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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

The Orphan Trains and More in Opalousas

Today, Betty arranged for us to visit the Orphan Train Museum in Opalousas, Louisiana.  Housed in a former Union Pacific Train Depot, this museum honors the inspiring story of abandoned and homeless children who were recused from the streets of New York and sent to Louisiana between the years 1873 and 1929. The Orphan Train Movement was a supervised welfare program that transported orphaned and homeless children from crowded Eastern cities of the United States to foster homes located largely in rural areas of the Midwest. The orphan trains operated between 1854 and 1929, relocating about 200,000 orphaned, abandoned, or homeless children.  Three charitable institutions, Children's Village, the Children's Aid Society (established 1853 by Charles Loring Brace) and later, the New York Foundling Hospital, endeavored to help these children. The institutions were supported by wealthy donors and operated by professional staff. The two institutions developed a program that placed homeless, orphaned, and abandoned city children, who numbered an estimated 30,000 in New York City alone in the 1850s, in foster homes throughout the country. The children were transported to their new homes on trains that were labeled “orphan trains” or "baby trains". This relocation of children ended in the 1920s with the beginning of organized foster care in America.

Featured in the museum is a large mural painted by renowned South Louisiana artist Robert Dafford, who also painted the murals about the arrivals of Acadians in Louisiana in the late 1700's, as we described in our blog post, "Cajuns, Acadians, Evangeline and St. Martinville". The mural depicts the arrival of the orphans from The New York Foundling Hospital to Opelousas, Louisiana. It reflects the presence of Father John Engberink, Pastor of the St. Landry Catholic Church. Father Engberink was the priest responsible for bringing the orphans to St. Landry Parish.

The Orphan Train Museum is part of Le Vieux Village, an historic rural museum located in Opalousas’s historic gateway corridor. The village offers visitors a glimpse of early rural life in this part of Louisiana. One of the long-range projects of the Opelousas Tourism Committee since 1987 was the creation of a historic village at this site.  In 1988 the Committee was able to acquire donations of buildings that were representative of the history of the area. Among the many historic buildings, the village includes one of the oldest Creole homes west of the Mississippi, a 19th century doctor’s office and country store, and a schoolhouse from 1911.

Our first stop in the village was an old general store, where Kathy tried her hand at weighing and calculating the price of a batch of cotton:

Another notable building in Le Vieux Village is the Venus House, which, in 1971, was donated by the Fontenot family and moved from the Grand Prairie area of St. Landry Parish to it present location in Le Vieux Village in Opalousas:

With its c.1800 construction date, the Venus House stands as one of St. Landry Parish's oldest surviving structures. Although the area was once a center of French settlement, only a handful of exceptionally old Creole buildings survive. Instead, most of St. Landry's antebellum houses date to the period of Greek Revival influence.

Le Vieux Village also boasts more modern sculpture.  This piece of public art celebrates the Zydeco music history of Opalousas, which boasts that it is the birthplace of Zydeco music:

Le Vieux Village also includes other historic buildings, including an old jailhouse, which Kathy models here:

The Venus House, mentioned above, houses an exhibit on the history of Zydeco music.  We were very pleased for our RV friend, Barb, that her chest washboard is included with the traditional triangle in the Zydeco music exhibit:

The Vieux Village also is home to Palmetto Methodist Church, a small, single frame wood structure, which was built in 1948 as a house of worship for the African American Methodist congregation in the small, rural St. Landry Parish village of Palmetto.  The church, also known as St. Joseph Methodist Church for Colored People, served the faithful until services ceased there in the late 1980s.

Having immersed ourselves in Opalousas history, we repaired to Soileau's (pronounced "Swallows") Dinner Club on Main Street.  There were perhaps 23 of us, and we challenged our waitress to serve us all AT THE SAME TIME.  But she bravely took on the task and succeeded admirably.  All of the food was scrumptious, but David's gumbo was spectacular - more than a quart of Louisiana lusciousness!

We enjoyed a couple hours of great companionship and tasty food before returning to Betty's RV Park, where the only thing left to do was - ENJOY HAPPY HOUR!


Monday, January 29, 2018

Bayous and Buzzards

Hi Blog!

On Monday, January 19, 2018, we had no scheduled activities until Happy Hour at 4:30. After getting some chores done, we decided to explore the canoe trail at Palmetto Island State Park. Yesterday, we rode our bikes over to the park to scout out launch sites. When we arrived today, we parked and launched our kayaks in Evangeline Pond.

