Built to Burn ~ Les Feux de Joie

Standing atop the levee in Butte LaRose, a long, narrow settlement on the western edge of Louisiana’s Atchafalaya Basin, my traveling companion and I considered our options.  Breaux Bridge and Bayou Teche lay well behind while St. James Parish, home of the Christmas Eve bonfires we’d traveled to see, still lay ahead. Before us stretched an intricate web of bayous, canals, river and swamp, the natural heart of Cajun country.

With a good boat, good weather and a guide raised up in the swamps, we might have been able to thread our way eastward by water, to the other side of the Basin. But for the automobile-bound, topography is destiny. To cross the Atchafalaya and reach the Mississippi levees, we’d have to trade gravel and blacktop for concrete, throwing in a few bridges along the way. “I guess we’ll head north to I-10, take it across the basin and then head south again at Grosse Tête,” I said. “Sounds good to me.” My friend brushed the last crumbs of French bread from her lap. “I was hoping you weren’t going to wait for James Carville to show up on his flaming alligator.Continue reading

Rising and Shining ~ An Atchafalaya Tale

Bidding us adieu at the doorway of Café Des Amis on the Friday before Christmas, Mary Lynn was emphatic. “Remember,” she said, “you’re going to have to rise and shine if you want to get a table for tomorrow’s Zydeco breakfast.”

No innkeeper could be more attentive, more determined than Mary Lynn to help her guests savor their experience in her world, but her words evoked memories even sweeter than the Gâteau de Sirop we enjoyed our first night in Breaux Bridge.  “Rise and shine!” my mother would say, drawing back the morning curtains. “Rise and shine!” my dad would echo, coaxing me into the day, tempting me with the promise of adventure.

Cheerful and comfortable, “rise and shine” became a childhood staple, an assurance that the challenges, trials and delights of the day ahead would be well worth the effort of throwing back the covers. With passing years, the phrase took on added weight, becoming a cautionary reminder that just getting up isn’t enough. It’s not enough to plod into the day, slogging through it as though life itself is a burden and an imposition. Being called to get up is one thing. Being willing to shine is another. Continue reading

Over the Bayou and Through the Swamp

My friend Sabine, French and unflappable, introduced me to the phrase.  “Plus ça change,she’d murmur with a wave of her hand, “plus c’est la même chose.”  The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Sometimes that’s true. My great-aunt Fannie, who just happened to be in the Louisiana State Capitol the day Carl Weiss put a bullet into Huey Long, never tired of telling the story. He wasn’t the first or the worst of the politicians she’d known, she liked to say, but he certainly set a standard of some sort for those who followed. Rolling her eyes heavenward as she ticked off the names of politicians who’d ticked her off, she’d heave a great sigh and remind us:  “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”

More recently, several of us were sitting in a restaurant when another friend began fussing at the sight of some scantily-clad young lovelies lounging at the bar. “Who let them out of the house looking like that?” she said. “I don’t know,” said another. “Who let us out of the house with our skirt waistbands rolled up and our bobby sox rolled down?”  We grinned at one another, and it occurred to me to think again, “The more things change, the more they stay the same”. Continue reading