribute. Never.

Finally, it is at best, a gesture of noblesse oblige. At worst, it is akin to feeding bread crumbs to pigeons - dehumanizing. 

If you want to contribute in some way to a country you're visiting, to offset in some way the terrible disparity of resources between you and most of the country's population -  identify an in-country organization that you admire and give it a donation.

3. Take traveler's checks. 

Travelers checks have gone the way of rotary phones. ("Rotary phones" - look it up.)

No matter how remote the country you're visiting, trust me, travelers checks are over.

Instead, take some cash (dollars or euros) + cash (local currency, upon arrival) + two cards that you can use as debit for ATMs. Stash the second card in a place that's separate from the other card.

And remember to inform your financial institution that you'll be traveling - you don't want to be abroad and find your card is locked.

4. From locals, about an area in their country - "Don't go there, it's too dangerous." 

This can be superb advice that you'd do well to heed. 


I've discovered that locals in all countries suffer from the same malady as the locals in my country. How many times do we hear compatriots caution against going to a particular U.S. location, be it an entire city or a part of a city, or a certain rural location? Again, sometimes the advice has merit, but more often than not, it's a generalized and unsubstantiated fear that has little connection with reality.

So if a local cautions me about going to a particular place, I'm going to listen to her, but I'm also going to ask more questions, do some independent research, and then make a decision.

5. Wait for the official instructions ... 

Like #4, this is sometimes the exact right thing to do. I learned in Ethiopia to be patient and let staff, such as those at a bus terminal, help me. They knew what they were doing and it was in their best interest for the maintenance of efficient operations to get me through the process smoothly.

But in an unusual situation, look at what the locals are doing. Are they waiting for instructions or are they moving?

In Ecuador long ago, a trio of us (all Americans) were on a train from Ibarra to San Lorenzo. En route, we encountered a landslide that had obliterated a section of track.We passengers disembarked and milled about for a bit. The train maestro said we should wait for instructions about what to do next.  While we waited, we noticed that all of the other passengers began streaming on foot through the compromised pathway.

By the time we decided to follow, our fate was sealed: On the other side was a waiting train - older, smaller -  in which all of the seats were taken.

This experience was a laugh-about-it-later one.

But on a much more serious level, there were people who died in the World Trade Center when they complied with instructions to "stay put."

6. Go here - the food is AMAZING!!! 

Yeah, OK, maybe.

But I invite you to redefine the term amazing!!!  to mean:

It is the ultimate experience in mediocrity! Nowhere else will you spend more money for such a stupendously average experience than this! 

I promise: If you redefine the word amazing as I suggest, you will never be disappointed. In fact, your expectations may be exceeded. Win-win.

What's your worst travel advice? 

Monday, February 3, 2014

The Disappearing of Louisiana, Part 3: Paradise Faded: The Fight for Louisiana

Part 1: Stumbling on History
Part 2: Water Words

This 2007 documentary by Jared Arsement hammers in four solid messages:
  1. South Louisiana is a strategic location for the reliable production and delivery of oil and gas to the United States, for fresh- and saltwater fishing, the export of midwestern agricultural products, and for the mitigation of weather-related disasters. 
  2. Louisiana is literally disappearing into the sea, being subsumed by the Gulf of Mexico.
  3. The disappearance of Louisiana results in the loss of people's land, homes, livelihoods, and the protection of major population centers from storms.
  4. There are remedies to stop the disappearance, but there is insufficient political will to do so

Notes from the documentary: 

Every grain of soil that created the land mass we call Louisiana came from the American east and midwest.

Before 1927, the Mississippi River was like a hose filled with water that moves from side to side, distributing water and silt in a wide swath. 

Louisiana was a by-product of natural flooding.

Since 1927, instead of distributing the sediment throughout Louisiana, it all goes straight to the Gulf of Mexico. (This is because the Mississippi River was channelized.)

Between 1932 and 2000, Louisiana lost nearly 2000 square miles of wetlands. This is the size of Delaware.

Note: My understanding is that as it pertains to Louisiana, the "loss of wetlands" does not mean that there is still land where there used to be wetlands, and that it's just a different quality of land. My understanding is that there is no land, period. It is underwater. Hopefully someone will correct me if I'm mistaken.

Coastal Louisiana. Land loss/gain 1932-2050. Credit: USGS

Note: The red in the graphic above = land lost between 1932 and 2000. Light gray = land gained. Yellow = projected land loss by 2050. Green is projected land gain by 2050.

In the 1950s and 60s, thousands of miles of canals were dredged to accommodate the oil and gas pipeline needs. It likely was not known at that time that the canals would widen because of the dredging, which created deeper and straighter paths for fast water to travel, resulting in bank erosion and channel deepening, which made the canal deeper and wider, which enabled faster water, which ....

Southeast Louisiana. Land loss 1932-2050. Credit: USGS

 A system disintegrated: 

In the past, natural barriers protected Louisiana from the worst of storm destruction: 
  1. Front line defense: Barrier (or channel) islands -> drowning in the Gulf
  2. Second line of defense: Wetlands --> drowning via erosion and invasion of Gulf waters
  3. Third line of defense: Levees --> by themselves, they aren't plentiful enough, stable enough, or high enough to protect people and infrastructure

How do they help? 