After exploring Evangeline, we followed a narrow channel which led us to Eagle Pond. Eagle Pond is the main boat launch. The park also rents kayaks.

After circling Eagle Pond, we followed the channel toward Lake LaFleur.

The channel was lined with old trees in which the black vultures loved to roost. However, when we approached, the 20 birds that perched in this tree took flight. Only one brace soul remained in our photo.

We had better luck with the turtles. This log had four turtles sunning themselves.

This little guy seems to be doing some sort of leg extension. Is this a plank or downward turtle?

The further we paddled into the bayou, the less the wind affected the water. In some parts, the water was as still as a pane of glass. We loved the reflections.

When we reached Lake LaFleur, we decided to continue first to the Vermilion River, and then explore the lake on our return trip.

As we wound our way toward the river, our channel became more narrow with a number of tree falls to negotiate. See Dave duck. Duck, Dave Duck!

This is why we kayak!

With the recent rains, we decided not to challenge the Vermilion River. At a small waterfall just before the river, we turned our kayaks around and headed back. Happy Hour was calling.

Tomorrow, our RV Park heads to the Orphan Train Museum. Can you smell another blog?

Sunday, January 28, 2018

Bicycles and Armadillos, Harmonicas and Gumbo

This was a day filled with pretty much everything.

We've been drying out from a drenching thunderstorm.  Maybe 36 hours of pouring rain.  Three to four inches of it.  It rained so hard, our campground became a lake, and our kayaks started floating away.

We discovered some leak in the door gaskets of our Jeep, and moisture gathered on the front driver and passenger floors.  When we got up this morning, some rain had penetrated our slide gaskets, run down the edge, and got our bedroom carpet damp.  The joys of RV'ing:  water and electricity; electricity and water.  We tried to diagnose the leaks and we have plans to mitigate them in the future.

But today we could dry things out.  David turned the kayaks over, poured the water out of them, and started drying out all the stuff we store in them.

We decided to take a bike ride down to Palmetto Island State Park.  It is a recent addition to the Louisiana State Park system. The new state park is located about 11 miles south of our campground in Abbeville, Louisiana. The state of Louisiana acquired the property for the park in 1981 but did not begin construction on it until 2002. The park opened in 2010.

We packed a picnic lunch and mounted up for our first long bike ride in perhaps 4 months.  We were eager to see the area south of our campground toward the Gulf Coast.  As we pedalled, we crossed one of the ubiquitous Southern Lousiana drawbridges - quiet at this time:

Further down LA Highway 82 (after enduring several miles of 60 mph pickup truck traffic - those dudes don't slow down a stitch for bicycles), we spotted this horse, who was confused by humans mounted on two wheels:

The landscape is one of land and water merging:  rice fields, dry fields, canals and raised roads.  All flat:

Some farmhouses were perched picturesquely on their own ponds:

Eventually, we entered the park, and immediately encountered cypress swamp on both sides of the (only slightly) elevated road:

The entrance sign and the ranger at the entrance kiosk made us feel welcome.  Here's Kathy checking out the sign:

The ultimate purposes of this bike ride was to scout kayaking opportunities in the park.  The ranger suggested we start at Evangeline Pond, which is at the head of a network of several ponds and streams.  Here, David is assessing the likely put-in spot:

We also checked out the picnic areas and other boat launches.  We spotted a canoe rental station that looked closed, and some local kayakers taking advantage of the day's warmer, drier weather:

After selecting our kayak spots, we rode further to a lunch spot where the stream enters Vermilion River:

As we munched PB&J sandwiches, Mr. Chips, a river tug, came tootling up the river, signaling us with its horn as it passed:

Both pedaling into the park, and returning out, we were honored to encounter two cute little armadilloes, who were busy foraging through the leaves for buggy meals.  The little guys weren't the least afraid of us.  It might have been the armor they wore.

Our return trip was hard.  We had a stiff headwind and it was slightly uphill, so we worked hard for the 11 mile return.  Here, David stops to rest about halfway home:

We were amply rewarded for our bikely endeavors, however.  Kathy experimented making a crockpot gumbo for Happy Hour.  David's arm had been twisted to bring his harmonicas to the musical performance.  We listened to our RV friend Dan and a local group play a great variety of Cajun, Zydeco, blues and folk songs.  David did the best he could to keep up with them:

The music started at 3:30 and didn't end until perhaps 7:00.  As soon as they wrapped up, Kathy fetched her gumbo, our friend Cookie cooked some wonderful moist Louisiana rice to go with it, and Debbie prepared some scrumptious potato salad (you can't have gumbo without rice and potato salad - everyone knows that) and everyone tasted it.  We felt proud that our host Betty gave a seal of approval to Kathy's gumbo.  It may have used store-bought roux, but it was that secret element of TLC that gave it the earthy, spicy flavor that good gumbo must have.  Kathy was encouraged by this and promised to make more for dinner some evening.

