Sunday, December 5, 2010

Breaux Bridge by Bike

One of my favorite Cajun folktales* says that when the Acadians were expelled from Nova Scotia, their devoted friends, the lobsters, followed them all the way to the bayous of Louisiana. However, it was such an exhausting journey that they wasted away and became the more diminutive, infamous crawfish. I wanted to eat those little creatures, and I would let nothing get in my way, not even the possible necessity of physical exertion.

Breaux Bridge** is a quaint little town straddling a 100 mile long bayou, about twelve miles from Lafayette. I read somewhere that on Wednesday mornings one can go to this town and find a specific restaurant called Café Des Amis and hear old Cajun people speaking their special dialect while eating things like catfish and ettouffee and drinking delicious locally produced coffee. I wanted to experience this firsthand, and the generous staff at the Blue Moon offered me a rather sad and rusty orphan bicycle in order to accomplish this goal. In the process of pumping the tires one exploded, so I wheeled it over to the local bike shop, Recycled Cycles. They fixed me right up, but were shocked and impressed that I would dare to ride the unfathomable distance separating the two parishes. Setting out, I felt a mixture of pride and potential for embarrassing failure, the latter increasing when I realized that the left pedal hardly worked. Pedaling was a bit awkward and uneven, but I had set my course and there was no turning back! Crawfish and indiscernible languages awaited me.

It took less than an hour to arrive in the village, but I felt like I had accomplished something much more impressive, like winning the Tour de France, which is quite fitting as the French influence is so apparent there. Café Des Amis proved to be well worth the effort, and I dined on an amazing dish of delicately fried eggplant slices over a rich, savory pile of the glorious regional specialty, crawfish ettouffee. Like most of the famous Creole and Cajun dishes, I could not describe it as an attractive entree per se, but the perfectly seasoned, slow cooked concoction was close-your-eyes-while-you-chew worthy. The only disappointment was that instead of old Acadian men chatting in 17th century French, I only overheard two local antique dealers discussing a rather illegal sounding purchase and resale of some priceless antique guitars over cocktails.***

After tooling around the village inspecting various antique stores and stumbling upon a sort of time warp of a bakery where the old woman selling me tiny spice cookies told me that French was her first language and as a girl British schoolteachers would punish students for speaking French on the playground, I hopped on my handicapped bike and headed home, along a different route.

I am sure you are all assuming that I got terribly lost or fell into a swamp or crashed my bicycle into an alligator nest, but you are happily mistaken, and shame on you for your lack of faith. In fact, I ended up riding along back country roads so idyllic that I could hardly believe them. Little bridges crossed lush bayous, farms of varying degrees of disintegration housed goats, puppies, chickens, and rusted Model Ts, Spanish moss hung from every tree, and at one point I actually passed two boys riding horses down a lane. Time stopped.

That night there was an explosion of awesome zydeco music at the Blue Moon Saloon, and Cedric Watson and his band did not disappoint. I do not claim any sort of expertise on the topic, but to me the music was an infectious, fast-tempo hybrid of jazz, soul, country, and folk elements, and dancing was not an option, it was necessary. Within seconds the audience was stomping and flapping around like mad as energetic washboard, fiddle, drums, accordion, bass, and sassy Franglais**** lyrics took over all of our appendages. The crowd was very helpful in teaching us outsiders how to shimmy and hop around properly, and over the course of the evening I happily attempted to dance with various Peruvians, Mexicans, French, Swiss, British, and one extremely intoxicated southern gentleman.

Could zydeco be the new jazz? Only time will tell, but I do seem to have a knack for playing the washboard.*****


*Because I obviously know so many of them.
**A very cool example of the linguistic blending so common in this region. Another good example is writing something like "Here we geaux!"
***Mind you, it was barely noon at this time. The concept of waiting until "Happy Hour" for your first drink of the evening is unknown here, and would probably be decried as heresy would it ever be proposed.
****My super clever wombo combining French and Anglais.
*****Certainly not for washing with it.

1 comment:

  1. From Senator Russell . . .

    Tonight I met Lisa.

    Traveling by train she was on a stopover
    in Lafayette, Louisiana, and staying at
    the Blue Moon Guest House.

    Cedric Watson, 2007 Cajun/Creole Grammy Winner,
    and his band, were performing on stage on the back porch of the Guest House, called the Blue Moon Saloon.

    Cedric, as always was great. I get to play in local jam sessions which he generously sometimes joins. Lafayette oozes with Cajun/Creole/Zydeco musical talent.

    Yes, Cedric is great and Lisa said she "loved
    his music, this is fantastic, this whole scene
    is fantastic, and I'm from California!"

    But Lisa readers please take it from me,
    it is Lisa that is fantastic, she is wonderful,
    and it dosen't matter that she is from
    California. I tried to deflect how impressed
    I was with her quick intellect and disarming

    She's not afraid to be close and speak softly.
    She has this amazing quality of being both intimate and friendly yet she maintains a respectful and pleasant distance with her word choice and tone, and she has lots to talk about.
    Yes, I was impressed.

    I felt like she has already traveled more, and
    learned more, and appreciates more, and
    understands more, than maybe I ever will.

    And what gets me, I am usually so arrogant it's
    offensive to others. Plus I like being critical of people who are too stupid to realize how arrogant I am . . .so maybe I'm not perfect. But here I'm talking about meeting Lisa.

    Years ago, browsing a book store, a certain
    title got my attention, "A Woman Of Substance".

    Watching her walk away across the dance floor
    between songs, Lisa reminded me of that title from long ago, A Woman Of Substance.

    She also reminded me of a quote from Harvey
    Penick, the highly respected golf instructor
    and writer. He said "Life is filled with
    a lot of pain and struggle, but every once
    in a while, like a perfect golf shot, life
    can be such a sweet joy".

    I was very lucky to have met Lisa Markuson
    tonight. I hope someday all of her readers
    are just as lucky. Because no matter what she might write in this blog, my impression
    is that she herself is so much more, and she
    has so much more to write, and has so much
    more to offer the world.

    And yes, if she ever sees this comment, I hope
    she writes back. . . she is a writer you know.

    Looking forward,
    Senator Russell