Barrier (or channel) islands are like speed bumps - they slow the progress of a tropical storm. 
Barrier islands are narrow strips of land that parallel the coastline and consist of a variety of fine sediments and particulate matter. A barrier island is separated from land by a shallow bay or lagoon and can stretch for tens of miles.
Barrier islands are narrow strips of land that parallel the coastline and consist of a variety of fine sediments and particulate matter. A barrier island is separated from land by a shallow bay or lagoon and can stretch for tens of miles. Source: Rockbandit.

Barrier islands are narrow strips of land that parallel the coastline and consist of a variety of fine sediments and particulate matter. A barrier island is separated from land by a shallow bay or lagoon and can stretch for tens of miles.
How barrier islands protect mainland. Source: University of Texas.

In turn, the wetlands suck energy from the storm by:
  • Reducing wind speed; and 
  • Adding friction to the surge, slowing it and weighing it down

From article in Times-Picayune. Graphic credit: SE Louisiana Flood Protection District

2.7 miles of wetlands can reduce storm surge by one foot. 

The levees protect people and property (if the islands and wetlands are there to do their part).


Talking heads in the documentary cited: 

  • Small and large diversions from the Mississippi River channel as it drops through Louisiana (to recapture sediment that is otherwise dumped through into the Gulf) - this would maintain and rebuild land. 
  • Opening and closing channel gates using the Dutch model of flood management 
  • Restoration of barrier and channel islands

Henry Hub

Henry Hub is in/near the small town of Erath, Louisiana.

To illuminate the strategic importance of Louisiana's geological stability, the documentary noted the Henry Hub, place where natural gas prices are set.

From investopedia
A natural gas pipeline located in Erath, Louisiana that serves as the official delivery location for futures contracts on the NYMEX. The Henry Hub is owned by Sabine Pipe Line LLC and has access to many of the major gas markets in the United States. As of June 2007, the hub connects to four intrastate and nine interstate pipelines, including the Transcontinental, Acadian and Sabine pipeline.

The Henry Hub pipeline is the pricing point for natural gas futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange. The NYMEX contract for deliveries at Henry Hub began trading in 1990 and are deliverable 18 months in the future. The settlement prices at the Henry Hub are used as benchmarks for the entire North American natural gas market.

The take-away 

In addition to defining the issues, the documentary made these clear arguments for the fixes:
  • Louisiana has the knowledge, experience, and technology to freeze or roll back the disappearing of Louisiana. 
  • Louisiana doesn't have the money to do it. 
  • At the time the movie was made (2007), there wasn't the national political will to help Louisiana do it. 

Louisiana argues that this is not a Louisiana emergency - it is a national emergency.

Related posts

Disappearing Louisiana, Part 1: Stumbling on History
Disappearing Louisiana, Part 2: Water Words
Disappearing Louisiana, Part 3: Paradise Faded: The Fight for Louisiana
Disappearing Louisiana, Part 4: Revetments, Rip-rap, and Other Exotica
Disappearing Louisiana, Part 5: The Control of Nature: Atchafalaya

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Louisiana Movies: Belizaire the Cajun

Belizaire the Cajun. Credit: Cote Blanche

Movie: Belizaire the Cajun

Provenance: Lafayette, Cecelia, and Henderson, Louisiana.

Synopsis from Roger Ebert:
[The film] takes place in Louisiana in the years before the Civil War [1859, to be exact], after the long exile of the Cajuns at last seemed over. They settled in peaceful coexistence with their Anglo-Saxon neighbors, but as the movie opens there is trouble. A marauding band of Anglo vigilantes is burning Cajun homes and warning them to get out of town.
What and how things transpire in the movie is a jumble of drama, low comedy, wit, poignancy, romance, and history lessons. Belizaire (played by Armand Assante) is the lead. He's the village healer, the mediator, the would-be lover, orator, hero, and .... buffoon. The buffoonish bits felt off to me, especially when they followed dramatic sequences.

On one hand, I was impressed by how authentic the visual scenery and props seemed to be, even to how Alida (the female lead) washed dishes and fed chickens. On the other hand, the careful versimilitude reminded me of watching televised re-enactments of Important Historical Events in middle-school.

Having said the above, it would be valuable to watch the movie again, but this time in the company of a cajun historian. There were some lines and scenes in the movie that whizzed by, but which I'm pretty sure had rich back stories. Cajuns would recognize the references, but many would be lost on an outsider like me. Just a few examples: 
  • Louisiana historical inheritance laws versus other states' inheritance laws. It happens that the docent at the Lafayette Visitor Center had given me a brief history on this very topic when I visited in November. If she hadn't done so, the movie scene would have meant little to me. 
  • References by cajuns to the "americaines." Although the movie was set in 1859 Louisiana, when presumably all the folks (well, all the white folks, let's remember) were American citizens, these references imply a lot. 
  • Legal marriages - or better said perhaps - registered marriages among cajuns in the mid 1800s. There were implications in the movie that common-law marriages were not unusual, but that the relatively recent arrival of a priest had resulted in the expectation for legal marriages. 
  • The sheriff quipped to Belizaire that he was surprised Belizaire could read. I suspect this is a reference to the disparagement cajuns received by "americans" regarding their culture, education, and intelligence. 

Recommended? Yes, with managed expectations.