For his part, David simply claimed the leftover gumbo for himself for tomorrow's lunch.

Saturday, January 27, 2018

Zydeco for Breakfast, Cajun for Lunch

Hi Blog!

We woke this morning to peals of thunder and pounding rain. Our kayaks were threatening to take off without us. This would have been the perfect day to roll over and go back to sleep if it wasn't for the fact that we were scheduled to attend a Zydeco Breakfast in Breaux Bridge.

- Credit Heinz Bergann

Now most folks don't usually associate music with breakfast, but in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana, it has become a tradition. It started in 1998, when Cafe Des Amis was asked to host a group of French tourists for breakfast. The owner decided to bring in a Zydeco band. When the locals found out, they all showed up to dance. And, they have been dancing every Saturday morning since then. Unfortunately, Cafe Des Amis had to close. Not wanted to lose a good thing, Buck & Johnny's took over hosting Saturday morning Zydeco breakfasts. Ten brave souls from Betty's RV Park made the journey from Abbeville to Breaux Bridge. We had front row seats.

While the band tuned up, we ordered from the breakfast menu, which included such fun items as: Cajun Boudin Breakfast (2 eggs, grilled boudin, biscuit); Ti-Na-Na (6″ cajun boudin pizza with red sauce, pepper jack, spicy boudin, pork skins, steen’s syrup) and Big Hat (omelet topped with pepper jack cheese served with troubled water [a combo of grits and étouffée]). Pictured below is Kathy's Eggs Savoy (2 eggs, biscuit topped with crab portabella brie and a cajun crabcake)!

Did we mentioned the bottomless glasses of mimosa or bloody mary?

The music this morning was provided by Leroy Thomas and the Zydeco Roadrunners. Mr. Thomas, pictured in green below, is known as, "The Jewel of the Bayou." He entertained us with a mix of traditional zydeco, cajun, blues and country.

Folks packed the dance floor. We even got up and took a turn or two. Here's a little sample of the music.

After several hours of eating, drinking and making merry, it was time to sober up. Just a few store fronts down the street was the Joie de Vivre Coffee Shop. Having been up since 5:15 a.m., we thought a latte was sounding good about now. We were joined by George, Nancy, Dan and Merlene. Just as we arrived, the locals were setting up for a real cajun jam session.

The group was so large, they took up half the seats in the restaurant. They had all types of instruments, including a drum that is also a seat, a homemade base, at least six guitars and four fiddles. We didn't see a washboard (it normally is used only with Zydeco music), but there was a triangle player (customary for traditional Cajun music)!

This fellow came a little late, but his compatriots made room for him, telling him his fiddle and voice were essential:

We had great seats behind the youngest guitar player, who sad next to his dad, the accordion player. We could easily see over his head and watch the rest of the band members.

Here is a sample of their down home Cajun music.

We made it back to Betty's around 1:00 p.m. There was another jam session scheduled for 2:00 at Touchet's Bar in Maurice, but with Happy Hour at 4:30, we decided to pace ourselves. We still have two more weeks to swim, eat and drink through before Mardis Gras!

Thursday, January 25, 2018

Cajuns, Acadians, Evangeline and St. Martinville

“Still stands the forest primeval; but far away from its shadow,
Side by side, in their nameless graves, the lovers are sleeping.
Under the humble walls of the little catholic churchyard,
In the heart of the city, they lie, unknown and unnoticed;
Daily the tides of life go ebbing and flowing beside them,
Thousands of throbbing hearts, where theirs are at rest and forever,
Thousands of aching brains, where theirs no longer are busy,
Thousands of toiling hands, where theirs have ceased from their labors,
Thousands of weary feet, where theirs have completed their journey!”

