Just an hour west of Lafayette is a little town called Eunice, and what seems like the wild west of Acadian culture. The place is saturated with music, crawfish, and “joie de vivre,” and Cajun Mardi Gras gives a whole new meaning to the annual festival.. The Prairie Acadian Cultural Center (part of the Jean Lafitte National Historical Park) has been a great resource, and Saturdays there are filled with music, dancing, crafts, and even food preparation.
We had nothing planned for the day, so decided to just drive around and see what came our way. About an hour into our jaunt, we saw a sign for Chicot State Park, which is also home to the Louisiana State Arboretum, the first state-run arboretum in the nation.
We’ve been hanging out in Cajun country, and yes, in many ways, it does feel like another country. Though most people speak English here, Cajun French is definitely in the air. The music is as flavorful as their food, with fiddles and accordians dominating the scene, and boudin and cracklin available at every gas station. (By the way, Louisiana, we love paying $2.19 for gas, but honestly, you could up the price a bit to improve your roads!)
We made a pilgrimage to Shreveport to see a classmate of Russ’ that he hadn’t seen in 45 years. He and Bryan roomed together at the Air Force Academy during their 3rd class year. On Friday night, we were invited to Happy Hour at his home with his two children and their families.
Russ’ thoughts: “Bryan arrived at the Academy as a scrappy all-star musician and fun-loving guy from Newport Arkansas. I had 120 Ray Charles recordings and a complete library of Stones and Beatles (as of 1966). We took to each other right away, and many adventures (and mis-adventures) happened during the next five years. Viet Nam took us apart. As an Air Rescue helicopter pilot during the war, Bryan was shot at and missed. His actions, during heroic rescues, earned him the Air Force Silver Star. After he got out of the Air Force, Bryan was called to the ministry where he continued to rescue his congregation and suffering war veterans. His stories touched my soul – a life well-lived. Bless you Bryan, and your beautiful family!”
The most convenient place for us to camp was at Diamond Jacks Casino on the Red River. It turned out to be a decent place, and while we didn’t gamble, the three of us had a nice meal together on Saturday night. (Bryan’s wife, Jennifer, had recently had surgery, so couldn’t join us on our outings.)
Last fall in Nova Scotia we visited the World Heritage site of Grand Pré and learned the story of the Acadians who were forced out in 1755. Many made their way to Louisiana and settled in what is now known as Cajun country.
The Acadian Culture Center and Vermilionville living history museum sit side by side on the banks of the bayou in Lafayette, telling the stories of Cajuns and Creoles who make their home here. Cajuns are descendants of the French Acadians from Nova Scotia, while Creole include a much broader mix from various countries and cultures.
Of course one of the joys of being in this area is the food. Boudin is a local specialty of pork, spices and rice, with each eatery creating its own version. We’ve yet to find one we didn’t like!
We chose to get an early start to beat the weather that was heading our way. It was just starting to sprinkle as we pulled out of our campsite, becoming a steady rain as we drove through NOLA 20 minutes later. We hit Lake Pontchartrain and the bottom fell out.
We soon got ahead of the weather, and probably would have stayed ahead of it IF we hadn’t noticed this sign:
The Science Center serves as the Visitors’ Center for NASA’s largest rocket testing facility, the John C. Stennis Space Center.
The center also has extensive earth science exhibits, and we were drawn to the one on hurricanes. Six rotating alphabetical lists (excluding Q, U, X, Y, and Z) are used for Atlantic hurricanes. If a storm is memorable (like Katrina in 2005) the name is retired and replaced. If there are more than 21 storms in a season, the Greek alphabet is used: Alpha, Beta, etc)
When winds reach 39 mph, it’s considered a tropical storm and is given a name. Once it hits 74 mph, it becomes a Category 1 hurricane.
“Robert Rick’s NWS warning for Hurricane Katrina got people’s attention – and changed the way hurricane warnings are written. Rick’s warning used clear language with attention-getting phrases for the first time in the National Weather Service’s history. Read for yourself. Would you pay attention if you read this?”
After our good intentions of beating the weather, we ended up slogging our way through “so-loud-you-can’t-hear-the-radio” rain before arriving safely at our next destination several hours later.
We couldn’t leave New Orleans without a visit to the French Quarter, so we hopped on the Algiers Ferry ($1 for Sr. Citizens) and took a 6 minute trip across the Mississippi.
We opted for a 2 hour walking tour with the historical society, but for me, it was too much information. I bailed after an hour to do some walking on my own, and met up with Russ when the tour was over.
Because New Orleans is practically a floating city (our guide told us it has more canals than Venice, but they’re all underground), burials are done above ground. We walked up to Saint Louis Cemetery to pay our respects, but found out it would cost $20 each if we went to Saint Louis Cemetery #1 (the oldest and most famous, dating back to 1789). We opted for Saint Louis Cemetery #2 a few blocks away, dating to the 1820’s and free.
For those of you who missed Mardi Gras, we stumbled across a storage lot on our way to the library. Let the good times roll!