November 16th, 2010


Bayou Backroads

Four days we were in Louisiana.  Four days, but about a week's worth of experiences.

You've probably picked up, somewhere in the blogosphere, that Neil Gaiman celebrated his 50th birthday in New Orleans with a flotilla of friends and family, among whom ellen_kushner and I were honored to be included.  The bash took place at Rosy's Jazz Hall, an old warehouse, I think, deserted after Katrina and transformed into a performance/wedding/party space of great charm and coolness.  The food, catered by Green Goddess, was excellent, the wine free-flowing, ditto the conversation.  Everyone had gotten all gussied up, even those who don't usually gussy, and I'm almost sorry I didn't bring my camera.  But I wasn't there to take pictures, I was there to talk, which I did until I was hoarse.  And to dance, which I did--with Ellen and Susan Straub and Alisa Kwitney--even though the band wasn't really a dance band and you couldn't hear the singer, which was a pity because he was working so very hard.

He should have had the sound system the Malfacteurs at the Blue Moon in Lafayette had, is alls I'm sayin.  Or the pipes of one of their singers--a young woman, looked about 14, but was probably older, about 4 foot nothing, with big brown eyes and a Louise Brooks bob and a blue cotton shirtwaist and one of those buzz-saw country voices that makes every lyric sound tragic.  Probably an acquired taste, but I've sure acquired it.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Thursday was devoted to eating everything in New Orleans convivial meals and a little light shopping.  As always, The Court of the Two Sisters, where the Big Brunch was held, was very lovely, but the food was stodgy, as one would expect from a steam-table buffet.  There sure was plenty of it, including boiled shrimp and remoulade sauce, so I can't really complain.  Also bread pudding and ambrosia, which effected me like a Southern madeline.  I flashed back to lunches with Mama and Godmother Alma and Cousin Nancy Jane, listening to the Organ Recital of family medical woes, trying to ignore the faces my little cousin Delphine was making at me across the table.  Those were the days.

Thursday night, we ate at Bayonna, which was wonderful.  Duck breast and wild rice and pickled cabbage, O my!  With a celestial pumpkin tart for dessert.  After bidding about half the party guests, who had had the same idea for dinner, goodbye, we rolled back to the hotel.  Next morning we rose bright, though none too early, packed, and ate one last New Orleans breakfast at the French Market Friday morning before heading to the airport to pick up a car for our drive into Bayou Country.

We had many adventures.  The first was the taxi to the airport, driven by a gentleman called Cowboy, with the hat and an attitude towards things like speed limits and other drivers to prove it.  We arrived at the airport, shaken, not stirred, and collected the keys to the reddest, smallest Chevy I've ever seen.  "Cop magnet," Ellen said, but luckily her Cassandra-ing didn't pan out, probably because the car had no pick-up and shook like a blanc-mange when you took it over 70.  We pootled determinedly  to Lafayette, where we met my cousin and her husband for lunch at Prejean's--the cajun/creole restaurant to end all cajun/creole restaurants, crawfish and shrimp and crab and catfish cooked twenty ways from Sunday, with a heavy preference for fried, sauced, stuffed, and (in the case of my cousin's dish) all of the above.  I have to say, I enjoyed the company more than the food, being very fond indeed of my cousin and her husband.

Our second adventure was The Blue Moon, a Cajun music venue in Lafayette, where we went with some old friends of Ellen's from KRVS public radio in Lafayette.  I love Cajun dancing.  Back in the 90's, Ellen and I used to go to Johnny D's in Somerville every Monday to jitterbug and two-step and waltz.  When we dance together, I lead, but I learn more when I'm following.  And I learned a lot last Friday night.  Gotta say, for Cajun dancing in the middle of Louisiana, what you want is an old guy (who aren't that much older than I as they used to be), been two-stepping with everybody and her sister since he was 15, knows how to make his partner look like she knows what she's doing, even when she doesn't.  Being mannerly, they're ask strangers to dance so they won't feel left out.  Boy, did I have fun.  One guy (chunky, white-haired (what there was of it), puckish grin) danced with me 6 times, and then proposed--in French.  I told him I needed to ask my husband's permission--because this is rural Louisiana, after all, and I had no desire to get into a whole political thing on the dance floor, and it made him laugh.  If I'd had proper dancing shoes, I would have danced all night.  I also wouldn't have had a crop of tolerably painful blisters next day, but never mind.  I enjoyed myself hugely.

The third adventure came Saturday, when we drove down Route 182, through New Iberia and Baldwin and Jenerette looking at the scenery and the cane fields and the little wooden houses roofed in tin of the poor, well away from the actual and faux plantation houses of the prosperous.  We stopped in Jeanerette, where, in 1994, we'd eaten the best catfish ever at a little roadside place called Miss Lil's Kitchen, across the way from the Jeanerette Museum.  The museum was closed, but Miss Lil's was still there, looking pretty much as we'd seen it last, 16 years ago.  We ordered the catfish from Miss Lil's son Floyd, who'd been away at college, and he said his Mama had been talking, just the other day, about two ladies stopped by a while back, working on a book.  "She does that," he said.  "She talk about somebody, they show up."  He got her on the phone for us, and Ellen chatted with her a bit.  She loves us and blesses us and is going to call.  We're going to send her a copy of Freedom Maze, with thanks for the catfish and the hospitality and the window into what it's like to stay just where you were born your whole life, making the best of what nobody said was a difficult situation, though it clearly was. 

The fourth adventure was after lunch, when we stopped by the side of the road to take pictures of the cane and the railway (which looks like it's been there for a while), then got ourselves well and truly stuck in a ditch--right front wheel mired in loose gravel, left rear wheel dangling in mid-air.  Ellen was just reaching into the back seat for her phone to call AAA when a white pick-up made a u-turn, stopped, and disgorged two very large men, who wanted to know if we were OK.  "Feeling a little sheepish," I said.   "I was until 5 minutes ago," said Ellen.  They laughed and sat on the trunk, which didn't help. Then more cars stopped, and suddenly, there were 6 large men gathered around our little red tin can, lifting and pushing and telling Ellen when to give it the gun, and before we knew it, the car was out of the ditch and the men were gone.  It was like the fairies had rescued us, and gone away again before we could even thank them properly. 

And that's all I'm going to write about today, because this post is getting endless.  I'll tell you all about the plantations tomorrow.