-- "Evangeline, a Tale of Acadie," by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Longfellow's "Evangeline," an epic poem published in 1847, follows an Acadian girl named Evangeline and her search for her lost love Gabriel, set during the time of the Expulsion of the Acadians from their homes in the Acadia region of Canada (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island).  The lovers are separated during the Expulstion, and Evangeline searches for her love, from place to place in cities across the Eastern seaboard. She eventually gives up, settles in Philadelphia, becomes a nun and works at a hospital.  After many years, she finally encounters Gabriel once again—now a sick old man.  He dies in her arms, she soon follows him to the grave. This "fact" is noted on a brass plaque mounted to a building on Walnut Street that still stands today in Philadelphia.

The Acadians are the descendants of, and were, French colonists who settled in Acadia during the 17th and 18th centuries. Acadia was a distinctly separate colony of New France in Canada. It was geographically and administratively separate from the French colony of Canada (modern-day Quebec). As a result, the Acadians and Québécois developed two distinct histories and cultures. They also developed a slightly different French language.

During the French and Indian War, British colonial officers suspected Acadians were aligned with France after finding some Acadians fighting alongside French troops. Because of these suspicions, the British carried out the Great Expulsion of the Acadians during the 1755–1764 period. They deported approximately 11,500 Acadians to various countries including France, England and the Caribbean.  A number were also deported to the English colonies in America and found their way to present-day Louisiana. Approximately one-third perished from disease and drowning. The result was what one historian described as an ethnic cleansing of the Acadians from Maritime Canada. Of those who survived, most had been deported to various American colonies and were forced into servitude or marginal lifestyles. After a number of Acadians were expelled to France, many of them were eventually recruited by the Spanish government to migrate to present day Louisiana state (known then as Spanish colonial Luisiana), where they developed what became known as Cajun culture.

Present-day St. Martinville, Louisiana and the region around it and Bayou Teche were the center of immigration for Acadians in Louisiana.  St. Martinville is thus widely considered to be the birthplace of the Cajun culture and traditions, and it is in the heart of Cajun Country. It is a multicultural community, with Acadians and Cajuns, Creoles, French, Spaniards, Africans, African Americans and Native American tribes. Its nickname, Petit Paris ("Little Paris"), dates from the era when St. Martinville was known as a cultural mecca with good hotels and a French theater, the Duchamp Opera House (founded in 1830), which featured the best operas and witty comedies.  The third oldest town in Louisiana, St. Martinville has many buildings and homes with beautiful architecture.

Today, we had lunch at The St. John Restaurant in St. Martinsville, and then toured a museum and some of the historic sites in the town.  After lunch, we started with the Acadian Memorial, which honors the 3,000 Acadian men, women and children who found refuge in Louisiana after British forces exiled them from Acadie.  The centerpiece of the memorial is a mural entitled "The Arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana" by Robert Dafford, which measures 12x30 feet. Its figures represent actual documented Acadian refugees who arrived in Louisiana from about 1764 to 1788 and who settled in different parts of the state. Some of the figures were painted from life models who are direct descendants of the figures they portray. This mural is twinned with one in Nantes, France, also painted by Robert Dafford, which depicts the departure of Louisiana-bound Acadians from the port of Nantes in 1785.

The central figure of the mural is Joseph Broussard dit Beausolei, a resistance leader in post-expulsion Acadia, who eventually surrendered and led a group of refugees from Acadia in November 1764 and arrived in Louisiana in February 1765.  He is the figure in the center of the photo below:

Olivier Terrio, an Acadian originally deported to France, was persuaded by a French countryman to lead many Acadians to resettle in Louisiana as part of a scheme of the Spanish Government to populate the territory.  Terrio was to have been reimbursed and compensated for his efforts, but was ultimately betrayed by his French partner and stayed in Louisiana with only the satisfaction of having found a refuge for his people as his compensation.  He is the main figure on the left in the photo below.

The memorial tells the story, as well, of the four Prejean sisters, divided by the Great Expulsion, who, through fate and circumstance, found themselves all in Louisiana and discovered each other and were reunited after decades of separation without knowledge of what had happened to each other.

Outside the memorial is a garden with a replica of the original Deportation Cross erected near the Grand-Pré National Historic Site in Nova Scotia.  The original cross in Nova Scotia marks the site of embarkation of over 2,000 Acadian farmers and tradesmen and their families in 1755.

