Before Ed retired in 2012, he worked on a project in Baton Rouge for several years so he spent a lot of time in Louisiana. He really enjoyed the people, food and culture of this very unique state. To understand the state and its people, you need to understand certain terms that are common to the area:
- Bayou–A creek or minor river that is tributary to another body of water, usually marshy or sluggish
- Creole—This term is used around the world (“criollo” in Spanish) but in Louisiana it generally refers to those who are descended from the colonial settlers in Louisiana, especially those of French, Spanish, and African descent.
- Cajun—Acadia was a French colony that included the Canadian Maritime Provinces and portions of Quebec and Maine. Cajuns are the descendants of thousands of Acadians who were expelled by the British from Canada during the mid-1700’s and settled in southern Louisiana.
- Zydeco— Popular music of southern Louisiana that combines tunes of French origin with elements of Caribbean music and the blues, typically featuring guitar, washboard, and accordion
- Jambalaya— A Creole dish consisting of rice that has been cooked with shrimp, oysters, ham, or chicken and seasoned with spices and herbs
- Étouffé– A spicy Cajun stew of shellfish or chicken served over rice
- Po’Boy—A traditional submarine sandwich from Louisiana, consisting of meat, usually roast beef, or fried seafood on a baguette–like French bread. (Ed’s favorite is a shrimp po’boy.)
- Gumbo–A soup thickened with okra pods or filé (a spicy herb made from the dried and ground leaves of the sassafras tree) and containing meat or seafood and usually vegetables
Once you understand these terms, you can visit Louisiana and, hopefully, not embarrass yourself. However, one other challenge in Louisiana is properly pronouncing the names of people and places. Many names are obviously of French origin but the French pronunciation is often not used. Another good example of this problem is the city of Natchitoches, which we visited this week. Founded in 1714, it is the oldest permanent settlement in Louisiana and was named for the Natchitoches Indian tribe. Logically, you would pronounce this name as it is spelled, something like “Nah-chə -toh-chəs”, but you would be wrong. It is pronounced “Nack-a-tish” (at least according to the Visitor’s Center). Bottom line—when in doubt, ask the locals.
We began last week at North Toledo Bend State Park in northwest Louisiana on the border with Texas. Toledo Bend is a large man-made lake, known for its bass fishing, and we had another nice waterfront camp site. While at Toledo Bend we visited Natchitoches and the Cane River National Heritage Area.
A view of historic Front Street in Natchitoches along Cane River Lake. The city was originally located on the Red River which provided a major trading link to the Mississippi River. In the 1830’s the course of the Red River shifted 30 miles to the east, creating 32-mile long Cane River Lake.
Views of Natchitoches
- Bottom left: The Steel Magnolia house that was used as a primary setting in the movie “Steel Magnolias”.
- Top left: Natchitoches is known for meat pies—pastry filled with spicy meat and deep-fried—and Lasyone’s is one of the best places to try them.
- Top right: Built in 1790, the walls of this house are made of bousillage, mud mixed with deer hair and Spanish moss.
- Bottom right: A building on Front Street
South of Natchitoches is the Cane River National Heritage Area which includes several plantations and other historic Creole buildings along the Cane River. We visited the Melrose Plantation which was founded by Marie Therese Coincoin, a freed slave born in 1742, and several of her sons who were also freed slaves.
Patty in front of the big house at Melrose Plantation. In the early 20th century the plantation became an artist’s retreat and hosted writers and artists from all over the South. A cook who worked at the plantation, Clementine Hunter, obtained some oil paints that were discarded by one of the artists and started painting in her 50’s. She did not stop until two weeks before her death at the age of 101, at which time she was one of our most famous African-American folk artists, with exhibitions all over the country and paintings selling for thousands of dollars.
Clementine Hunter’s burial monument includes her characteristic initials signature that she used on many of her paintings. She is buried in the cemetery at St. Augustine Catholic Church near Melrose, which was founded by sons of Marie Therese Coincoin in 1803. It is the first church in America established and maintained by people of color.
Sunset view from our campsite on Toledo Bend Lake
Ed did some kayaking but the lake and weather were not very pretty. Ed’s photography tip of the week: if you can’t get a pretty picture, make it black and white and try for artistic instead.
Reeds and waves
While kayaking, Ed found these lily pads with water pooled on them that sparkled in the sun.
Wildflowers of the week
Leaving Toledo Bend, we headed to Palmetto Island State Park in the heart of Cajun country, an hour south of Lafayette and close to the Gulf. Our timing was good because we were there for “Stir the Pot”, a seafood and wild game cook-off with crafts and live music.
Dancing to Chubby Carrier and the Bayou Swamp Band, who won a Grammy in 2010 for best Cajun/Zydeco CD–we sat in the shade to avoid the heat but those Cajuns love to dance.
Now we’re down on the bayou–kayaking on a little creek in the park that flows into the Vermillion River.
Patty having big fun despite the heat and humidity
We drove to Lafayette one day for the Festival International de Louisianne, a five-day free music festival with bands from all over the world.
Scenes from the Festival International de Louisiane
- Bottom left: Ten Strings and a Goat Skin from Prince Edward Island—Celtic and World Fusion (we’re not sure what World Fusion is but these guys were incredible)
- Top left: Les Hay Babies from New Brunswick—Indie Folk
- Top right: The Revelers from Louisiana—Cajun
- Bottom right: Dominique Dupuis from New Brunswick—Acadian Celtic Rock
This festival has an eclectic variety of great music from around the world—if you are ever in Louisiana the third weekend in April, don’t miss it.
One more week left in our visit to Louisiana—Laissez les bons temps rouler!