St. Martinville is the site of the "Evangeline Oak."  Nearby, at the Church of St. Martin de Tours, is a grave with Evangeline's statue.  Their connection to the fictional Evangeline is complicated:

Longfellow was reported to have said that his poem was based on a true story he heard, but he fictionalized it for the poem.  In 1907, Judge Felix Voorhies, a St. Martinville resident, published stories told to him by his grandmother, who said that she was the adoptive mother of a girl named Emmeline Labiche – whose story Longfellow heard, then renamed her Evangeline, presumably for creative effect. In Voorhies's version, Emmeline and her love, Louis Arceneaux, reunited not in Philadelphia but in St. Martinville, under a live oak tree that stretches its branches towards the chocolate brown waters of the Bayou Teche. He recounted that they embraced passionately and all was well until Louis/Gabriel suddenly remembered that he had remarried in the years that passed since they had been separated. Emmeline/Evangeline later went insane and died, and it is she who is buried in the grave at the local church.

These stories swirled through our minds as we looked out from where the Evangeline Oak stands, down the Bayou Teche:

Thus wrapped in sober thoughts, we walked over to the historic St. Martin de Tours Catholic Church on Main Street, which, aside from its role in the Evangeline story, is part of the legacy of the Acadian people. The church was dedicated to Martin of Tours in France, where a St Martin de Tours church can be found. 

The church is beautiful, and when we entered, the sunlight was playing through the stained glass windows, casting beautiful red, blue, green and yellow patterns on the interior columns:

The altar is quite striking in its elegant simplicity:

Perhaps most remarkable of the church's design features are carved Stations of the Cross which are elaborate and delicately painted:

We walked slowly back from the church to our car and mused on the rich tapestry of Cajun history, legend and culture that is woven through St. Martinsville, glad that Betty put this visit on our itinerary.

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Jammin' at Martin Accordions

Hi Blog!

As you know, we are spending the month prior to Mardis Gras here at Betty's RV Park in Abbeville, Louisiana. In the weeks leading up the big event, we are trying to immerse ourselves in all things Cajun. On Wednesday, January 24, 2018, Betty arranged for a tour and concert at Martin Accordion in Lafayette. For those of you who have never experience Cajun music, the accordion is the center of the show. As soon as we walked in, we were wowed by the beautiful instruments they had on display.

For over 30 years Martin Accordions has built all hand-made, single row, diatonic accordions for musicians around the world. Professionals and beginners alike rely on Martin squeezeboxes night after night to provide the sweet, rich sound that Cajun and Zydeco are known for. Martin is a full service shop, offering everything from completely custom built boxes to repairs and tuning on all makes and types of accordions including: piano, diatonic, polka, concertina, and just about anything else with bellows. Their trademark logo includes a crawfish!

Many different accordions were developed in Europe throughout the 19th century, and exported worldwide. As a result, some Cajuns began producing their own instruments, based on the popular one-row German accordions but with modifications to suit the nuances of the Cajun playing style. Here is an up-close look at one of Martin's signature accordions. What's not to love about crawfish?

Cajun music is rooted in the ballads of the French-speaking Acadians of Canada. Cajun music is often mentioned in tandem with the Creole-based, Creole-influenced Zydeco form, and both are of Acadiana origin. These French Louisiana sounds have influenced American popular music for many decades, especially country music, and have influenced pop culture through mass media, such as television commercials. Here's our group getting ready for the show.  However, the two musical styles are very different, with Zydeco incorporating many features of blues and African or Caribbean music.

Here is our eager group awaiting the presentation and concert at Martin Accordions:

Our host was Clarence Joseph Martin, Jr., known as "Junior," who was born in Cankton, Louisiana on December 21, 1940. Mr. Martin purchased his first steel guitar at the age of 15.  "Junior" has been recognized on several occasions for his musical talent and his contributions to Cajun music and heritage, including induction into the Lake Charles, Lafayette, and Louisiana Halls of Fame. Here is Junior with his latest steel guitar.

Junior's daughter, Pennye (a former school principal) was our host and guide during the evening. She demonstrated the various types of accordions and introduced all the musical numbers. We were treated to samples of traditional Cajun, Zydeco and contemporary Cajun, with a couple country tunes thrown in for good measure.

Sharing the stage was Junior's grandson, Joel Martin (on the right in the photo below), who is making a name for himself on the Cajun music scene. In fact, Joel was invited to perform at the White House's Mardis Gras Celebration this year!

Joining the Martin Family Band was an exchange student from Germany! The German student played the classic keyboard style accordion, while Joel played the Cajun accordion and Grandpa strummed the guitar.

We leave you tonight with the sounds of Cajun country.